Open Letter

Over the weekend I had a chance to read Ms. Hammond’s response to her ethics violations in the Irmo News (April 28 edition). In her letter Ms. Hammond appears to take every opportunity to minimize the seriousness of her violations and make excuses for them.

We know her violations took two forms, failing to properly report income on her SEI and advocating for the election or defeat of school board candidates on her official D5 email account.

With regards to her failure to report income Hammond mentions that there “were several items in the incorrect space and one year my teacher salary was left off”. Is that the whole truth? Perhaps we should see what the Consent Order she signed with the Ethics Commission said on the issue.

March 26, 2018 – did not report the source of private income for her spouse. March 4, 2019 – did not report the source of private income for her spouse. In addition – did not report any income received from District Five or District Two. On March 24, 2020 – did not report the source of private income for her spouse. In addition – did not report any income received from District Two. On March 11, 2022 – did not report the source of private income for her spouse.

Seems like there was a bit more going on than Ms. Hammond alluded to in her letter.

In her letter to the Ethics Commission Hammond stated: “As mitigation with regard to the SEIs, Respondent states that her spouse often files her SEIs on her behalf and that she had no intention to omit any information from her SEI’s. Respondent states that her technological skills “are not the best” and that, as a result, she and her husband have occasionally visited the Commission’s physical office to seek assistance, though she acknowledges she did not do so from 2018-2021.” Her claim in her letter that “many times over the past few years, I went in person to the Ethics Commission” for help does not appear to be true for the years of the violations – 2018-2021.

What about the advocating for the election or defeat of certain candidates on her D5 email? Hammond says: “the complaint reported a couple of emails where I was contacted on my D5 email and asked who did I think would be the best to vote for in the upcoming school board race of 2020.” Is that the whole truth? Perhaps we should go back to the Consent Order.

On August 13, 2020, Hammond emailed “ . . . Sadly 3 of us are not a real voice on this board. Please share the need for change. Lexington County needs to support Rebecca Hines and Catherine Huddle. In Richland County we need Matt Hogan . . . ”.

On August 13 “Hope you will help me out with all 3 officers up for reelection. Hines and Huddle in Lexington County are my choices and if you are in Richland County please vote for Matt Hogan. I pray we can elect a board that is more accountable to the public . . . ”. On September 15 “ . . . I truly hope in November we vote GANTT and Gates out.” On September 16 “ . . . Please spread the word to vote for Hines and Huddle in Lexington County and if you know anyone in Richland County vote for Matt Hogan. That is how we can get accountable board members.” On September 27 “ . . . Please vote for Rebecca Hines and Catherine Huddle. If you know anyone in Richland please vote for Matt Hogan.”On October 2 “ . . . I encourage you to vote in the upcoming election as the board chair and vice chair are running and have opponents that are more accountable to the public. . . . ”

On October 5 “ . . . Please vote for 3 Hs. In Lexington please vote for Rebecca Hines and Catherine Huddle. In Richland, spread the word for Matt Hogan.”. On October 10 “I think Rebecca Hines and Catherine Hines [sic] are best in Lexington County and Hogan for Richland.”

The Consent Order stated “As mitigation with regard to the emails..Respondent states that in her efforts to be responsive to as many individuals as possible, she paid no attention to which email account was being used.”

Ah . . . the old I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention excuse. I wonder if we would accept this excuse from the students of D5? Should we accept it from the board chair of a district with a 200+ million budget?

Also, only the 9/27, 10/05, and 10/10 emails specifically asked Ms. Hammond for advice on whom to vote for, for the other emails she simply volunteered this information. Weird that she did not mention that in her letter.

We should be clear . . . Ms. Hammond admitted guilt in each and every one of the ethics violations for which she was charged. Ms. Hammond has been on the school board for close to two decades, shouldn’t she be familiar with the ethics rules by now?

The State quoted Ms. Hammond as stating: “I made some technical mistakes which have been corrected and I sent a few emails on my own phone which technically violated rules. I was satisfied and I agreed to pay a small fine and the matter was resolved.” That “small fine” was $2,000.

So, do you think the public got the “whole truth” from Ms. Hammond’s letter?

Michael Bishop
Irmo