We want to believe Tim Keown, president of the Governor’s School for Agriculture at John de la Howe.
We hope he truly has taken to heart the report issued by the state inspector general’s office. More importantly, we hope he takes to heart and implements all corrective steps the IG’s office outlined in order for the school to remain within the boundaries of state procurement and ethics laws.
After all de la Howe has been through in recent years — rampant wasteful spending and lack of accountability at the leadership level that nearly resulted in the school being closed for good — one would have thought lesson learned, time to do right, do better and make the school a success.
But an investigation carried out by Charleston’s Post and Courier and this newspaper into de la Howe’s procurement practices and spending habits leading up to its rebirth as a governor’s school reflects a different story, a story that would indicate that despite a new name and new mission to be a standout nationally acclaimed ag school, many of the same practices that put it under state government scrutiny live on.
Borrowing a line from “Poltergeist,” we had hoped “This house is clean” would be an absolute truth when de la Howe reopened with Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature in an on-campus visit to officially declare de la Howe a governor’s school.
“You gave me an exuberant amount of leadership suggestions that I am incorporating. ... We will learn from this, move on, and continue to make South Carolina proud of our agency/school,” Keown wrote in a letter in response to State Inspector General Brian Lamkin’s six-page letter summarizing his office’s findings.
School leaders failed to follow state procurement laws when they awarded sidewalk paving contracts to a concrete company, creating an “appearance of a conflict of interest.”
School leaders circumvented state purchasing laws by dividing that sidewalk paving contract into two smaller ones, bypassing rules for more expensive jobs.
Officials failed to follow other basic procurement rules designed to prevent fraud, and that the school should train all of its employees on how to properly purchase and requisition items.
The report also recommended the school contact the state Ethics Commission “and request ethics training for all staff.”
While the report did not contain language that suggested a criminal investigation was warranted, it certainly gave a stern rebuke. State lawmakers, most especially those whose districts include the school, should be paying close attention. Again. Still.
De la Howe is hardly out of the woods at this point and, in fact, we continue to delve into documents provided by the school under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
We want to see the storied campus of John de la Howe succeed in raising a new crop of students who will work in the field of agriculture. We just want it to do so lawfully, ethically and morally.
Just because de la Howe is situated in a rural 1,300-acre setting doesn’t mean the sun should not shine brightly on how it conducts business on the taxpayers’ account. After all, good sunshine is key to growing good crops.