CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School District and its insurer paid a $150,000 settlement to its chief human resources officer for a school board member’s Facebook comments, according to documents obtained under the SC Freedom of Information Act.
The money was paid to Chief Human Resources Officer William (Bill) Briggman to settle allegations of “defamatory comments made by District Board Member Rev. Chris Collins” on a local education Facebook group, the settlement agreement stated.
Collins said he knew Briggman was upset about the comments but that he was unaware the complaint was settled until Live 5 reached out to him. “First I’m hearing about it,” Collins said. “I’m surprised and kind of angry, too, being a Board member and not knowing anything about it, not hearing anything about it, no discussion about it, that it’s just a done deal.”
“That’s a lot of money to give to anyone without Board knowledge,” Collins added.
CCSD’s Chief of Staff said the Board was updated last week about this settlement.
The comments in question were posted in 2018 in response to Live 5′s investigation of the Marvin Gethers case.
Members of the Charleston Area Community Voice of Education Facebook page were discussing outstanding questions in the case and speculating what district employees knew about the Gethers situation back in 2014.
Commenters questioned whether the HR Department was in the loop.
Screengrabs of the Facebook post were included in the settlement as an exhibit. Two of Collins’ comments were highlighted for reference.
The first said, “Bridgman [sic] was still position of high authority and had been over Human Resources for years. For a little while, he was the number the number two person in his department. This has been his department for years.”
He later commented, “Bridgman [sic] was and is over Human Resources. Cindy Coats was chairperson. You guys chased off the deputy of human capital. There is no one else to hide behind. Man up.”
Our investigation showed people in the district’s Employee Relations department were aware Gethers was caught with child pornography, yet the parent advocate was allowed to come back to work at the school while police investigated.
CCSD’s internal investigation later said the decision came from a former Associate Superintendent.
None of the documentation we uncovered indicated Briggman or anyone in the HR Department was aware of or involved in the Gethers investigation in 2014.
Briggman started overseeing ER in 2016; Gethers was fired in 2016 after he was charged and arrested.
CCSD Chief of Staff Erica Taylor said Monday that the Board members were “provided information last Thursday about the settlement as part of a notification that this was being released to the news media and public.” She said they were also updated generally about plans to settle.
In March 2019, Briggman’s attorney sent a letter to the Board saying that Collins’ comments to the public misrepresented and falsely claimed his client was culpable. The letter said Briggman was conflicted to even bring it to the attention to the board during what is already a “volatile matter." They offered to consider resolutions, including informal procedures, to avoid formal public filings.
Collins said he did not delete his comments and that the post was still there as far as he knew. We could not find the post.
“I don’t see any claim at all - nothing valid there. You work for the district, we all have different responsibilities and accountabilities. We’re free to talk about those things. Not trying to embarrass them or hurt no one, but it’s just public information,” Collins said.
Collins said he was not involved in the settlement terms.
We reached out to every board member Monday. Cindy Coats, Kevin Hollinshead and Todd Garrett responded but did not have comments to make on the record. Priscilla Jeffery said the story spoke for itself and indicated she wished the media could focus on more positive school stories.
Board members Eric Mack, Kate Darby, Joyce Green and Chris Fraser have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Collins does not think the district should have settled.
“I’m sorry money was paid out at all. Not a dime should have went out the door - not one cent should have been paid. That’s just bologna. The whole thing to me is just ridiculous,” Collins said.
Briggman signed the settlement agreement in May 2019 and Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait signed it in June 2019.
Briggman talked to Live 5′s Carter Coyle Monday but couldn’t offer a comment on the record right now.
In a separate lawsuit, Briggman denied “any knowledge of, involvement in, or responsibility for the handling of the Gethers matter.”
He is suing a local news website called the Lowcountry Source for an article that alleged Briggman was aware of the Gethers situation and failed to act. That lawsuit is still pending.
His attorneys said in that case that Briggman “has been embarrassed, humiliated, damaged and Plaintiff has endured mental suffering” because of the story’s accusations.
Briggman is a 20-year veteran of CCSD and was named the 2019 SC Personnel Administrator of the Year by the SC Association of School Administrators.
In regard to the Collins’ comments, a lawsuit was never filed, said Chief of Staff Erica Taylor. The district’s legal department notified the SC SChool Boards Insurance Trust about a potential claim and “From that point forward, the claim was handled by SCSBIT, and it was their decision to settle the case for $150,000," said Taylor.
The $150,000 was paid in October 2019.