Lancaster election ethics inquiry finished

adouglas@heraldonline.comOctober 13, 2012 

— The South Carolina Ethics Commission is not investigating further an ethics violation Lancaster Sheriff Barry Faile committed in September, a commission representative said Friday.

Faile and Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis reported the Sept. 27 violation when Debbie Hardin, the council’s clerk, used county-owned resources to scan a campaign barbeque invitation and then e-mailed it to all seven Lancaster County Council members.

The sheriff said a county employee also carried the invitation through interoffice mail to Hardin along with many other documents – a process county employees use every day to send paperwork.

“I didn’t think anything about it,” Faile said. “I just threw it in there.”

“Next time, I’ll buy a stamp.”

Hardin also self-reported the ethics violation, she said, because she sent the invitation, not realizing it was campaign material.

An hour later, Hardin, on the advice of the state’s Ethics Commission, sent council members another e-mail asking them to delete and disregard her message, citing the ethics violation.

State Ethics Commission guidelines state, "No person may use government personnel, equipment, materials, or an office building in an election campaign. A person may use public facilities for campaign purposes if they are available on similar terms to all candidates and committees. Likewise, government personnel may participate in election campaign on their own time and on non-government premises."

“Re-elect Barry Faile, Lancaster County Sheriff,” political sign attached to the fence at the Buford High School’s football field was questioned by the school’s principal recently, said Lancaster County School District spokesman David Knight.

District officials determined the political sign did not violate the school district’s policy that regulates advertising on school grounds, Knight said.

The sign faces the road outside the football stadium. Faile has another campaign sign on the other side of the fence which can be seen from the stands during sporting events.

The advertising policy, adopted in 2009, Knight said, allows for political signs to be placed in venues already designated for advertising.

Lancaster County School District’s superintendent has the authority to interpret the advertising policy and settle any disputes, according to the district’s policy.

The district’s booster club regularly sells advertising for the fence, he said, and Faile’s sign facing the road is next to a Wendy’s restaurant ad.

The inside of the fence, Knight said, has different types of advertising.

Knight said Faile paid $150 to the booster club for his re-election sign on the outside of the school fence.

The Ethics Commission sees no problem with political advertising on football fields, said Deputy Director Cathy Hazelwood said.

Faile’s sign on the outside of Buford High School’s stadium fence is more of a “gray area,” she said, but not a “black-and-white violation.”

Allowing any candidate to purchase space on the fence, she said, could “open (the district) up” to having to allow other candidates with extreme views to advertise.

Hazelwood said if the district tries to stop political ads on the fencetheir policy isn’t specific enough to keep others from buying space.

It’s just safer to say “no” to all political and campaign ads, she said.

“I think the district should think longer and harder about that,” Hazelwood said.

Knight said if Faile’s election opponent Scott Case wants to buy space for a campaign sign, he would be allowed to.

Case said Friday he has no plans to put signs on the school’s property. He has a large campaign sign in the right-of-way near the high school already.

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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