Governor effectively fires SC Public Safety Director Smith
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s governor has decided to not nominate the director of the agency that oversees state troopers to a third term, ending a tenure that included fights with lawmakers over trooper morale.
Public Safety Department Director Leroy Smith told his employees in an email Tuesday that Gov. Henry McMaster wasn’t going to nominate him for a third term, effectively firing him after eight years of running the department.
Smith’s email thanked McMaster for his support and promised a smooth transition. In a statement to reporters, he defended his tenure, pointing out he raised pay, got safer and better equipment for his officers and successfully protected the state in a series of hurricanes and major floods.
“While this news is disappointing to me on a personal level, my heart has always been geared toward being a team player and supporting the mission of this great organization,” Smith said in the statement.
Smith was appointed director in November 2011 by then-Gov. Nikki Haley. His second term ends in February. The decision to effectively fire Smith is McMaster’s alone. The governor will get to choose the agency’s next director, which must be approved by the state Senate.
McMaster issued a statement thanking Smith for his promise to help the new director learn the job.
“I would like to thank Director Smith for his distinguished service to our state and for his leadership and professionalism,” McMaster said.
The statement gave no reason for not nominating Smith for a third term and his office did not add any details to the governor’s reasoning or give names of any possible replacements.
McMaster has renominated or retained other Haley appointees including State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel and Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt.
In the last few years of Smith’s tenure, a number of House members accused him of being a poor manager, causing morale to drop at the Highway Patrol; and not doing enough to stem an increase in highway deaths. The House voted in 2017 to cut Smith’s salary to zero to eliminate his position, but the Senate didn’t go along.
At the time, the governor’s office said it took lawmakers’ concerns about Smith seriously, but McMaster wasn’t considering firing Smith during the director’s term.
With about 1,300 employees, the Public Safety Department is South Carolina’s largest law enforcement agency, and also oversees security at the Statehouse. Smith, who is black, received nationwide praise when a member of Haley’s staff posted a photo on Twitter of him helping an overheated older white man in a swastika shirt find shade and water as white supremacists rallied at the Statehouse in July 2015 days after the Confederate flag was removed from the Capitol grounds.
Smith served in the U.S. Navy and has been in law enforcement for over 30 years. He came to South Carolina from Florida, where he managed the state’s Highway Patrol Training Academy.
Smith’s statement and email Tuesday gave no indication of his future plans. He did thank his employees for their work and told them they have an important calling.
“If I could leave a parting word of wisdom, I would encourage you to continue the mission to serve, protect, and educate on highway safety matters in this great state,” Smith wrote in his email announcing his departure. “Please accept my sincere gratitude for your support and your continued dedication to the mission of saving lives and protecting our state’s citizens and visitors.”