Report Concludes that Mayor has Violated the Freedom of Information Act, Ruled by Intimidation, and Violated Numerous City Ordinances
WEST COLUMBIA, SC – At last night’s West Columbia City Council Meeting, Mayor Joe Owens’ efforts to keep an independent audit of city operations from being made available to the public were defeated by a vote of 6 – 2.
“I would like to specifically thank Chief Dennis Tyndall for bringing many of the concerns that were ultimately confirmed in the report to the members of City Council. Without him taking this initial step to put an end to the corruption, we may have never known the truth. And the people of West Columbia deserve to know the truth,” stated Councilman Tem Miles. “I also think it is very important to thank the employees who had the courage and the integrity to speak with Mr. Bolchez about the problems they were experiencing on a daily basis.”
Based upon concerns brought to Council by Chief Tyndall and numerous city employees, Council members proposed conducting an independent audit to determine which issues were factual and needed to be addressed accordingly.
The need for the audit was made apparent by concerned citizens who appeared before Council and demanded that Council put an end to any unfounded and unsubstantiated rumors. Mr. Robert Bolchez, esq. was retained to complete the audit based on his years prosecuting public corruption cases as a Deputy Solicitor and for the U.S. Attorney for the State of South Carolina.
In conducting the audit, Mr. Bolchez established a system that every employee who wished to speak with him could do so without the knowledge or involvement of their department head. This was done so employees would feel free to speak openly without concern of retribution. Ultimately, Mr. Bolchoz spent over 50 hours interviewing over 30 city employees and councilmembers, reviewing documents, and recordings. The Mayor and his attorney were advised of the Mayor’s opportunity to speak with Mr. Bolchez and the Mayor declined to do so. The Mayor’s recent claims that he was not given the opportunity to address the allegations against him are simply untrue. Any employee, council member, or the mayor that wanted to speak to Mr. Bolchez was provided the opportunity to do so.
The report only includes issues that Mr. Bolchez was able to substantiate and all are supported by documentation and witness testimony which this report summarizes. Mr. Bolchez did not include many allegations that he was not able to substantiate or ones that were reported anonymously. To read the full report, click here.
After reviewing the report and other evidence and accounts, the following is clear:
- The City’s policies and procedures regarding procurement, personnel and payroll were manipulated by the Mayor in order to reward his political allies by providing government resources and services in an ununiformed manner to all citizens and taxpayers.
- Mayor Owens has intimidated well-intentioned City employees with threats of demotion or termination in order to: have city staff provide services on private, non-city property; to make personnel decisions and to spend city money on services and equipment which he was not authorized to do.
- Mayor Owens signed city checks and pay increases without the approval of the City Administrator; approval that is required under the Council form of government.
- Mayor Owens interfered with the grievance panel which reviewed Matt Edwards at the end of his employment with the City.
- Mayor Owens insisted on hiring an individual who was a convicted, violent felon to work in the public works department despite vehement objections from the City Administrator and a department head who expressed serious concerns about putting this man in close contact with the public and their property.
- Former Police Chief Matt Edwards directed officers to dismiss tickets, suspended officers who refused to dismiss tickets, required officers to apologize to members of City Council for stopping or ticketing them for traffic offenses, required officers to sign fraudulent time sheets, and ordered traffic enforcement to be suspended for the purposes of people traveling to and from a Councilmember’s Christmas Party.
- The report shows that Matt Edwards ordered officers to kill three dogs in a late night firing-squad execution at the home of a City Council member when other officers on the scene described the dogs as being non-aggressive. While not included in the report, Matt Edwards has had prior incidents, noted in police reports, that show a concerning patter of treatment towards animals. One included an incident at his home when he shot two dogs 25 times.
- Matt Edwards while conducting job interviews for the police department asked multiple applicants discriminatory questions of an inappropriate sexual nature.
- Mayor Owens appointed a special committee to investigate the police department and conducted a special meeting in violation of the Freedom of Information Act because the meeting was conduced in secret. The entire meeting was recorded. During the meeting, the Mayor is heard threatening Chief Dennis Tyndall with termination, using vulgar language,and discussing his male genital in front of a female City Administrator and a female Mayor Pro Tem.
These issues are particularly troubling given the relationship between the Mayor’s push for Strong Mayor and his political ally Matt Edwards. Based on all that is documented in this report, I feel strongly that that West Columbia does not need a stronger mayor and that Matt Edwards should have no role in any law enforcement agency, especially not in West Columbia.
August 6, 2014 Contact: Ashley S. Hunter
firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-665-3676