S.C. commission files ethics complaint against Hardeeville election official

tbarton@islandpacket.comMay 17, 2012 

In this file photo, Scott Ready shakes hands with Hardeeville Municipal Election Commission member Mae Montgomery after Fourteenth Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen ruled, in an emergency hearing, that Ready's name could appear on the ballot for the town's town council election. Mullen said the local election commission erred in applying the law to remove Ready from the May 8 ballot due to a clerical error on his application and ordered his name appear along with two other incumbents seeking re-election to two at-large City Council seats.

JAY KARR, THE ISLAND PACKET

Scott Ready prevailed in his bid for Hardeeville City Council, but the controversy surrounding the city election commission's attempt to keep him off the ballot is far from over.

The S.C. State Ethics Commission determined Wednesday there was probable cause to investigate Ready's claim that the Hardeeville Municipal Election Commission's action was marred by a conflict of interest.

The election commission's chairwoman, Joyce Meeks, is the mother-in-law of former incumbent Roy Powell, whom Ready challenged, along with incumbent Michael Sweeney.

Ready upset Powell on May 8, and Sweeney was re-elected.

The State Ethics Commission filed a complaint Wednesday against Meeks, alleging she misused her position as chairwoman to influence the election.

"(Meeks) chaired the meeting, participated in discussions and voted to rule Ready ineligible," the complaint states. "The action taken by (the local election commission) was a step toward clearing the way for (Powell) to be declared the winner without benefit of an election."

If Ready had not run, there would not have been an election for City Council, as Sweeney and Powell would have been uncontested.

State law also says a public official -- including those on local election commissions -- may not take any official action on matters in which a family member has an economic interest of $50 or more. A son-in-law is considered a family member, the commission said in its complaint.

Powell reported $8,000 in income from the city in his filings with the ethics commission Feb. 21.

Ready was able to persuade a judge at the last minute to overrule the city election commission to get his name on the ballot.

He mistakenly filed as an "elected official" rather than as a "candidate," a common mistake that Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen said should not have stood in his way.

Ready was not the only candidate who needed to amend the filing, but was the only one notified after the deadline his application had an error, which he corrected in less than two hours.

The State Ethics Commission, as well, signed off on Ready's paperwork.

If found guilty, Meeks could face a fine of up to $2,000 for each violation, a public reprimand and an administrative fee for the cost of the investigation, typically $500 to $1,000, said Cathy Hazelwood, general counsel for the State Ethics Commission.

Meeks has denied the allegation. Attempts to reach her and Ready on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Hardeeville city manager Bob Nanni declined to comment, stating it was a matter between Meeks and the State Ethics Commission.

Related content

  1. Comedy Central's Hardeeville underdog wins city council election: May 11, 2012
  2. 'Ready or Scott,' judge says Hardeeville man's name will appear at ballot box: April 3, 2012
  3. 'Ready or Scott': Comedy Central seeks slogans for Hardeeville write-in candidate: March 29, 2012
  4. Hardeeville man disqualified from election seeks ethics investigation: March 19, 2012

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