Winthrop president, husband return his $27K salary to university

adouglas@heraldonline.comJune 12, 2014 

President Jamie Comstock Williamson and husband, Larry, after Winthrop's December 2013 undergraduate commencement ceremony. Image provided by Winthrop University.

The $27,000 that Winthrop University paid President Jamie Comstock Williamson’s husband, Larry, to work as a temporary employee has been given back to the university to avoid any appearance of impropriety, according to a statement sent from the president’s office to The Herald on Thursday.

Heraldonline first reported on Wednesday that Larry Williamson was paid as Winthrop's senior counsel for strategic initiatives.

Officials said Larry Williamson “was eminently qualified” to work in the president’s office. His skills were needed to avoid a lapse in governmental affairs and external relations responsibilities after a long-time staff member in the president’s office stepped down for a part-time position, said Jeff Perez, Winthrop spokesman and senior counsel to the president for public affairs.

On Thursday, President Williamson announced that she and Larry Williamson returned the salary he made during the last school year.

“During the entire stint of (Larry Williamson’s) nine-month employment, we took great care to comply with the South Carolina Ethics Act ... Larry could work confidently in this capacity only if he knew his position was completely appropriate,” President Williamson said in Thursday’s statement.

“As president, I believe I must set a standard even greater than compliance with the law and hold myself to higher values grounded in honesty and integrity. I will not allow even the appearance of wavering from those values. That is why Larry and I have returned the compensation paid to Larry by the university.”

South Carolina’s Ethics Act, which governs Winthrop officials and other public employees, says no South Carolina employee may “cause the employment, appointment, promotion, transfer or advancement of a family member to a position in which the public employee supervises or manages.” The act defines a spouse as a family member.

President Williamson did not hire her husband nor supervise him, Perez said. Larry Williamson was hired, he said, by Winthrop Chief of Staff Kimberly Faust, who also serves as secretary to the school’s Board of Trustees.

Larry Williamson worked 20 hours per week, did not retain his own office and did not work under contract with Winthrop, officials said.

While paid for his work as a temporary, part-time employee, “the money was secondary to giving (Larry Williamson) the credentials to be recognized as someone empowered to speak on Winthrop’s behalf,” the president said on Thursday.

“I remain proud of what Larry achieved for Winthrop,” she said. “I look forward to what everyone at Winthrop will accomplish together for our students and the community.”

One of Larry Williamson’s key duties while employed was to represent Winthrop as an economic development partner in potential projects with the city of Rock Hill and private investors.

President Williamson said she and her husband “are honored to be associated with Winthrop and proud of the growing role the university is playing in the Rock Hill community ... Larry appreciated the opportunity to work on Winthrop’s behalf in his temporary, part-time role representing the university in Rock Hill and Columbia.”

Winthrop board Chairwoman Kathy Bigham has said she can not comment on Larry Williamson’s employment because the board plans to discuss presidential matters during a special called meeting on Friday.

Some Winthrop trustees were aware last year that Larry Williamson was being considered for employment, Perez said this week. The board’s Executive Committee was formally informed in October.

Friday's board meeting, to be held in the Gold Room of the DiGiorgio Campus Center, will begin at noon with a public comment period. The board may then vote to meet behind closed doors.

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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