Sources say RCRC auto shop used by Brown, board members while county billed for parts, tires
By RON AIKEN
At Antioch Baptist Church, Rep. Leon Howard is a big deal.
The son of a deacon, a trustee for more than a decade and member of the state legislature since 1995 Howard’s name is everywhere, from the church’s senior center (est. 2011) to its community park and walking trail (est. 2008).
His influence at the church also extends to its parishoners, having nominated fellow church member Barbara Mickens to the Richland County Recreation Commission in 2007 and prevailing on the delegation to keep her on it term after term after four-year term. Beyond that, Mickens also is employed full-time by the church.
It should come as no surprise then that when Mickens, who currently serves as vice chairwoman of the commission, was implicated in allegations of corruption along with board chair Marie Green and executive director James Brown, Howard leapt to her defense.
At the Richland County Legislative Delegation meeting June 21 he spoke out against the toll the allegations were taking on Mickens and her family, and yesterday he told The State newspaper that fellow lawmakers concerned about the commission’s inaction were just “blowing smoke” and that he didn’t have “the privilege that those guys (speaking out) have.”
What Howard did not disclose to the paper or the delegation was that his church has used Richland County Recreation Commission personnel and resources for its own benefit as recently as last year, Quorum has learned.
Until he was fired earlier this year, Darryl Davis was Brown’s right-hand man for odd jobs, for side work and for errand-running of all kinds (including, Davis said, delivering cash bribes to Recreation Commission board chair J. Marie Green).
Davis also was a maestro with a buffer, a skill Brown took advantage of when he sent Davis on three separate occasions in 2015 to “do the floors” at Howard and Mickens’ home church at 5715 Koon Rd.
“Miss Mickens would pay me with a small check that would just cover for the wax I’d get from Lowes,” Davis said. “She’d say I knew I’d be taken care of on the other side for the rest of it.”
The “rest of it” was the fact that for the work, which Davis said would take him between 12 and 15 hours in a given evening, he was paid overtime from the recreation commission and used RCRC cleaning equipment.
“It was no big deal for her, she and Mr. Brown had it worked out,” Davis said. “Howard and Brown are good friends, so there’s no way (Howard) didn’t know about the deal. No way.
“I was glad to get the overtime.”
A ‘PERSONAL JIFFY LUBE’
Brown’s generosity went far beyond the tile floors of Antioch Baptist Church’s Family Life Center.
As Brown’s strongest supporters on the board, Mickens and Green both benefited financially from free tires, oil changes and other routine vehicle maintenance performed after-hours by RCRC personnel at the recreation commission’s fleet maintenance shop on Parklane Road, Davis said.
“(Director of Fleet Services) Freddie (Foust) and some of his guys would go up on Saturdays and Sundays when the shop is closed and Brown would have them do work on his family and friends’ vehicles,” Davis said. “Everybody knew it. They just opened up the mechanic’s shop like it was their personal Jiffy Lube, man.
“Barbara Mickens, Marie Green, Brown’s family members, the tires on their cars were all bought from a place on Fairfield Road (TCi Tire Center) where the county gets its tires from wholesale and Freddie would put them on the county invoice to make it look like he was getting tires for the rec department vehicles.
“But I guarantee if you go look at those invoices, you won’t find those tires on any county cars. You’ll find them on Barbara Mickens’ white Mercedes SUV and Marie Green’s green Lexus sports coupe.”
Several current and former employees Quorum spoke to for this story confirmed both the floor cleanings at Antioch Church and the off-the-books car shop service for Brown’s tight circle of board members, family and friends.
“Freddie would work in whomever’s cars Brown told him to,” a former employee said. “Brown was using his authority to do whatever he wanted, and Freddie was obligated to do it since his nephew and former son-in-law both were hired by Brown and promoted to supervisor jobs in the maintenance department where Freddie worked.”
Another current employee said Foust, who makes $52,065 per year, would use the recreation department’s discount at O’Reilly Auto Parts for the work.
“Freddie did a lot of work for Brown’s family and close friend’s vehicles,” he said. He worked on (human resources manager) Erica Smalls’ car on numerous occasions and had (human resource manager) Keira Session’s car towed with the company truck from Atlanta when it broke down one weekend and towed back.
“Freddie did whatever Brown told him to because he wanted to keep his job. If you don’t do what he says, he’ll make you pay for it by demoting you, suspending you or he’ll move you around. So he’d change their oil and fix their brakes and put new tires on their personal vehicles that were supposedly bought for the recreation commission’s fleet.”
Davis said the practice was common knowledge at the commission while he was there from 2014 to 2016 as parks custodian and groundskeeper before losing his job.
“Oh yeah man, everybody knew what going on up there (at the shop on weekends),” Davis said. “It’s just the way things are.”
Asked whether he thought that practice still took place, Davis said no.
“Since the feds came around, they’ve shut that down,” Davis said. “Everybody is trying to be real clean up there now like nothing’s been happening.
“They’re just waiting for the heat to come off them to get back to business as usual.”
For employees growing fearful that the legislative war of words and external investigations will peter out or come to nothing, a return to “business as usual” is terrifying.
“You have to understand that while these (investigations and scrutiny) are going on, the board is hoping employees who help out the media or who write letters will be punished,” another employee told Quorum. “The board only cares about Brown. They want people to suffer because of what’s happened to him and they are going to allow (acting director) Tara (Dickerson) and (Human resources division head) David (Stringer) to do it.
“They’re telling people if they trace any media leaks back to someone, that person will be fired and prosecuted. I’ve heard that. Meanwhile our CFO (Andres Fripp-James) was suspended, the one who filed the sexual harassment claims in the first place. (Facilities Operations Division Head) Taurus Lewis was suspended the day after Brown got his vote of support from the board.
“What else do you need to know? People here are terrorized. That’s your headline. We’re terrorized.”
Reach Aiken at (803) 200-8809. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @QuorumColumbia. To support Quorum, please consider a donation using the button above, subscribe to our email list and ‘like’ our Facebook page.