General Assembly overrides McMaster veto of funds for Emanuel 9 memorial

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 4:40 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 30, 2021 at 6:50 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina General Assembly overruled the governor on providing state funds for a memorial to the victims of the 2015 Charleston church shooting. The override of Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto means $4 million is back on its way to the Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation.

“It is a significant step in the right direction,” Mother Emanual Memorial Foundation Board Chair Pastor Eric Manning said. “We are immensely humbled and thankful for the General Assembly and all of the work they’ve done in their support for something that will impact, not just the Charleston community, but also the state.”

But while lawmakers rallied together to make sure the monument gets built, some are critical of how the money will be used.

McMaster said he cut that money from the state budget because of a lack of transparency. The $4 million some state lawmakers requested for the foundation was included in a long list of earmarked appropriations.

That kind of request has faced scrutiny for years because of a lack of rules for accountability to make sure the money is spent the way it is intended.

“Public transparency must be absolute and uncompromised in order to maintain the public’s trust and confidence in their government. Disclosure of the sponsor and recipient is not enough. The bulk of these earmarked appropriations contained in these seven proviso subsections still lack sufficient context, description, explanation of merit, or justification as to how the recipient intends to spend the funds. Nor do these proviso subsections contain any accountability measures to ensure the funds are ultimately spent appropriately by the recipient,” McMaster said in a letter explaining his vetoes.

McMaster called on the General Assembly to create a public, merit-based competitive grants program for projects like the memorial instead.

“There is a better way for the taxpayers,” McMaster explained about his suggestion. “Administered by state agencies, funds would be made available only to entities which demonstrate required community support and missions consistent with the policy goals and outcomes intended by the General Assembly. Further, all applications and award criteria would be placed online, allowing for public scrutiny and total transparency.”

But lawmakers who helped override the governor’s veto to make sure the money would make its way to the memorial say they believe McMaster has other motives.

“I understand the governor is playing to his base. He’s trying to get reelected,” Rep. Windell Gilliard, D-Charleston County, said. “I’m a cut to the chase type of person, I’m a realist. But we don’t have time for politics. We have to do what’s right by we the people. But nevertheless we did what we had to do. We overruled the governor…the money is there. Why not use the money while it’s there?”

But Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the former lead pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church who was one of the nine victims, is also critical of the legislature’s efforts to provide taxpayer dollars for the memorial project.

Pinckney said she’s never supported the memorial’s design or overall $17 million price tag, and she believes it should not be built using public funds.

“There are too many issues in SC where money could be used,” Pinckney said. “It’s not something you can utilize…It’s just to stand and stare, and I just feel like they could have put something more natural and not so humongous, but something more appropriate.”

Pinckney said she believes the money would be better spent in poorer areas of the state and that donations should front the bill for the project instead of taxpayers.

However, lawmakers, who have supported the project said the money is about showing South Carolina is committed to progress.

“She has a right to her opinion. You have to respect her opinion, but the greater cause is we have a right to answer to the majority of our constituents,” Gilliard said. “For the present, for our younger generation for the world to see that we are willing to take steps in every way possible by any means necessary to show progress.”

The shooting, at the end of a Wednesday night Bible study on the night of June 17, 2015, claimed nine people:

  • Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
  • Cynthia Graham Hurd, 54
  • Susie Jackson, 87
  • Ethel Lance, 70
  • Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
  • Tywanza Sanders, 26
  • Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74
  • Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45
  • Myra Thompson, 59

The city of Charleston recently donated $2 million to the memorial project.

A release from the foundation earlier this month describes the design of the memorial, which will be installed on the grounds of the church and include a courtyard with two fellowship benches.

“At the center of the courtyard, the curves of the benches encircle a marble fountain where the names of the Emanuel Nine are carved around the fountain’s edge,” the release states. “Water emanates from a cross-shaped source, filling the basin and gently spilling over the names of the nine. The opening between the benches toward the back of the courtyard reveals a cross above a simple altar, providing visitors a quiet place to linger in thought and prayer.”

Groundbreaking on the memorial is expected in the fall and organizers expect it to open in mid to late 2022.

The Emanuel 9: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton, the Rev....
The Emanuel 9: The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Myra Thompson, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, and Tywanza Sanders.(Provided)

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