Originally created 07/10/02

The right ruling

No doubt it seems unfair to Henry Richardson and his followers that the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that he must either give up his job as a Mount Pleasant policeman or his seat on the Berkeley County Council.

The public consensus is that Richardson has served admirably in both posts - as a cop for 13 years and an elected councilman for four years.

But it wasn't his qualifications that the high court objected to; it was that holding two public offices at the same time violated the state constitution.

The lower court, buying into what looked like a loophole in the law, had ruled in Richardson's favor. But the high court would have none of it.

The issue wasn't Richardson, his honesty or integrity; it was that the prohibition on holding two or more offices was put in the constitution not only to prevent a conflict of interest, but even its appearance. The ban also prevents one person from acquiring too much power.

There are some South Carolinians who believe these fears are overblown and that a policeman, fireman or any other public sector employee should have the same right to run for elective office as a private sector employee. A bill was introduced this year that would have allowed Richardson to continue serving in his dual roles, but when it became clear the constitution can only be amended by referendum, not statute, the legislation was dropped.

The Supreme Court made the right call, both legally and morally. It protected the integrity of public office. That's as vital to confidence in government as the integrity of the office-holder.


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