A collection of Aiken-area officials, community leaders and parents have asked the state education czar to look into the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Dr. Sean Alford, the former Aiken County Public Schools superintendent whose leave jolted the county and is cloaked in controversy.
In a succinct letter – two sentences – sent Friday, Sept. 13, a total 12 people pressed S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to investigate potential "ethical issues and conflict of interests." The signatories include Aiken City Council member Ed Girardeau, former Aiken County Council member Scott Singer, prominent Aiken resident Betty Ryberg, former Aiken Standard publisher Ellen Priest and two recently resigned Aiken County School Board members, Tad Barber and Ahmed Samaha.
Each signature is dated Sept. 12. The letter does not offer specifics about any alleged violations or misconduct.
Rosemary English, who resigned from the school board after Barber and Samaha, has separately called for a "thorough" ethics probe.
Girardeau on Monday said he signed the letter in support of Alford, who he considers a friend.
"It seems rather odd to me that somebody with the record that he has was summarily dismissed..." Girardeau said, among other things.
The written investigation request now heads to the Education Department's general counsel office, according to spokesperson Ryan Brown. Brown said the department gets similar requests and complaints often, and "every single one gets taken seriously."
The spokesperson said more information will be sought moving forward.
The Aiken County School Board earlier this month voted, not unanimously, to accept Alford's resignation following a lengthy closed-door meeting. Barber and Samaha stepped down immediately after. English resigned at a later date.
At the center of this personnel spat is an audio recording in which Alford allegedly threatens a former school district employee. Other unrelated rumors have swirled.
Priest on Monday said Alford's sudden departure appears to be a setup of some sort. She believes some school board members' actions were unethical.
"I have great concern as to where we go from here," Priest told the Aiken Standard in a follow-up message.
Alford has described his leave and the resultant state of play as "not an ideal circumstance" but one that fell well within the governing school board's purview. The school board has said an "amicable resolution" was found between the two parties.
Alford was hired as the education superintendent in 2015.
The Aiken County School Board named King Laurence as the interim superintendent last week.
Staff writer Larry Wood contributed to this report.