Union school board alleges ‘theft of taxpayer money’ over vice chair’s expenses

The Union County School Board on Tuesday detailed its investigation of board Vice Chair Marce Savage’s expenses and what it alleged was “theft of taxpayer money.”

The board said it found 29 problems with expenses for Savage, who is also on the State Board of Education, that allegedly included: submitting mileage reimbursement to both boards for attending the same event; seeking double or triple mileage reimbursement for one event; or seeking reimbursement for an event she apparently did not attend.

The Union board cited problems between May 2013 and mid-October 2014, with the state expenses in question totaling $2,037 and local expenses an additional $609.

“Everyone on this board and every taxpayer is a victim of this situation,” board member Sherry Hodges said.

The meeting began in chaos, with Savage issuing a statement accusing the board of violating her privacy and releasing personal information online “in your never-ending quest to persecute me.”

Savage walked out at the start of the meeting after board Chair Richard Yercheck did not allow her to make an opening statement. Her lawyer, Joseph Bochicchio, handed copies of her written statement to reporters outside the meeting room, with Savage standing silently by his side.

The board packet that was sent out Friday to 48 email addresses and posted on the district website included Savage’s Social Security number and other personal information, Savage’s statement said.

“I hold each of you on the board and Central Services accountable for this blatant and reckless violation,” she wrote, adding that she has consulted with an attorney about it.

Savage also stated she apologized “for what has transpired over the last few meetings. ... We need to be focused on our reason for serving and that is for the children of Union County.”

When the Observer asked if she would resign, Savage said nothing.

After the meeting, Yercheck said Savage’s personal data was released in error, with information from the state board that was not redacted. He said the local school district removed the personal information as soon as it was made aware of it.

In response to reporters’ questions, Yercheck apologized to Savage for the information being released.

Earlier concerns

The focus on Savage’s activities began in October just weeks before she stood for re-election.

Board member Kevin Stewart accused Savage of abuse of power after her interaction with a high school principal over her opponent campaigning on school property. Savage denied she acted improperly and claimed the charge was politically motivated.

The school board hired outside counsel to look into Savage’s activities, and a mileage reimbursement issue surfaced.

In an early November meeting, Savage, who was re-elected, apologized for submitting mileage to both the local and state school boards for attending the same event in September. She called it an honest mistake, and that she had attended the meeting in a dual capacity for both boards.

The local board asked staff to further investigate the mileage issue.

They also voted to censure Savage at the meeting, the first time a Union County school board member was censured since 2008. Savage noted the board does not have a censure policy.

Last week, in an interview with the Observer, Savage said she had done nothing wrong.

She also said she logs mileage for both the state and local board when serving in her dual role. “If I was not allowed to do that, I’m sorry. It was a simple, honest mistake,” Savage said. “I was never told not to.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the full board had met to hear an update about the review of Savage’s expenses.

The school board referred its probe to the county sheriff’s office last week. Board members voted 8-0 Tuesday, with Hodges abstaining and long gone, to authorize Yercheck to make a formal complaint with the sheriff.

Before the final vote, the board accepted an amendment from Stewart to also turn over its findings to other groups, including the State Board of Education and the state Ethics Commission.

Bochicchio could not be reached for comment after the vote.