Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss will go before the State Ethics Commission in August to discuss the hiring of his wife to a school district job and could face penalties if found guilty of violating S.C. ethics laws.
Moss’ hearing on three counts of alleged ethics violations is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the ethics commission in Columbia, according to a notice, which was sent to Moss on April 13 and released by the agency on Monday. The public cannot attend the hearing unless Moss requests that it be made open by Aug. 7.
The complaint was filed in September by Beaufort resident Kimberly Morgan, one of about 20 people who spoke out against the hiring of Darlene Moss, Jeff Moss’ wife, as the district’s new innovation director during a September school board meeting. Darlene Moss resigned less than a week after starting the $90,000 job.
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A similar complaint was filed by the local whistle-blower website, BeaufortWatchdog.org, that is run by Hilton Head Island businessman Skip Hoagland.
The commission recently mailed notices to Morgan and Hoagland, stating that the commission has found probable cause to hold a hearing to consider allegations that Moss knowingly used his position as superintendent to sign a consulting contract between his wife and the district and changed the district’s nepotism rule, allowing his wife to be hired to the district job.
The commission will decide whether these two actions constitute Moss using his official office to obtain an economic interest for a family member — a violation of state law. In a third count, Moss is accused of allegedly participating in a governmental decision in which an immediate family member had an economic interest when he presented his wife to the school board as a job candidate in a Sept. 1 executive session.
Moss has the right to an attorney’s representation and may introduce exhibits. He can also call, examine and cross-examine witnesses.
“I’m going to cooperate fully with the Ethics Commission, and I’m confident that all of my actions as superintendent have been lawful, ethical and in the best interests of children,” he said in a statement Monday. “What’s best for students is the foundation of every decision I make.”
Morgan said she initially was interested in recalling school board members who supported the superintendent, but that isn’t an option in South Carolina. Instead, she filed the ethics complaint against Moss.
“I’m a firm believer in ‘That which you tolerate, you promote.’ That is a big thing for me,” Morgan said. “I’m just a concerned citizen. Unless somebody stands up and says, ‘This isn’t right,’ what’s going to change?”
Hoagland and the website staff also applauded the commission’s decision to hold a hearing.
“We understand this issue is of great importance to our fellow citizens and are prepared to see the process through to its conclusion,” they said in a statement.
Richard Bisi, founder of local group Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, said news of Moss’ hearing is vindication for those who have called on Moss to step down. On Monday, he repeated his call for the superintendent’s resignation or for the school board to fire him for damaging the district’s public image, rather than waiting for the commission to hold the hearing and make a decision.
“This has gone on for seven long months,” Bisi said. “From now until August is really unfair to the parents, the taxpayers, the voters and the students.”
Beaufort County school board member David Striebinger, not elected until Feb. 1, also criticized Darlene Moss’ hire at the Sept. 21 meeting and echoed Bisi on Monday and complimented Morgan on filing the complaint.
“Them finding probable cause certainly gives indication that it was a good thing to do, that she should in fact have done that,” Striebinger said. “Hopefully it’ll quiet some of the more vocal board members who have been free with their criticisms of the public.”
He was referring to members such as board chairwoman Mary Cordray, who have scorned meeting participants like the members of CARE for what they call attacks on teachers and students. Cordray did not return a call for comment on Monday.
Striebinger also noted that the outcome of the hearing will likely influence people’s decisions about the 1 percent, educational sales-tax referendum that will go before voters in November. Most of the $282 million it is expected to raise would be used to build new schools and update existing ones.
If the outcome favors Moss, “that would remove a cloud from some peoples’ minds — some people are going to retain it — and if he’s not cleared, it would certainly have a derogatory effect,” Striebinger said.
Board member JoAnn Orischak, who was one of the first to question Moss’ ethics for approving his wife’s hire, said she was not surprised the commission scheduled a hearing. However, she was skeptical it would do anything more than the board, which said in November it was satisfied with the handling of the nepotism rule change.
“I thought given everything in front of them, they’d have a hearing,” Orischak said. “Where it goes from there, I don’t know.”
The school board meets 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Bluffton library, though the topic is not on the board’s agenda.
- Moss won’t comment on possibility of re-hiring wife as innovation director, February 16, 2016
- School board member calls for review of Jeff Moss' actions, November 11, 2015
- Superintendent changed nepotism rule: Questions arise following wife's hire for new position, September 14, 2015