BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Berkeley County School District Superintendent Dr. Rodney Marion Thompson is expected to have a bond hearing Friday morning in Richland County after a State Grand Jury indicted him on an ethics charge.
On Wednesday night, the Berkeley County School Board announced Thompson had been placed on paid administrative leave.
"We learned this afternoon that the District's Superintendent, Dr. Rodney Thompson, has been indicted in connection with the 2012 school improvement referendum," read a statement by the school board released on Wednesday. "For these reasons, Dr. Thompson has been placed on administrative leave, with pay. Because this remains an ongoing legal and employment matter, I am unable to comment further regarding the facts of the matter."
School district officials say Deputy Superintendent Archie Francini will be the the interim superintendent of the district effective immediately.
The board released the information during a meeting discussing the current national search for superintendent.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Wednesday afternoon that the State Grand Jury had returned an indictment against Thompson.
Thompson was indicted on one count for the Ethics Act offense of using public funds, property, and time to influence the outcome of an election, pursuant to South Carolina Code 8-13-1346.
The charge is a misdemeanor and carries a potential sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of five hundred percent of the amounts at issue.
The indictment alleges that Thompson, while Berkeley County School District superintendent, did authorize and agree to the production and dissemination of pro-referendum campaign material and campaign communications using public resources, and did use and authorize the use of public resources to lead and direct pro-referendum efforts, all of which promoted and supported a "yes" vote in the school bond referendum held on November 6, 2012 which was subsequently passed by voters.
The property tax increase Berkeley County community members are paying is funding five new schools and renovating several others.
"I'm happy the investigation finally culminated into a charge," said former Berkeley County school board member Terry Hardesty on Wednesday."It's imperative that we hold public officials accountable in how they spend our tax dollars."
The case will be prosecuted by Assistant Deputy Attorney General Creighton Waters and Assistant Attorney General Brian T. Petrano.
Attorney General Wilson stressed all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty in a court of law.
School Board members say they have opened a national search for a new superintendent. They plan on interviewing candidates next week and plan to have a new leader by May.