After two Winthrop University trustees asked for details last month about her husbands employment, then-President Jamie Comstock Williamson told a campus technology staff member to purge an email she wrote last August that initiated Larry Williamsons hiring, the Board of Trustees chairwoman says.
Kathy Bigham and vice chairman Karl Folkens met with Jamie Williamson on June 9 to discuss Larry Williamsons employment and how it came about, Bigham told The Herald late Friday. The meeting came several days after The Herald asked questions about Larry Williamsons employment.
After the 1.5-hour meeting, Jamie Williamson said she would provide the board members information as to how her husband first came to be hired, Bigham said. Nearly an hour later, Bigham said, Williamson sent the trustees an August 2013 email from senior staffer Kimberly Faust that discusses Larry Williamsons hiring.
But Jamie Williamson did not provide an Aug. 3, 2013 email she wrote to Faust, according to Bigham. In that email, obtained by The Herald, Williamson wrote: In your role as chief of staff, I want to work with you to create a new temporary (I think that is the correct word) staff position for Larry. Williamson suggested in the email that her husband be paid $30,000 per year an amount she characterized as low enough not to attract critics.
Instead of sending that email to the trustees, Williamson telephoned a senior technology staff person and directed him to purge the Aug. 3 email from the presidents account and Dr. Fausts account, Bigham said. The directive came just two minutes after the other email was sent to the board members, she said.
Williamson rescinded the order after the staffer reported the Aug. 3 email had already been forwarded to at least one account outside of Winthrop, Bigham said.
When asked for comment on Saturday, Williamsons attorney, Bev Carroll, responded by email that I have no intention of responding to these additional allegations because we have not been provided any of this information or any documentation in the possession of the board.
On June 13, the Winthrop board voted to suspend Williamson and gave notice of its intentions to fire her. In a termination notice letter written that day to Williamson, trustees allege that the president directed a university employee to destroy university records (or) property and directed a university employee to make a hire in violation of the S.C. Ethics Act and Winthrops nepotism policy.
The board voted to fire Williamson on June 26.
Through her attorney, Jamie Williamson has refuted all the trustees claims against her.
Bigham, in her statement to The Herald Friday night, said she and Folkens initiated the June 9 meeting to review a number of concerns, including questions which had arisen regarding what the president had told trustees about the manner in which her husband was hired and the conclusion date of his temporary position.
The boards executive committee had been told about Larry Williamsons part-time, temporary employment in Winthrops presidents office about one month after he was hired on Sept. 1, 2013, Folkens said. At that time, board members were not aware of the presidents Aug. 3 email to her chief of staff that initiated her husbands hiring, nor were they told that Winthrops human resources officer had raised concerns about nepotism, Folkens said.
Instead, the president told trustees that human resources had cleared the hire, Folkens said. And, the president told the trustees then that her chief of staff was the impetus behind his being hired ... Trustees were assured by (the president) the hire was done in a proper manner, Bigham said.
A story last week in The Herald reported on the Aug. 3 email as well as several others written by the Williamsons, Faust, and Lisa Cowart, Winthrops associate vice president for human resources.
Jamie Williamson wrote in the Aug. 3 email that as senior counsel for strategic initiatives, Larry Williamson should earn some nominal salary associated with the position to make it legit.
Five days later, Faust wrote to the president that We have an opportunity to hire a senior counsel for strategic initiatives, highly qualified and willing to work for a pittance. The email from Faust does not name Larry Williamson or identify the job candidate as the presidents husband.
That Aug. 8 email is the one Jamie Williamson provided to the board last month.
Records show that Jamie Williamson responded to the email by copying Larry Williamson and asking Faust to add Other duties as assigned to the list of responsibilities.
The Heralds story last week reported that Cowart raised a question in August about how the public would perceive Larry Williamsons employment. Cowart, who referenced Winthrops nepotism policy, said that while (the president) will not be directly supervising (her husband), the argument that she is in the direct line of supervision may arise.
South Carolinas ethics law says no state employee may cause the employment, appointment, promotion, transfer or advancement of a family member to a position in which the public employee supervises or manages.
Larry Williamson was employed for nine months, through May 31. He was paid $27,000, but the Williamsons returned the money.
Emails question police chiefs raise, job offer
Winthrop trustees found at least one other example where emails were directed to be purged, Bigham said on Friday. The emails were purged but successfully recovered as part of our investigation.
On Friday, Winthrop complied with a Freedom of Information Act request from The Herald for some of the presidents emails from May 1 to 12. A reference to deleting emails is found in the documents, during a discussion about a 33 percent pay raise given to Winthrop Police Chief Frank Zebedis earlier this year.
One series of emails discusses whether Zebedis had a formal job offer from another school before his salary was increased. The emails began on the morning of May 4 when the president writes that she is under considerable pressure to justify Zebedis pay raise, which amounted to a $27,442 hike.
Frank Ardaiolo, Winthrops vice president for student life, wrote later that day to Williamson that Zebedis never had a hard offer ... (Zebedis) was led to believe the interview process was a formality.
Williamson replied that I have been operating under the impression that... you told me that (Zebedis) had an offer from Mississippi State.
In a later email on May 4, Jamie Williamson tells a staff member that we need to delete all of these emails on this topic... Then we are going to ask James to go in and delete them.
That email was sent to Cowart.
Download the PDF emails from Williamson HERE.
Other than mentioning James, the May 4 email does not specify the employee the president intended to ask to further delete emails. Trustees also have not identified which employee they say Jamie Williamson asked to purge emails on June 9.
In late May, when asked by The Herald, the president said retaining Zebedis in light of another schools job offer was a contributing factor to Winthrop promoting him and her approving a salary increase.
Board members were told of Zebedis promotion and pay raise on April 24, Folkens told The Herald on Saturday. Williamson told Faust to send a memo to the boards executive committee saying Zebedis pay raise was in part based on a desire to retain a trusted and valued employee and that he had an offer from another college in Mississippi, Folkens said.
Under state law and the universitys policy at the time, the universitys Board of Trustees was not required to approve pay raises.
Among the trustees claims of cause to fire Williamson, they have accused her of misleading the board and the public on the salary review process she conducted for some Winthrop employees.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068