Bids open to fire SC comptroller over $3.5B accounting error

Bids open to fire SC comptroller over $3.5B accounting error

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina lawmakers began efforts to fire the state comptroller general Thursday, a day after he claimed he was angered by a $3.5 billion accounting error. He will resign or be fired.

Comptroller General Richard Ekstrom told senators last month that he did so unintentionally The state’s cash position is overstated by $3.5 billion It overstated the amount the state sent to colleges and universities for a decade. He has indicated he will not resign.

The error was not the actual cash, but the way the state reported its balance sheet. That could affect South Carolina’s credit rating and destroy the trust that a large number of lawmakers in the Republican-dominated state had in Ekstrom.

A resolution introduced Thursday seeks a two-thirds vote from the House and Senate to trigger a state constitutional provision that says the governor should remove Ekstrom for “willful neglect of duty.”

The constitution allows Ekstrom to be heard in his own defense, though the exact procedure is unclear. Many senators could not recall using this process since it was added to the Constitution more than 50 years ago.

A certified public accountant, Ekstrom, 74, spent 20 years as comptroller general and four years before that as state treasurer.

“For at least a decade we’ve known that he signed his name, Richard Ekstrom, CPA, on our state’s closing financial documents, and every year he made a mistake,” said Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, who is sponsoring the resolution.

Grooms said the Legislature needs to act because Ekstrom is not doing the “honorable thing” and is resigning.

38 of the 46 senators signed on to sponsor the proposal. Only 30 are needed to pass the two-thirds threshold. In the House, the resolution needed 83 of 124 votes.

Grooms said he hopes that once Ekstrom deals with the Senate, his subcommittee will take up other recommendations, such as breaking up his agency and sending responsibilities to other offices.

The error began as a $12 million coding error in 2007 and compounded when the state changed accounting systems in 2011, Ekstrom told senators at a hearing last week.

State cash transferred to colleges and universities was being double-counted, and auditors said Ekstrom ignored repeated warnings about the problem. They said he waited five years to conduct a full review of the accounts that finally helped uncover the problem about a year ago.

Ekstrom responded to the Senate report with a statement Wednesday saying he is not resigning. He said his office has worked tirelessly to find and then resolve the problem that first started in 2013. The issue was not brought to the attention of lawmakers or others in government until a few months ago.

Ekstrom said he would support a constitutional amendment to have the governor appointed rather than elected, but in the meantime “I will not be distracted by anyone from the work ahead of us, the voters elected me to do this term.”

Ekstrom has run unopposed in the past two elections and last ran in the 2010 Republican primary.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster said last week that Ekstrom should be held accountable by voters and not impeached.

The resolution requires a lower level of wrongdoing of willful dereliction of duty, whereas the Constitution requires “serious crime or serious misconduct” for impeachment.

McMaster’s office did not immediately respond to questions from lawmakers about whether Thursday’s resolution had changed his thinking.

It is not known what will happen next. The Constitution allows Ekstrom to have a hearing if he wishes.

“We’re consulting with archives and history right now to ensure proper procedures,” Grooms said. “He will have a chance to rebut.”

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