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Report: SC Agency Tasked With Addressing Inequities Adrift

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The state agency tasked with addressing racial disparities in South Carolina is ineffective due to a lack of leadership and vision, according to a review by Inspector General Patrick Maley.

His report shows many share the blame for what he calls “mission drift” at the Commission on Minority Affairs, created 22 years ago by the Legislature’s then-Democratic majority.

Services provided by the agency’s nine employees include helping to expunge criminal records, assisting nonprofits with grant applications, and consulting with small business start-ups. Such activities are valuable, Maley wrote in his report, but they don’t make a dent in the socioeconomic inequities outlined in the 1993 legislation.

Director Thomas Smith said Wednesday he gets the message that the agency needs to take a leadership role in working toward significant change. In the future, he said, that could involve using research to recommend and push for legislation.

“I see their point,” said Smith, who’s been at the agency’s helm for five years. “We were never told that in the past. We saw it as anything we could do to alleviate poverty, we were on our mission.”

The agency’s governing board will likely develop a strategic plan at its next meeting in September, he said.

Maley’s report portrayed the board itself as dysfunctional.

It didn’t even meet for 16 months, citing too many vacancies in the seats Gov. Nikki Haley is responsible for filling. By October 2012, just five people sat on a board that’s supposed to have 10 members. When the attorney general’s office issued an opinion that six people were needed to take a vote, the then-chairman suspended meetings.

It took a resolution passed by the Legislature in June 2013 to force the board to meet again.

A month later, Haley appointed Tia Brewer-Footman as her designee. Brewer-Footman, the board’s chairwoman, said the report’s timing could not be better.

“It now provides a fresh roadmap for me to view my role and opportunities for improvement,” she wrote in her response attached to the report. She did not return messages last week for comment. “Considering the racial tension and climate that looms nationally and even more importantly here at home, our time and need to be visible has never been greater.”

Haley’s office did not address questions about why the Republican governor allowed the board’s membership to get so low, though her office pointed to improvements.

Currently, there are two vacancies, and two seats are filled by people staying on past their term’s expiration. In January, nine of the 10 seats were either vacant or expired.

“We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly, board members and others to fill these vacancies with fresh faces who are ready to get to work moving the commission in the right direction,” said Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams.

Maley’s report also faults lawmakers for negligence in oversight. The agency failed twice in the last five years to turn in its required accountability report, but no one seemed to notice, as legislators steadily increased the agency’s budget.

He faulted the agency for thinking too small, as he illustrates by the agency’s response to disproportionately low college graduation rates among African-Americans: a pilot tutoring program for students at the small, historically Black college of Allen University in Columbia.

The “solution should not be passive participation in single workshops” but rather identifying problems and advocating for change at all state universities, Maley wrote.

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