West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) – A number of people are once again questioning the wisdom of naming roads, bridges, and even buildings for living honorees after a former SCDOT commissioner tangled with the law several times recently. John N. Hardee entered a guilty plea on an obstruction charge and was then arrested on a prostitute solicitation charge. He was jailed in a sting dubbed, “Operation Relentless Guardian.” This five-day operation was intended to net people who solicit underage children online for sex. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott made the announcement about the arrest of Hardee and several others Tuesday. One of the other men caught in this net was a deputy who had worked for Lott until his arrest on August 6th.
If you think you recognize the name John Hardee, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. The main entrance to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport that runs from Airport Boulevard to Platt Springs Road is named in his honor. This was done when the 72-year-old was serving one of two terms on the SC Highway Commission back in 1999. When the connector opened in 2004, Hardee’s name was prominently displayed on the directional signs over the interstate style expressway and in other prominent, very visible spots, a fitting gateway to our area.
State roads, bridges, and buildings can be named in honor or memory of someone in several ways. First, it can be done by the state’s legislators. In the case of roads, bridges, and interchanges, it can also be done by the SCDOT Commission. It is believed that the airport’s entrance was named after Hardee at the request of the director of the SCDOT years ago. According to the Charleston Post & Courier, there’s also a section of U.S. 701 in Horry County called the John N. Hardee Highway
This practice of naming parts of our roads, bridges, and interstate system after someone is not uncommon in Lexington County either. Near White Knoll High School, there’s a portion of the road named after Deputy Brian K. Mills. Mills died after his cruiser overturned there years ago. A section of I-20 between Sunset Boulevard and Augusta Road is named after Richland County Sheriff Deputy Byron "Keith" Cannon. He died there in a fiery car accident in 2005. Both were done after the two were killed while on-duty.
There’s also a First Lt. Ryan Rawl bridge over 12 Mile Creek, and a Joshua Torrence Road. These were named after local heroes who gave their lives serving in the military during the war on terror. These were all named in memory of, not in honor of, after the men had died.
There still are examples of these namings done in honor of living people who served in various ways. One that immediately comes to mind is the Jake Knotts’ bridge on Hwy. 378 west of Lexington. Jake Knotts was a member of the SC legislature for many years serving in both the House and Senate. He’s still very much alive. For years, people hurled accusations in his direction, but to Knotts’ credit, no one has proved a thing. His official record shows years of distinguished service. It also reflects the good he did for the people who lived in the areas he represented.
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Department Headquarters Complex was named after former Sheriff James R. Metts. He served the people of Lexington County for 42 years. The complex was named in his honor and the signage was paid for with $40,000 in private donations. Lexington County’s Council quickly removed the name and signage after Metts retired. He did so just before being indicted for taking a bribe. Council also decided they would no longer bestow namings in honor of living people who by nature make mistakes and sometimes do inappropriate things. The James R. Metts signs were removed and ones without a person’s name replaced them.
Metts also had a boat landing named in his honor by the state. The legislature quickly acted to remove that after his fall from grace. The signs were also changed.
Now that John Hardee has been accused, the SCDOT’s Commission is quickly working to consider having his name erased from the expressway and connector. How much this will cost hasn’t been determined or released. They will take up that topic during their September 19th meeting.
Whether you choose to judge Mr. Hardee or not, at some point, some citizens are concerned about the practice of designating the honors. More specifically, they are concerned about the cost of changing all those signs. They aren’t cheap!
It would be up to the legislature, some of which have already been honored with a building, a bridge, or a road, to stop this practice. Currently, they are on summer break and will not be back in session until January of 2020.