Alumni Make Impact on State Ethics Reform Commission
Columbia, SC – Of the 11 individuals assigned to the South Carolina Commission on Ethics Reform, which recently announced its nearly two dozen recommendations for making state government more accountable to its constituents, eight of the members are University of South Carolina alumni and one is a dean at the university.
“It was wonderful. There was goodwill, a good spirit, an enormous amount of experience and insight into all of these questions, all brought to bear by the 11 members of our commission,” said co-chairman Henry McMaster, a 1969 and 1973 graduate of Carolina. “It was an extraordinary group in every sense of the word.”
“I think it's just one more example of how service is important to the community, and how the university is important,” McMaster continued. “The university is one of the greatest assets our state has. With eight campuses, it has enormous influence and an enormous role to play in the life of our state. It is very gratifying to see so many alumni on this particular commission doing this work for the betterment of the state.”
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides is impressed by the leadership shown by alumni.
“I believe that leadership and strong ethical behavior are essential to a working democracy,” he said. “I am pleased but not surprised that nine of 11 members on the State Ethics Reform Commission are either Carolina alumni or faculty. USC is in the business of developing tomorrow's leaders. This is yet another example of how the university's successful alumni are impacting our community, state, and nation through thoughtful, decisive leadership. Bravo!”
Travis Medlock, a 1959 graduate of the USC School of Law and co-chairman of the commission, referenced the careful selection shown by the governor when creating this task force.
“The selection process by Governor Haley was a very thorough one,” he said. “I think she was looking for individuals who could relate their professional careers to the issue at hand of public integrity and promoting public trust in government functions. She selected on that basis, and she ended up with a vast majority of the commission members being USC grads. So, I think it speaks highly of the job that the president of the university is doing and its board.”
Of the 23 recommendations for reform—which include that the state Ethics Commission review all grievances against lawmakers rather than committees within the House and Senate; mandating the disclosure of any income earned by legislators through government and private sources related to their elected post; and disallowing lawmakers from representing clients before a state board or commission if the legislator is part of the appointment process—those related to the Freedom of Information Act were studied and presented by a subcommittee that included Charles Bierbauer, dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.
His subcommittee’s recommendations were to shorten the wait time for permission to be granted or denied in a request for information and to make fees associated with the collection of information more reasonable.
“We had three months to take what were really the existing ethics provisions across a range of subject areas, assess what was working, assess what might welcome strengthening, do our homework and research, try and gauge what is being done in other states across the country, and see where we fit,” Bierbauer explained.
In referencing South Carolina’s existing ethics structure, Bierbauer continued, “We were not the bottom, but we were clearly not the top. It was meaningful research. Every state takes a look at this sort of thing. This was not a ‘woe are we’ in South Carolina approach, but it was much more, ‘How do we make ourselves a more effectively run state?’ I took the view that everyone on the commission came to it with that sense of responsibility. It was purposefully nonpartisan. I think everyone took it as a serious charge that could be beneficial for the state.”
The commission’s charge was to conduct a comprehensive review of current ethics and open records laws by conducting research, including assessing other states’ processes, and seeking and reviewing suggestions from South Carolinians. Then, it was to submit recommendations based on its findings. The following members have either graduated from or are employed by the University of South Carolina:
- Co-chairman Henry McMaster, former South Carolina attorney general and US attorney, is currently the senior advisor for the University of South Carolina, of which he is a 1969 and 1973 (JD) graduate.
- Co-chairman Travis Medlock, also a former South Carolina attorney general, currently practices law at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC. He is a 1959 graduate of the USC School of Law.
- Bill Rogers is the executive director of the South Carolina Press Association. He is a 1976 graduate of Carolina.
- John Simmons, who graduated from Carolina in 1984 and 1987 with his JD, is a former US attorney and currently practices law at the Simmons Law Firm, LLC.
- Ben Hagood, who earned a law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1983, is a former member of the State House of Representatives. He currently practices law at Moore & Van Allen, PLLC.
- Charles Bierbauer, a former CNN correspondent, is the current dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at Carolina. In 2008, he was awarded an honorary Life Membership from My Carolina.
- F. Xavier Starkes, a former assistant US attorney, is a 1988 graduate of the USC School of Law. He currently practices law at Starkes Law Firm, LLC.
- C. Kelly Jackson, former solicitor for the third judicial circuit, is a 1990 graduate of Carolina’s law school. He currently practices law in Columbia.
- Flynn Harrell is the former financial officer and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. A 1957 graduate of the University of South Carolina, he also served on the Board of Governors for My Carolina and is a Life Member of the organization.
University of South Carolina Director of State Relations Trey Walker, ’89, was also recognized for his assistance and contributions to this commission.