It is both a privilege and responsibility to serve as a public official, wielding direct influence over important community matters and adhering to rules that attempt to bring a measure of accountability and fairness to the system.
Those rules include a residency requirement that demands that members of school boards, town councils, county councils and state representatives live among the people they represent. After all, is there any better way to know the needs of the electorate than to be their neighbor? To be subjected to the same ordinances, school system and tax rates as they are?
That is why we're disheartened by the actions and statements of Jasper County school board member Alina Hamilton-Clark, the Ridgeland area representative, who may be thumbing her nose at the system and the people she represents. While Hamilton-Clark is required to live within her district, some claim she has recently moved to Hilton Head Island where her son attends Hilton Head High Schools and plays football.
When questioned about where she lives by a reporter, Hamilton-Clark said she still lives in Jasper County, but owns property elsewhere and that it is "not anybody's else's business" where she lives or where her son attends school.
Her constituents would likely disagree. And so do we.
If indeed Hamilton-Clark does not live full-time in the district from which she was elected, she should immediately resign her post as recommended by Jasper County Council Chairwoman Barbara Clark. Others likely exist who would take to heart the privilege of public service and its accompanying requirements. In fact, two candidates are vying for the school board seat in November's election. Hamilton-Clark has not filed for reelection.
It's up to Hamilton-Clark to step down because, unfortunately, a cumbersome process determines if elected officials are breaking the residency rule, according to the S.C. School Board Association. Where an official pays property taxes, where they vote and what address is listed on their driver's license can create a puzzle for elections commissioners to piece together. And commissioners do not investigate potential rule violations unless a complaint is filed -- something that has not taken place in Hamilton-Clark's case as of Friday.
In fact, the closest to any real investigating that has taken place has been done not by elections commissioners but by the Beaufort County School District. Hilton Head High School officials reportedly visited the address Hamilton-Clark's son listed on the transfer form that the school filed with the S.C. High School League. It's unclear just what they found out as the district has declined comment.
It seems as if a student-athlete's eligibility is of more importance than that of an elected official.
The situation shows the need for S.C. election officials to get serious about looking into and enforcing residency rules. Potential violations periodically pop up, including earlier this year when Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, who was seeking the state Superintendent of Education post, was said to have been living outside of his district.
If a rule is worth having on the books, it's worth enforcing. And public officials should remember that it's an honor, not a right, to represent their neighbors.