Berkeley County schools spokeswoman faces ethics charge

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 13, 2014

A Berkeley County School District employee accused of violating a state ethics law was indicted Tuesday, the S.C. Attorney General said.

Amy Kovach, director of communications and community relations for the district, was charged by a Berkeley County grand jury with one count of “Violation of Ethics Act: Use of Public Funds to Influence the Outcome of an Election,” according to J. Mark Powell, a spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office. Kovach was placed on administrative leave with pay.

Kovach

Kovach

 

Powell said the misdemeanor offense is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or up to one year in prison.

The school district is under investigation by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division for possible violations concerning its 2012 “Yes 4 Schools” building campaign. Voters ultimately approved a tax increase to fund the construction and renovation of various schools.

The investigation was requested by Wilson after attorney Josh Whitley sent documents to Wilson.

Whitley — who said he had investigated this campaign independent of his law firm, Smyth Whitley LLC — requested thousands of emails that Kovach sent pertaining to the campaign. In one email from July 2012, Whitley said Kovach wrote that the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce is “not running the campaign. The campaign is being run internally from my desk as the BCSD point of contact for all marketing and campaign details.”

He said the district asked for legal advice about the campaign and was told by the lawyers involved that no computers, phones, district equipment or time could be used to help the campaign. In addition, he said officials held a “Vote Yes” pep rally, even when they were advised against doing so.

Whitley, who attended Berkeley County schools and thinks others might be indicted, said the case could help school districts across South Carolina become more educated about the law.

“For the people of Berkeley County, it draws attention that there needs to be new leadership sooner rather than later,” Whitley said.

He added that he is “extremely pleased and proud of the attorney general and SLED.”

The investigation is ongoing, and Wilson stressed that all defendants are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty.

School board chairman Kent Murray confirmed that Kovach was put on administrative leave with pay during this week’s board meeting. He said, “Because this remains an ongoing legal and personnel matter, we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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