Legal Issues Continue to Stick to Lexington-Richland School District 5

Posted 6/30/22

Lawsuits and ethics complaints have been going on for the past two years without much resolution.

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Legal Issues Continue to Stick to Lexington-Richland School District 5

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A cloud of legal issues is hovering over Lexington-Richland School District 5.

Lawsuits and ethics complaints have been going on for the past two years without much resolution.

Here’s a summary of the various actions, many of which are still unresolved.

The State Newspaper filed suit against the district for allegedly violating the state’s open meeting laws in dealing with the resignation of a former superintendent.

The suit, filed last summer, alleges that the Lexington-Richland 5 board approved a settlement agreement with former Superintendent Christina Melton, including a payment of $226,368 on top of Melton’s salary and benefits, behind closed doors and without public discussion or a vote as required by state law.

But Board Chairwoman Jan Hammond said the board “followed the advice of legal counsel” during that meeting. She said there was no vote taken during the closed session.

The board issued a statement in response to the suit, saying the settlement is a private, contractual negotiation and is protected by attorney-client privilege.

A final resolution has not been announced.

District 5 has fired back.

The school board filed its own lawsuit against its former superintendent, Stephen Hefner, in November of last year, alleging Hefner filed a “wrongful, malicious and politically motivated” complaint with the school district’s accrediting agency.

Hefner, along with former superintendents Herbert Berg and Wendell Clamp and former school board chairmen Danny Brabham and Carl Hust, filed a complaint with accrediting agency Cognia in August questioning how the district structured its contract with interim Superintendent Akil Ross, who was later named permanent superintendent. 

The contract was negotiated with Ross’ business, HeartED, LLC., instead of with Ross personally.

The accrediting agency did not take any action on accreditation in response to the complaint.

Hammond said the board would have dropped the legal action if Hefner had simply apologized for the complaint.

A final resolution of the complaint has not been announced.

The board’s vice chair, Ken Loveless, is taking his own legal action against two of his critics in the District 5 community.

Loveless is suing Kevin Scully and Leslie Stiles for allegedly making critical comments about him in a Facebook group called Deep Dive into D5. Stiles administers the Facebook Group.

Loveless alleges that Scully, husband of a teacher in the district, has made repeated defamatory statements about him that were voluntarily published on the internet. 

Among the comments cited in the lawsuit is “Crooked Ken is an unethical hypocrite and a liar.”

The suit accuses Stiles of publishing posts to the page that contain false and defamatory statements about Loveless, which defame him, harm him and his reputation, and subject him to humiliation and ridicule.

Loveless says no resolution has been made in the legal actions, which he says are ongoing.

The legal actions impacting the board also include ethics complaints.

An investigation was launched by the State Ethics Commission after complaints were filed alleging that Board Chairwoman Jan Hammond failed to report income on her Statements of Economic Interest. She was also cited for using her government issued email account to promote candidates seeking election.

Hammond has acknowledged she made a mistake on filing statements, but she said it was due to technical issues in the filing process. It was a technical oversight, she said.

“I did not do it on purpose,” she said. “I go by the rules.”

Hammond agreed to pay a $1,700 penalty for the filing oversight.

Other complaints included eight counts of using a government-issued email address to advocate for or against candidates for office in an election.

Hammond said the complaint is baseless.

She said she did not send out email messages to promote candidates. She said there were messages supporting the candidates on her cell phone that could have been picked up and sent out.

An ethics complaint was also filed against Loveless, alleging that he had a business relationship with the company that built Chapin’s Piney Woods Elementary School.

After he was elected to the board in 2018, Loveless was critical of the project and the work of Contract Construction. But other board members raised ethics concerns in 2020 when Loveless’ company, Loveless Commercial Contracting, was awarded a more than $1 million contract to work with Contract Construction on a forensic lab for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Loveless later recused himself from future discussion of work at Piney Woods, which opened last year on Amicks Ferry Road.

Loveless said he has been in contact with the Ethics Commission. While he said he couldn’t comment on the ongoing investigation, he does not anticipate any repercussions.

Probably one of the most publicized legal battles was that between the district and former school board member Kim Murphy. The board brought legal action to have Murphy, an outspoken critic of board actions at the time, removed from the board after determining that her legal residence was in Lexington County, not Richland County, where her district is supposed to be located. 

She was finally removed from office, but the legal disputes continued as the district filed a lawsuit against her for creating legal delays in school construction that cost the district $10 million. The case was finally settled in 2019 without any compensation.

lexington-richland school district 5, superintendent akil ross, vice chiar ken loveless

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