There have been numerous accusations made about sitting District 5 school board trustees accepting campaign donations through the years from firms who are or could potentially do business with the school district. I have been watching this closely, because even though the SC Ethics Commission allows and places a limit on these donations, the negative public perception is real for those who are participating in this practice.

For the November 3 election, candidates were supposed to submit their donor list no later than 15 days prior to the election (source: ethics.sc.gov), which would have been October 19, 2020. All school board candidates complied, except incumbents Robert Gantt (Richland) and Michael Cates (Lexington).

Trustee Gantt finally filed his list of donors yesterday (October 26). This is a full week late and likely will result in fines of some sort. To those interested observers, it appears that he held back this information for as long as he could because his donor list is packed full of firms who have done or could potentially do business with District 5. Perhaps he didn’t want his potential voter pool to learn this information.

Contractors, architects, attorneys, consultants . . . the list goes on and on of those firms who have been involved in District 5 work. Much of this work was awarded without bids, due to the lack of teeth in District 5’s current procurement code, which allows sole source or no-bid contracts in many instances.

One of those instances is with the list of attorneys. During the September 28 Board meeting, trustees were asked to approve a list of attorneys for the district to use (this is a no-bid process). Trustee Loveless asked to table the vote until a ruling from the SC Attorney General could be obtained on whether trustees who had received donations from any of those firms could participate in the vote. Trustee Gantt was adamant the vote continue without an AG ruling. He likely was well aware some trustees, including himself, had received donations at one time or another from attorneys on that list.

Here are a few examples of the companies who donated to Mr. Gantt and received work during Mr. Gantt’s tenure as Chairman of the school board:

Contract Construction – Contractor for Piney Woods Elementary School ($32M)

Quackenbush Architects – Designed Piney Woods E.S. and the addition at Chapin Middle

Thompson Turner Construction – Yearly Capital Maintenance Projects on all D5 Facilities

Dan Neal – Construction Consultant on PWES, CMS, CHS (recently resigned)

Al Berry – Real Estate Consultant, locates land to build schools on (PWES & Derrick Pond, etc)

Stevens and Wilkinson – Architect (CHS plus others)

This sort of blatant disregard for proper ethical standards has got to stop. At a recent candidate forum, Candidates Alsup, Cates, and Gantt all said they would NOT refuse a donation from a firm doing or capable of doing business with District 5. This is unacceptable.

Use your vote for candidates who will be honest, forthright and ethical. Vote for Catherine Huddle and Rebecca Hines in Lexington County and Matt Hogan in Richland County. All three have pledged NOT to accept these donations.

Matt Billingsley