Sen. Vincent Sheheen, sole Democratic candidate for governor, has called for an investigation into “apparent abuse of power” by Gov. Nikki Haley, her staff and leadership at her Department of Social Services, based on their alleged attempts to confound a Senate investigation into preventable child abuse and deaths at that agency.
In a letter to S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson (R-Richland), Sheheen references DSS Director Lillian Koller’s refusal to testify before a Senate DSS oversight subcommittee, while citing doctor’s orders, until the subcommittee threatened to exercise its subpoena power; DSS’ delayed replies to requests for information that were “later revised or disputed” by Haley’s office; and numerous reports from DSS whistleblowers that agency management is discouraging cooperation with the senators’ investigation.
Additionally, Sheheen references an article in this week’s issue of Free Times: “Now, we saw a new report in the media this week about one of our own senators being called into the governor’s office in an effort to change her approach to the investigation.”
That article detailed a meeting in the conference room at Haley’s State House office between a member of the DSS oversight subcommittee, Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington), and two of Haley’s top staff members, in which the senator, a longtime Haley ally, reported being “scolded” for embarrassing the governor ahead of the November election in the course of the subcommittee’s hearings.
Shealy told Free Times she felt the two staffers were attempting to intimidate her in hopes that she might call off the subcommittee’s hearings.
“I told them that this didn’t have anything to do with my relationship with the governor or with the governor, period. This has to do with children, which is what I’ve said all along,” she added.
Earlier this week, Sheheen joined his Democratic ally and DSS subcommittee member Sen. Joel Lourie in calling on Haley to fire Koller, citing last week’s death of a newborn in Richland County that local law enforcement officials say DSS should have prevented.
Meanwhile, the Haley administration has continually praised Koller and accused DSS’ critics of playing politics. Haley’s office has declined to respond to all Free Times’ repeated requests for comment on the scandal.
Courson, to whom Sheheen directed his investigation request, could not be reached immediately for comment on Thursday afternoon.