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Rep. Brown: SCSU, Elzey Resignation Unlikely But Takeover May Be Eminent
2/18/2015 4:38:22 PM

Robert Brown

Thomas Elzey
By Barney Blakeney

Last week’s news that the S.C. General Assembly’s House Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee recommended financially imperiled South Carolina State University be closed three semesters so it can get it’s financial house in order sent shock waves through the community already reeling from information about persistent economic trouble at the institution. Hollywood Dist. 116 Rep. Robert Brown shared his views about the proposal.
Brown said he was surprised and upset by the proviso from the subcommittee chaired by Daniel Island Dist. 99 Rep. James Merrill. SCSU’s financial troubles accumulated during years of mismanagement that included corruption and unsound financial wrangling, Brown said, but the subcommittee’s recommendation isn’t a quick fix to SCSU’s complicated challenges. Rather, it’s a knee-jerk conservative response to the university’s mounting financial problems, Brown said.
SCSU President Thomas Elzey, who took over administration of the institution in the summer of 2013, has petitioned the general assembly repeatedly for emergency funding to pay the institution’s bills, bills he determined accrued due to mismanagement.
The legislature failed to fulfill those requests placing the university in even deeper financial trouble. The subcommittee’s split vote to close the school is an indication of the Republican-dominated general assembly’s  intolerance and lack of compassion for problem’s it has helped to perpetuate, Brown said.
Brown insists the subcommittee’s hasty reaction to Elzey’s most recent request for some $14 million won’t fly past the House’s full Ways and Means Committee or the general assembly. The S.C. House often passes legislation contrary to progress in the state, but Brown said he’s confident more forward thinking legislators will prevent the recommendation's ultimate approval. Even if it passes through the House, it still must pass in the Senate where more reasonable legislators likely will kill it, he said.
As asinine as the proviso is, it however reflects how many legislators view SCSU’s financial activities and administration, Brown said. Elzey was selected to head the university last April and took office last summer.
The former Citadel finance officer was brought to the university to help straighten out what most consider SCSU’s financial mess. But Elzey has been an enigma to legislators, Brown said. He doesn’t give legislators much information to help them understand the university’s complicated issues and hasn’t developed a good working relationship with legislators in general or members of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus specifically. As a result, last week members of the Black caucus discussed asking Elzey to resign.
Brown said he doubts there will be any formal move to unseat Elzey. That responsibility rests with SCSU’s board of trustees and not the general assembly. But the lack of confidence in Elzey could lead to a move to place the university’s finances in receivership before any new money is handed over. One Charleston legislator already is making that proposal, Brown said.
At this point the options for SCSU are bitter sweet, Brown said. Legislative appointment of a financial receiver for the university means its future control would be uncertain - ultimately it could fall under the administration of another institution. But that’s better than even temporary closure, he said.


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