Andy Patrick is right to leave public office

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 10, 2014 

It is probably for the best that Hilton Head Island Rep. Andy Patrick has dropped out of the race for state superintendent of education and has also decided not to seek re-election to the state House of Representatives. Documents and interviews recently revealed that Patrick is having financial and legal troubles, raising questions about whether he is suited for public life at this time.

Among the problems is a lawsuit alleging, in part, that Patrick took for himself money intended for him and his wife to use for a down payment on a family home in Spanish Wells on Hilton Head Island. Financial problems have also meant, according to court documents and interviews, that the Patricks lost a home in a short sale and lived in a friend's home free of charge as it was being foreclosed on. Questions remain about Patrick's falling out with a business associate, whether he failed to completely pay a moving company and whether he intends to return to living within his district as required by law.

Patrick has not specifically commented on any of this, despite being asked to repeatedly. He has said only that claims about him, made in sworn statements, lawsuit filings and interviews with those involved in the matters, were "either categorically false or misleading and out of context."

Patrick's financial situation continues to look bleak. A Dec. 13, 2013 declaration he filed with the Family Court shows that his monthly expenses -- $3,489 -- far exceed his monthly income of $1,866 from his position as a legislator. He stopped earning money from his company, Advance Point Global, in April 2013, according to the statement.

Money troubles is not unusual for anyone in today's economy. Indeed, the Great Recession has forced many good people into undeserved, tough spots.

However, when a public official who represents others and has a say in the state's financial matters is in financial straits, personal money problems take on heightened significance worthy of public scrutiny. It behooves the community to ponder whether this person deserves a say in the way our limited supply of state dollars are spent.

This isn't comparable to a next-door neighbor lacking the cash to make this month's mortgage payment. This is about whether a person who has chosen a life in the public spotlight -- and seeks an even bigger spot in the glare -- has the ability and experience to make wise financial decisions for all of us.

That's true whether discussing Patrick's continuation as a House member, which gives him a vote on a broad range of state spending issues including the state budget, as well as his candidacy for state superintendent of education.

Had he won the election for the superintendent's post, he would have had the bully pulpit on allocating dollars for the state's classrooms. Lawmakers will look to the next superintendent to give direction on, among other things, increasing funding for public charter schools, reworking the state's education funding formula, particularly Act 388, and possibly using public dollars to send students to private schools.

But public officials must be more than good with money. Ideally, they also are people of good character and integrity. That's part of the reason S.C. divorce files are required to remain open -- with some exceptions.

While it's unfortunate that, in the case of some public officials, this sometimes leads to a public airing of private matters and he-said-she-said scenarios, it's an important legal check. Open files lessen the likelihood of judges being swayed by one side's power. They allow public scrutiny that increases the chances of fair rulings, and they maintain the ability for us all to see what happens in our public courts and what information influences a court's decision.

Open files are a testament to our democracy's commitment to transparency, even though they can sometimes gives rise to unfounded, possibly untrue, allegations. It's incumbent upon the electorate to know that allegations raised in divorce cases are often charged with emotion and should be evaluated in that context.

A misstep in Patrick's past raises questions about his character. After spotting him on TV during a Rick Santorum campaign event in 2012, some constituents questioned whether Patrick was tending to the legislative work for which he was getting paid. A review by The Island Packet found that, of 19 roll call votes the House had taken so far that session, Patrick had missed 11 because he was out-of-town, providing security for Santorum.

While his attendance improved after that, it should not take public admonishment to get a lawmaker to show up for the job.

And now that new revelations have cast doubt on his financial know-how, we believe someone else deserves a chance to serve the residents of House District 123 and to oversee the state's school system.

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