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School District Two board vice-chair faces multiple state ethics violations

West Columbia, SC 10/20/2021 (Paul Kirby) – The vice chair of Lexington School District Two’s Board of Trustees is facing multiple state ethics charges after investigators say she voted on numerous district constructions projects that directly benefitted the firm her husband works for. Beth Branham is said to have voted at least 10 times on projects that involved design work by Stevens and Wilkerson Architects, a firm where her husband holds the position of head of engineering.

According to the SC Ethics Commission, Branham’s vote acted to provide a direct benefit to her family through the pay her husband received from Stevens and Wilkerson while they were doing consulting work on the district’s construction projects.

In a statement and a filing from the Ethic Commission, a representative said that they will hold a hearing into this matter in April of 2022. At that hearing, Branham will have the benefit of counsel and both the commission’s attorneys, and she will have the opportunity to provide evidence and question any witnesses called during the proceeding.

All of these charges stem from the money spent through a three- or four-year period that provided massive upgrades to the district’s undersized and aging schools. The funds for these upgrades were made possible after the voters of District Two approved a bond referendum in 2014 specifically for new and upgraded facilities.

Stevens and Wilkerson did not actually win the bids for the design work of the construction projects. Instead, they did consulting work for Jumper, Carter Sease, a West Columbia based firm that specializes in design and engineering work for school districts among other things. Jumper, Carter Sease held the contracts, Branham’s attorney of record Scott Winburn pointed out in a written response to the Ethic Commission's complaints, not Stevens and Wilkerson. He continued to point out that the district is never involved in who their chosen design firm hires after contracts are awarded to consult for them. He also said that Branham did recuse herself from any action that directly dealt with her husband’s firm.

Winburn further argued in his filing that, ““The school board does not have control or oversight of the subcontracts made by the architect firms hired by the District. In fact, the architect firms also can hire/fire any subcontractors on their project without notifying the District.”

If Branham is found guilty of wrongdoing, she could be fined up to $2,000 for each of the 10 violations she is accused of committing. The State Ethics Commission could also forward their findings to SC Attorney General Alan Wilson who would then need to determine if the violations are criminal in nature.


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