Scott Case, a candidate for Lancaster County sheriff, paid the town of Great Falls $16.21 for fuel costs on Friday after he used a town-issued police car to drive to a meeting last week with members of The Heralds editorial board.
Driving the car to the meeting did not violate state ethics laws, according to an S.C. Ethics Commission official.
But to avoid an ethical misstep, Case had to pay for the gas in a timely manner, said Cathy Hazelwood, the commissions deputy director. Case took the appropriate action by keeping a mileage log and reimbursing the town, she said.
Case, a lieutenant with the Great Falls Police Department, said he was off duty and used the car to drive to an interview with Herald editorial board members at a library in Lancaster on Oct. 16.
Town officials say he and five other police officers have "take-home" police cars that can be used, with discretion, for purposes other than solely driving to and from work.
Great Falls Mayor Donald Camp and members of the town's council received an e-mail at around 10 p.m. Oct. 18 questioning the appropriateness of Case using the patrol car and arriving at the interview in uniform.
Buddy Faile, brother of Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile, wrote to town officials asking about "the town's participation in (Case's) campaign and use of the town's resources in conjunction with his election efforts."
Camp and Great Falls Police Chief Steven Rice say Case did not do anything unethical by using the police car to drive to the interview. The candidate was in his police uniform but was "off duty" and not being paid for the time he spent at the interview, Rice said.
Case was not soliciting for votes but participating in a meeting. He said it would have been a problem if he were in uniform, talking with voters and asking for support. The meeting took place behind a closed door and not within view of library patrons, he said.
Camp said Cases decision to drive a police car to the interview might have been a poor choice but I dont think its a violation of ethics.
An example of an improper use of a police car, he said, would be if an officer drove his patrol car out on a date or used the vehicle for a family trip.
Because the Great Falls Police Department is so small, Rice said, all officers have to be ready and "on call" even if they are off duty. Allowing take-home patrol vehicles, he said, ensures that the officers can be anywhere they're needed in a timely manner in case of an emergency.
The mayor said he doesn't expect that town officials strictly use their cars for commuting to work. He understands, he said, that an official or police officer may stop at the grocery store or run errands occasionally.
Rice said Buddy Failes e-mail was not sent to town officials out of genuine concern for how taxpayer money is spent, but was a jab intended to discredit Cases campaign just days before the election.
His sole reason is to discredit the gentleman whos running against his brother, Rice said.
Buddy Faile said in an e-mail to The Herald that the inquiry wasnt a jab but but merely a question to determine the level of support the town rendered Mr. Case by allowing him to use the town's patrol car in conjunction with his campaign activities.
Barry Faile also attended an interview with Herald editorial board members at the same library earlier in the day. He said he used his personal vehicle, not a county-issued police car, to drive to the meeting. The sheriff said hes been using his personal car for all campaign-related activity.
After learning about the e-mail on Oct. 19, Case said he called the S.C. Ethics Commission to find out if he had committed a campaign ethics violation.
There was no violation but the potential for one, Hazelwood said.
She instructed Case to calculate the mileage driven and reimburse the town for the gas used in order to avoid an ethics breach. Its okay for a candidate to spend campaign money on fuel reimbursement only after mileage has been logged, Hazelwood said. Its inappropriate to pay based on a projection so Case could not pay for the gas before using the car.
He wrote a check immediately, he said.
I was told today and Im doing it today, Case said on Friday. Im not trying to do anything shady.
Candidates submitted up-to-date campaign finance records to the Ethics Commission on Monday. Case's records show he paid Great Falls $16.21 for fuel on Oct. 19.
Camp and Rice say no town officials have given money to Case's campaign and they do not live in Lancaster County so they can't vote for him in the race for sheriff.
Case has raised more than $11,000 in campaign contributions since February 2012.
His biggest contributors include a police officer from Fort Mill, an EMS worker and a business owner from Lancaster and a nurse from Indian Land, according to campaign finance records.
Required reports on campaign spending and fundraising show that Case has no campaign contributors with addresses listed in Great Falls or Chester County, except for himself and one family member.
The majority of Case's campaign money has come from his own pocket, according to the campaign finance reports.
Hazelwood's instruction to Case that he should reimburse the town for gas is the latest message passed down from the state Ethics Commission in the Lancaster County Sheriff's race.
In September, Lancaster County Clerk to Council Debbie Hardin self-reported an ethics violation after she used county resources to scan a copy of an invitation for a Barry Faile campaign barbecue and used a county-owned computer to e-mail the invitation to all County Council members.
Barry Faile also self-reported a violation for using the county's inter-office mail system to send the barbecue invitation to Hardin.
State Ethics Commission guidelines state, "No person may use government personnel, equipment, materials, or an office building in an election campaign. A person may use public facilities for campaign purposes if they are available on similar terms to all candidates and committees. Likewise, government personnel may participate in election campaign on their own time and on non-government premises."
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068