Lexington 2 School Board member accepts payment from SC ethics
A member of the Lexington 2 school board has settled an ethics commission case brought after voting for school construction projects worked by her husband’s company, according to public records.
ElizaBeth Branham, vice president of the Lexington 2 School Board, had faced 10 voting allegations for projects on which her husband’s architectural firm, Stevens and Wilkerson Architects, was providing work. SC’s ethics commission found the violations were unintentional and only imposed a $250 administrative fee on Branham in an order issued in November. She had faced a $2,000 fine for each of the 10 counts against her.
“I did everything I knew to be in compliance with the Ethics Act,” Branham told The State in a statement, noting that the commission did not issue a fine for the effort. . “Prior to taking any of the votes in question, I consulted with the District Attorney as well as the General Counsel for the Ethics Commission as to whether or not I should recuse myself. I followed the advice given by the General Counsel of the Ethics Commission and recused when I thought the scope of a project would be increased.
She points out that the commission’s order recognizes “that there is no evidence to support that I personally received any economic advantage in the votes I took”, and that her vote did not was not the deciding factor as the board approved each of the 10 projects unanimously.
Branham was aware of her husband’s connection to projects approved in a 2014 bond referendum, in which Stevens and Wilkerson worked on the consulting team at Jumper Carter Sease, the company that actually owned the bond. contract with Lexington 2 for the works. An org chart submitted to the school district included Branham’s husband, Keith Branham, the commission noted in its final decision.
The SC Ethics Act prohibits a public official from taking any action that would create a direct economic benefit for an immediate family member.
Branham contacted SC’s ethics committee after the 2014 bond referendum to ask for advice on handling her husband’s involvement. A lawyer for the commission advised him “to recuse himself from votes related to the overall scope and cost of the bond referendum bills and from votes related to fees.” But she said Branham could vote on other aspects of construction projects that wouldn’t affect their scope or cost.
Branham recused herself during the initial votes establishing the contract and basis of compensation with Jumper Carter Sease, but the commission found that on 10 occasions from 2017 to 2019, Branham had voted on individual projects. Since the firm’s fees were set as a percentage of the overall cost, these votes on packages and site renders also generated an economic benefit for Keith Branham, and so Beth Branham should have recused herself from these votes as well. noted the committee.
The Ethics Board’s written conclusion also concluded that “there is no evidence to support the proposition that the Respondent personally received any economic advantage as a result of her participation in the votes in cause”.
By way of mitigation, Branham told the commission “that she mistakenly believed she was voting on items that were encompassed in the overall cost and scope of the bond referendum projects in accordance with the guidelines given to her.” given by the staff of the (Ethics) Commission,” the final report reads. . Branham said she was unaware of the fee structure since she previously backed out of the original contract discussion.
“The Commission acknowledges that the Respondent made every effort to follow the Ethics Act and to follow the advice offered by the Commission’s former General Counsel, as evidenced by the Respondent’s subsequent recusals on matters that the Respondent believed to be outside the scope of the original project.” the commission found. “The Commission also acknowledges that each of the ten (10) votes passed unanimously, a fact which lends itself to the conclusion that the Respondent’s votes were not determinative of the outcome.”
On four occasions, Branham verbally recused herself from the votes, but did not submit a written recusal to the board as required by state ethics law. The Ethics Commission notes that it dropped the action on those occasions and ordered Branham to submit written recusals retroactively.
This story was originally published April 13, 2022 11:54 a.m.