COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster's choice to lead the South Carolina Department of Safety failed to properly pay his taxes in years past, a disclosure that stalled the nomination Tuesday.

North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess said the IRS filed six years of the income tax liens against him after his tax preparer failed to file proper returns.

Burgess told the Senate subcommittee before Tuesday's meeting about liens in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, according to Senate staff members. A background check discovered liens in 2011 and 2012 that Burgess had not reported.

“I had a tax preparer I trusted. I found out about it through the IRS and started a payment plan." Burgess said.

More than half the hearing took place behind closed doors as lawmakers discussed a “legal matter.”

"There’s a few things the committee just has to mull a little bit," said GOP Sen. Mike Gambrell, who decided to end the 90-minute hearing without a vote.

The liens were the first bumps in Burgess' nomination to take over Public Safety, which oversees state troopers, security at the Capitol and the state Transport Police.

Burgess' taxes have been paid in full and it was a misunderstanding that led the chief to report some liens but not the most recent ones, said Brian Symmes, a spokesman for McMaster.

The Republican governor still has full confidence in Burgess to lead the Public Safety Department, Symmes said.

McMaster decided to nominate Burgess to a four-year term in November after deciding not to nominate current Public Safety Department Director Leroy Smith to a third term, effectively firing the director after eight years.

Smith's tenure included fights with lawmakers over trooper morale and problems in finding and retaining new troopers.

Burgess started in North Charleston as a patrol officer in 1989 and became chief in 2018. He has a reputation of being a boss close to the patrol officers and someone who values connections to the community.

“You have to be involved in your community way before crisis comes,” said Burgess, who was second in command when a North Charleston police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man running away. Officer Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in the 2015 killing of Walter Scott.

Burgess was credited with hearing the concerns of African American groups who said the shooting was the culmination of years of aggressive policing that disproportionately targeted blacks. North Charleston remained calm after the shooting.

“I want to help folks live peaceful,” Burgess said when asked why he has made police work his career.

Burgess, who is African American, not only has the support of McMaster, but also from the Black Legislative Caucus. Several members sat in the audience during the hearing.

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