Why Horry County Schools spent $19,000 on private investigator/ by Joel Allen Ch 15 News, CarolinaLive.com

Nov 30, 2014

WPDE NewsChannel 15 has learned that the Horry County School District spent more than $19,000 on a private investigator to look into claims of wrongdoing in one department.  

Over the past year the school district has combined the construction and maintenance departments into one facilities department; a move that school officials say will make them more efficient.

No employee has been laid off, but school board chairman Joe DeFeo acknowledges there were some complaints.

"Keep in mind that any time you make major changes in a department, there is going to be a disgruntled effect," said DeFeo.

In July, the school district received an anonymous letter, apparently from a facilities department employee.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, WPDE NewsChannel 15 obtained a copy of the letter with names redacted.

The letter claimed department heads engaged in bullying, harassment and intimidation.

Unfair overtime pay for some workers and a high turnover rate were among other complaints in the letter.

DeFeo says the board felt it had to investigate.

"We could have done it ourselves, but as a former police officer, I don't like investigating ourselves, so we hired a very trusted individual," said DeFeo.

The private investigator hired by the school board spent more than 200 hours looking into the allegations and questioning facilities department employees.

Through another FOIA request, we found out the firm billed the school district $19,106.26.

We asked if the police could have done the same thing at no cost, but Defeo says the board and Horry County police determined the allegations were not criminal in nature.

"Yes, I would have loved to have a free investigation, but you know what? It would have cost taxpayers the same amount of money, probably a lot more, had we called in law enforcement," he said.

The investigation resulted in a list of recommendations for the board.

The suggestions included: "Schedule some employee-family outings - holiday functions on site.." ..."Fireside chats with Q and A, More of the donut meetings..."

Did the school district need to pay a firm $19,000 for recommendations like those?

DeFeo says that was not the primary part of the investigation.

"That part of that recommendation did not cost a penny more. The investigation was to look into wrongdoings and possible criminal misconduct. That was the important part of the investigation."

DeFeo says the investigation did not uncover any wrongdoing in the facilities department.

He says that doesn't mean it was a waste.

"The important part of the value is not whether you found something wrong, but whether you found something not wrong also," DeFeo said.             

 

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