Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Stories for S.C. accountability journalism project uncover corruption, misspending in local governments

Two rural South Carolina dailies have exposed questionable local tax expenditures; the stories are the latest products of an investigative reporting partnership with The Post and Courier in Charleston and 16 rural newsrooms across the state. 

The first story digs into questionable spending by the Wagener fire department that has prompted investigations by county and state officials as well as federal scrutiny. As part of a larger investigation into the town's mismanagement of taxpayer money, the Aiken Standard "has uncovered hundreds of pages of records that shed fresh light on money issues that have roiled Wagener’s fire department and divided the town," Dede Biles reports for the Standard, which is owned by The Post and Courier. "The fire department dispute is just the latest in a string of controversies arising from the town’s finances in recent years. Among other things, the town has found itself on the defensive for failing to properly insure town hall, neglecting to pay Wagener’s federal taxes on time and improperly using state money intended for crime victims to shore up other budget holes."

The second story details how local officials charged with renovating a rural school "flouted South Carolina procurement law while awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in work, keeping the public, potential contractors and even state regulators in the dark," Matthew Hensley reports for the Index-Journal in Greenwood.

The Post and Courier launched the "Uncovered" project in February, noting that expanding rural news deserts and weak ethics laws have allowed local-government corruption to go undetected.

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