To the Contrary

Fixing state prisons

Department of Corrections chief Jon Ozmint called allegations in a Senate staff committee report about his department "tired, recycled complaints raised by disgruntled employees."

But a Senate committee was troubled enough by the complaints to ask the State Law Enforcement Division and the Legislative Audit Council to investigate. It was the right thing to do. It moves this matter out of a politically charged environment and into the hands of professionals trained to separate fact from fiction.

Mr. Ozmint said the report "found no major problems that are valid. No mismanagement. No corruption that we had failed to uncover." Nevertheless, should the investigations turn up wrongdoing or mismanagement, appropriate action must be taken. Regardless of how we got to this point, there must be accountability. ...

Once all the investigating, finger-pointing and political posturing are over, lawmakers should take responsibility for their own role, and do their part to ensure prisons operate efficiently and safely.

On the Net:

(Spartanburg) Herald Journal on legal fees in a state retirees' lawsuit, Sept. 5:

Two lawyers who sued South Carolina on behalf of retired state employees should be paid for their work, but taxpayers shouldn't be required to inflate their wealth.

Cam Lewis and Dick Harpootlian sued the state on behalf of state employees who retired but kept working under the Teacher and Employee Retention Incentive (TERI) program and were required to continue to make contributions to the state pension plan. The lawyers won a reimbursement of almost $38 million for 14,000 retirees, and the contributions stopped.

The fight over legal fees has continued. Lewis and Harpootlian asked the courts to award them $23 million in legal fees, fees that would have to be paid by state taxpayers. ...

This case is typical of class-action cases in that the lawyers who bring the lawsuit are the ones who gain the most. The actual plaintiffs -- those who are supposed to benefit from the suit -- gain very little. ...

The court should award a reasonable fee but not a windfall for the attorneys. The General Assembly should pass class-action lawsuit reform that ensures that when a group sues to recover damages it has suffered, most of the benefit goes to those who suffered damages, not to their lawyers.

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The (Hilton Head) Island Packet on the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's role in testing water at a nuclear dump, Sept. 2:

It's hard to fathom why maps that show the location of monitoring wells at the Barnwell low-level nuclear dump site and the levels of radioactive tritium measured at the wells would be considered "proprietary" information and kept secret from the public.

It's even harder to fathom why state health officials would not test nearby private drinking water wells when they know tritium in the dump's groundwater exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water standard in more than 30 wells and they know the plume of pollution is moving.

The site is just north of a small, rural community that relies on private wells for drinking water. ...

DHEC and landfill operator Chem-Nuclear believe the drinking water is safe, saying the direction of groundwater from the site is to the southwest, rather than the south. But what possible reason -- other than a fear of bad publicity -- could they have for not making sure that is the case? ...

Attorney General Henry McMaster is right to call them to task and to look into the potential risk to the state's residents and the state's potential liability. ...

"The main issue right now is the safety of the people and legal consequences for our state," he said.

That should have been the main issue all along.

On the Net:

The (Charleston) Post and Courier on Sen. Lindsey Graham's comments on next election, Sept. 5:

South Carolina's U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told a Berkeley County audience recently that he's tired of considering every problem in terms of the next election. ...

Of course elected officials should be willing to listen to their constituents. Many have invaluable information that can make a difference in the decision-making. But it also is the job of elected officials to have more information than the average citizen. They were sent to Washington or Columbia or city halls to study issues and make informed decisions. They weren't put in office to be afraid to exercise that good judgment because they fear it will mean the end of their political careers. ...

Unfortunately, the fear to which Sen. Graham refers has been a sad fact of political life. Lawmakers too often want to stay in office too much and that sentiment becomes their overriding concern. ...

More should resolve, as Sen. Graham has, to turn over a new political leaf and stop living their lives afraid.

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