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Councilman calls for criminal investigation of Richland County council

A councilmember wants the state attorney general to investigate the deal that let the former county administrator get a $1 million settlement.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Richland County councilmember is calling for a criminal investigation into the very council he sits on, saying there may have been illegal or unethical conduct related to a settlement with the former county administrator.

Councilmember Joseph Walker III sent a letter to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, asking him to look into the dismissal of Gerald Seals in 2018.

"If criminal acts are found, I ask they be prosecuted," Walker wrote. "If unethical acts are found, I ask that they be referred to the proper authority to be dealt with and that the AGs office make recommendations of best practices so this never happens again." 

He also copied U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Sherri Lydon to see if any federal laws have been broken. Walker said if there are no laws broken, he'd like to know what can be done to "protect our constituents and taxpayers from this type of behavior." 

A spokesperson for Wilson's office said the office confirms it received the letter, and the request is being reviewed.

Walker's letter comes less than a week after new documents in a lawsuit were filed to prevent Seals from getting a $1 million settlement which had been agreed upon when Seals was let go. The lawsuit says the deal should be thrown out because of text messages between Seals and Richland County Councilmember Dahlia Myers.

Walker told WLTX late Monday afternoon that his letter is meant to protect taxpayers.

"They need to know if this is real, they need to understand who their elected officials are. So, in an effort to try to move this forward, I have asked the [Attorney General] to step in, do an investigation, draw formal conclusions, and my hope is that everyone's exonerated. And we move on and this is a chapter in the past. But, if there are things that are substantiated or justified that warrant further investigation and or prosecution, I certainly hope the Attorney General will take that necessary step and allow us a clean playing platform to move forward on as a council," Walker said.

"The information and allegations that have come forward during that testimony and trial process, in my opinion, warrant further examination. I mean if we're going to have someone out there alleging illegal and unethical acts requested by then and current council-persons, I would think it very appropriate to investigate those," Walker continued, referencing the lawsuit.

Attorney Joe McCulloch filed for the plaintiff, William Coggins, against the council and Seals asking for copies of unredacted portions of those communications. 

RELATED: Richland Administrator Fired for Second Time by County Council

According to the filing, Myers counselled and advised Seals via text on negotiating payments from Richland County that she would later approve. In doing so, the suit says "Myers' advocacy for Seals is arguably both a violation of Richland County's Code of Ethics and a clear conflict of interest that she never disclosed even as she voted to approve the payment," the lawsuit claims.

Portions of the text messages between Myers and Seals are included in the court document. One of the exchanges was made on May 14, 2018. According to the suit, Myers texted Seals, "do not reveal if you know this. Choose how much you'd take if you got your job back and if you are willing to move slightly off 1.4."

The texts, the lawsuit alleges, were made while Myers was in executive session with other Richland County Council members discussing Seals' payment. 

"At no time has Myers publicly disclosed her advocacy for Seals or her role in inflating the payment from Richland County to Seals," says the document.

Hours after the court papers were filed on Monday, Myers defended the $1 million payout to Seals, saying "Had he sued the County, Seals would have gotten significantly more than his negotiated settlement in a court of law" and "At all times, I was working to protect Richland County and its taxpayers. I still am."

Here's the full lawsuit.

RELATED: Richland County Council member responds to lawsuit


Seals was awarded just over $1 million after the county fired him, citing that the administrator had:

  • transferred management of Richland County’s Penny Tax Program from a consortium of private companies to the county administrator without authorization or notifying council members
  • purchased property before consulting the council, or hearing from the public, for the Richland Renaissance plan. The overall plan was an effort to move and consolidate Richland County administrative offices from Hampton Street to Columbia Place Mall on Two Notch Road, build a new judicial center at Hampton Street, and sell the judicial center on Main Street.

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Seals was to receive a $800,000 buyout on top of a year’s salary of $184,000, six months of health insurance in exchange for promising not to sue Richland County Council or individual council members.

The April 2018 vote to fire Seals was a close one – 6 to 5.

Council members Norman Jackson, Gwen Kennedy, Paul Livingston, Jim Manning, Greg Pearce, and Seth Rose voted to fire Seals; Joyce Dickerson, Chip Jackson, Bill Malinowski, Yvonne McBride, and Dahli Myers voted against firing Seals.

The vote for the settlement, in May 2018, was 5-4 with Manning and Rose not present for the vote.

Seals, a former Greenville County Administrator, was appointed interim administrator in July 2016 and officially hired as Richland County Administrator in December 2016, replacing Tony McDonald.

RELATED: Richland Co. Administrator Fired Twice & Still Getting Paid

RELATED: Richland Administrator Fired for Second Time by County Council

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