The city of Hardeeville's elections chief was warned Wednesday and ordered to pay $250 by the S.C. State Ethics Commission for voting to prevent a candidate from getting on the ballot to challenge her son-in-law.
However, Joyce Meeks will be allowed to keep her post.
Scott Ready, at the time a City Council candidate, accused the Hardeeville Municipal Election Commission chairwoman of improperly disqualifying him from challenging Councilman Roy Powell, her son-in-law. Without Ready's candidacy, Powell would have faced no challenger.
Meeks argued that Ready's filing contained an error and voted to disqualify him from the race. Ready corrected his mistakes within two hours of being notified of the error, but by then, the filing period had closed.
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The Ethics Commission determined Ready's paperwork was in order. Fourteenth Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen overruled the Hardeeville Municipal Election Commission in April after Ready sued, and ordered he be included on the May 8 ballot.
Ready won a council seat, and Powell was defeated.
The Ethics Commission's written warning cited Meeks for "unintentionally and inadvertently" violating the state's conflict-of-interest statute, which she admitted.
The law prohibits a public official -- including those on local elections commissions -- from deciding matters in which a relative, including a son-in-law, has an economic interest of $50 or more.
Powell reported $8,000 in income from the city of Hardeeville in his statement of economic interest filed Feb. 21 with the Ethics Commission.
Meeks did not recuse herself from the municipal commission's decision to disqualify Ready as a candidate -- something she says she now wishes she had done.
"I think the commission's order is fair, because I did not do it intentionally," Meeks said by phone Wednesday. "I still believe I was right in voting the way I did, because I felt Mr. Ready did not meet filing requirements specified under the section of law I was referred to. It was inadvertent. However, I did not recuse myself, which I should have. That's what I did wrong."
She must also pay a $250 administrative fee within 30 days to cover the cost of the commission's investigation.
Meeks could have faced a fine of up to $2,000.
Attempts Wednesday to reach Ready were unsuccessful.
The Ethics Commission's action Wednesday, called a "consent order," serves as an acknowledgment that the law was violated. It is comparable to a plea bargain in a criminal court, according to the commission's general counsel, Cathy Hazelwood. Meeks signed the order in lieu of a hearing.
Meeks' commission term ends next year and she would be eligible for reappointment.