An amazing story of public school and statehouse corruption.
This is a long read, but if you don’t already know Kim Murphy’s story, you should get comfortable and take it in.
(Article by Thomas C. Hanson from a telephone interview with Kim Murphy Sept 8, 2016)
Kim Murphy is running against 16-year incumbent Chairman Robert Gantt for a Richland County seat on the Lexington-Richland 5 School Board, from which Gantt had her ousted mid-term in 2013, claiming she was not a resident of Richland County, based on a county boundary manufactured by state mapping between the two counties. The board had Murphy removed and essentially disenfranchised 6,000 people who voted for her.
On Aug. 18, 2016, Gantt filed a petition with the Richland County Election Commission to have Murphy removed from the November ballot. However, the Richland elections board voted 3-1 Aug. 30, that Murphy is indeed a resident of the county, and she will be allowed to run for the Richland County seat on the Lexington-Richland 5 board. Samuel J. Selph, elections board director, wrote to Chairman Gantt that the board “denied your Petition to disqualify Mrs. Kim Murphy as a qualified Elector in Richland County.”
Murphy filed to run six minutes before the filing deadline Aug. 15. No one else had filed for the seat.
Murphy was first elected to the school board in 2010, despite efforts of the board to defeat her. She garnered 43 percent of the vote against Gantt in 2004. No one challenged her residency in either of those elections. She has lived in the same location in Richland County since 2000, where she continues to pay residential taxes.
While in office, fellow board members tried from day one to silence her and keep her from discussing things negative to the district, and Murphy responded. In a Dec. 31, 2010 e-mail message to Chairman Gantt, Murphy stated:
“Actions that occurred during my first three school Board meetings have taken me aback. To be straight and to the point, some I see as very sneaky and underhanded and unbefitting to our school district.”
“First I take great issue with the way the Board meeting was conducted on Monday, December 13, 2010. When I had the floor, it was disrespectful to me that I was continuously interrupted in the middle of conversations, not only by some Board members but also by staff. I was not permitted to ask questions on the subject matter and I was unfairly limited in the amount of time that I could address a particular subject.”
At the Nov. 8 2010 meeting, the Board voted unanimously to table a vote on a new Oak Pointe Elementary School site until the Dec. 13 meeting, however, two days after tabling the vote on the school design, the project was received by the Department of Education requesting its approval for the Design Development Plans, without the board having approved moving forward with the new school.
Then, in October 2012, Murphy had heard from a contractor friend that the proposed 30,000 square foot field house at Dutch Fork High School was going to have bids open on the project in a matter of days, even though the school board had not approved the project and had not gone through the steps determined by school board policy. Chairman Gantt is the voice of the Dutch Fork High School Silver Foxes, the announcer for football games. This project was not part of a bond referendum, but bond referendum funds were going to be used to construct it. The construction costs alone were about $13 million.
Murphy discovered that the project had not been properly advertised. According to the state procurement law and District 5’s procurement policy, any project more than $250,000 is to be advertised in the South Carolina Business Opportunities Newsletter (SCBO), which is distributed statewide. This makes for more competitive bids, and helps eliminate back-scratching and favoritism. But this project was advertised locally.
At that time, she had also found another multi-million dollar project that was not properly advertised – a 600 seat fine arts auditorium at Irmo High School.
These projects would benefit the chairman and vice chairman, who were both up for re-election the following month. They just pushed these projects through, she said.
Murphy contacted the school district attorney the night before the bids were to be opened, after she got documentation from the state that they weren’t properly advertised. She wrote the chairman and superintendent and told them that we are going to be putting ourselves in a dangerous position by not advertising properly according to the law.
Attorney for Ned Sloan of Greenville had won a lawsuit giving taxpayers standing in these cases. It would be a contract subject to a legal challenge.
The bid was postponed, and an ad was run on the following Monday, with bids due on Wednesday, not a standard 30-day period. “There was no honest attempt whatsoever to solicit more competitive bids,” Murphy said.
No one challenged Murphy’s residency when she ran in 2004 or 2010. She has lived in the same location since 2000.
The counties don’t dispute where the county line is. “In fact,” Murphy said, “both counties concur that I live in Richland County.”
Because of Home Rule, the counties had to reconcile their boundaries. Before 1978, the original 66-acre tract of land was taxed in Lexington County. Following Home Rule, 36 acres of it went to Richland County. Since then, the same 36 acres has been taxed in Richland County.
The Murphys’ and another couple developed a small rural subdivision. Because the dirt road they were going to construct was in Lexington County, they had to seek subdivision approval with Lexington. Lexington County told their surveyor, who had used the U.S. Geological Survey map, to place the county line on the subdivision plat, to move the county line so it lined up with the TAX Map line between the two counties.
Murphy explained: “In my first case, Bobby Bowers, the head of state mapping for 30 years and who has drawn other outspoken school members out of their voting districts and who was on the Lexington 1 School Board for eight years (seven as chairman) and was, like Gantt, an officer for many years and president of the SC School Board Association, claimed the county line wasn’t where the counties recognize it. He said I was in Lexington County, but had no actual proof. No survey was done to find the corners placed by the original surveyors 100 years ago that established the line.”
There is a process to go through if there is a disputed line, and it involves a re-survey, and the counties agreeing to where the line is. In his testimony, Bowers represented that a re-survey was done, but his surveyor, under oath said no survey was done.
Ambushed in Executive Session
Murphy said Gantt ambushed her in a Jan. 14, 2013 Executive Session when he gave Murphy a copy of Bowers’ determination letter that stated she did not live in Richland County. Gantt read a statement about it at the public meeting, which followed.
“Because his statement was so vague and the way he read it, it sounded as if I had been caught trying to deceive the public,” Murphy said. “I asked if I could comment, he prohibited me and it made me look even more guilty.”
Simultaneously, Bowers sent basically that same determination letter to Richland County Election Commission, without identifying Murphy’s name, which might give a heads up that she was an elected official. He instructed them to remove Murphy from the voter rolls. The Election Commission wrote back and said that they did not have the statutory authority to unilaterally remove a voter in that manner. They said that if Bowers would send the statute, they would revisit it. Bowers never did.
“My belief is that Bowers et al was hoping that if I did not resign from the board after receiving Bowers’ official determination letter that the Election Commission would remove me,” Murphy said. “Had they removed me, I would not have had a leg to stand on, but they didn’t.”
When that didn’t work, they went to the Richland County Assessor’s Office where “we found out in Discovery Gantt used to work in Mapping and Taxing. The Assessor put a lot of effort into trying to convince the Lexington County Assessor to put us on their tax rolls — which would take me off the voter rolls in Richland County. Lexington County refused.”
In the first case in 2013, they were challenging whether Murphy was a resident of Richland County. Then, in Gantt’s petition, they challenged whether she was a qualified elector. Richland County said “yes.”
There are errors in the State’s precinct maps. They don’t match the counties’ maps. And they don’t match the line Bobby Bowers said in Murphy’s first case was the county line. The State’s precinct line puts Murphy in Lexington County, but Bobby Bowers is the one who submitted the precinct lines to the Department of Justice for approval. His own precinct line doesn’t match any county line.
Richland County and Lexington County have a line they recognized since Home Rule as the county line, and until a re-survey is done to determine that it is any different and the procedure for changing it is completed, Murphy is a resident of Richland County, and (according to the Election Commission) a qualified elector. But, Murphy said, “If I am in a Lexington County precinct that’s like taxation without representation.”