Winthrop University President Jamie Comstock Williamson’s husband, Larry, was a temporary employee in his wife’s office for nine months during the last school year, making $27,000, according to the school.
Larry Williamson –– a retired U.S. Navy captain and college administration professional –– was hired on Sept. 1 to perform various governmental affairs duties and external relations work, said Jeff Perez, Winthrop spokesman and senior counsel to the president for public affairs.
Update: Jamie and Larry Williamson announced Thursday afternoon, after this story was originally published, that they have now returned the $27,000 to Winthrop.
Larry Williamson “was eminently qualified” to work in the president’s office, Perez said. Larry Williamson is a former college vice president and former executive director of the foundation at the University of West Florida. He also advocated for higher education with the Florida state legislature and worked for a U.S. Congressman for three years.
At Winthrop, he served part time as “senior counsel for strategic initiatives” until May 31, Perez said.
Larry Williamson worked 20 hours per week, Perez said. The president’s husband was hired by Kimberly Faust, who serves as the president’s chief of staff and the university’s secretary to the Board of Trustees.
While Faust has the authority to hire members of the president’s office staff without President Williamson’s approval, “given the nature of these circumstances, (Faust) and President Williamson discussed the issues surrounding hiring (her husband),” Perez said.
They also consulted with and sought advice from Winthrop’s human resources office. President Williamson’s senior-level president’s advisory council discussed his position, Perez said.
He said some Winthrop board members were aware that Larry Williamson was being considered for employment and that he was working part time, Perez said. The board’s Executive Committee was formally informed in October.
Winthrop board Chairman Kathy Bigham said she could not comment on Larry Williamson’s employment because the board plans to discuss presidential matters during a special called meeting on Friday.
South Carolina’s Ethics Act, which governs Winthrop officials and other public employees, says no South Carolina 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.”
The ethics law also states that public employees cannot participate in disciplinary action against family members. State law defines a spouse as a family member.
Jamie Williamson said she and others at Winthrop carefully considered the S.C. Ethics Act before her husband was hired.
“During the entire stint of his temporary, part-time employment, we also took great care not to violate the ethics act,” she said, adding that Larry Williamson reported to Faust and that the president did not supervise or manage his work.
Cathy Hazelwood, deputy director of the S.C. Ethics Commission, said that without knowing Winthrop’s exact organizational structure, she could not determine whether Larry Williamson’s job in the president’s office violated the ethics law.
South Carolina’s state nepotism policy is only violated, Hazelwood said, if all of the following criteria are met: the employee is a family member of the public employee; the employee is supervised or managed by the family member; and the public employee “caused” their family member to get a job or promotion.
Though Larry Williamson may have reported directly to the president’s chief of staff, Hazelwood said, as long as he worked in the president’s office, “it would seem she would manage him.”
Mayor: Williamson brought ‘wealth of experience’
Larry Williamson was needed during President Williamson’s first year at Winthrop and during the transition of new Winthrop officials, Perez said. Jamie Williamson become president on July 1, 2013.
As a new president, Jamie Williamson’s attention “needed to be primarily focused (on) internal matters,” Perez said, adding that “there were significant initiatives in the community requiring the participation and possible involvement of the university.”
President Williamson hired Perez earlier this year, and he started at Winthrop on Feb. 1. Part of Larry Williamson’s role included the public affairs duties that Perez now is responsible for.
One of Larry Williamson’s duties included serving on the Knowledge Park Leadership Group as a Winthrop representative.
The leadership group is a volunteer board comprised mainly of local business representatives and government officials. The group is credited with helping jump-start current economic development planning near downtown Rock Hill, in the city’s former textile area.
To represent Winthrop in its partnership with the city and others for Knowledge Park, “Larry met regularly with public officials, private sector leaders and campus constituents to advance the project,” Perez said.
Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols –– who serves on the Knowledge Park Leadership Group –– said the group benefited from Larry Williamson’s contributions. It is understandable, Echols said, that a new president would delegate some off-campus responsibilities as she is getting started on the job.
Jamie and Larry Williamson “work together as a team,” Echols said, adding that he thinks it was a “positive step” for a president to appoint a delegate to the leadership group, in order to ensure Winthrop maintained representation as Knowledge Park progresses.
Serving on the leadership group, Echols said, is a large time commitment and Larry Williamson brought “a wealth of experience” to the table.
Larry Williamsons’ duties also included a town hall-style presentation on campus to update students, faculty and staff about Knowledge Park progress.
President’s husband hired as ‘interim solution’
Winthrop did not designate an office for Larry Williamson, and he was not employed under a contract, Perez said.
Williamson planned to work until June 30, but his contributions to governmental affairs for Winthrop were no longer required, so he resigned, Larry Williamson told The Herald on Wednesday.
With the academic year complete last month, it became appropriate for President Williamson to have “a more direct relationship” with the Knowledge Park Leadership Group, Perez said.
Larry Williamson was hired when the university faced “a gap in governmental relations,” Perez said. A temporary solution was needed, he said, when Winthrop’s former assistant to the president for public affairs, Rebecca Masters, decided to step down last year and accept a part-time position on campus. Masters is now a research assistant in retired Winthrop president Anthony DiGiorgio’s office of the president emeritus –– a title Winthrop trustees bestowed on him before he retired.
As an “interim solution,” Perez said, Faust initiated Larry Williamson’s hiring, approved his hiring and served as his supervisor.
The job was not advertised as vacant or available, he said, because most temporary job positions at Winthrop are not publicly advertised. Full-time positions are advertised.
Before Perez’s hiring in February, Larry Williamson was tasked with keeping Winthrop officials updated on state legislative activities affecting colleges or universities.
He met with state lawmakers, helped prepare presentation materials for President Williamson’s appearances before state boards and committees, and worked with the York County Chamber of Commerce to plan “York County Day,” the annual visit of local officials to the Statehouse, Larry Williamson said. After Perez was hired, Larry Williamson helped him acclimate to his duties by providing context and background information about governmental relations.
“It has been an honor and a pleasure to use my background and experience in helping Winthrop during this transitional period,” Larry Williamson said on Wednesday.
Since the Williamsons’ early 2013 visit to Winthrop during the university’s presidential search to replace DiGiorgio, community members have “commented that Larry’s background and expertise would be an asset to Winthrop and the community,” President Williamson said, adding that “we still hear those types of comments nearly every day.”
All presidential spouses are expected to find ways to contribute based on their skills and professional experience, she said. “Larry planned to do this from the beginning ... and by all accounts, his efforts were quite successful.”
On May 2, The Herald requested a list of all current Winthrop employees and their salaries. The university provided a list on May 28, but Larry Williamson’s name and salary were not included. The Herald filed the request under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Perez said Winthrop did not include Larry Williamson’s information because, when asked for information about current employees, the university only includes regular, full-time employees. Winthrop’s temporary employees, which included Larry Williamson, perform a range of tasks “from one-day assignments to the work of adjunct professors,” Perez said.
The Herald asked Perez on Friday if Larry Williamson had been employed by the university. On Tuesday, Perez provided the information about Williamson’s temporary job.