Charleston City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the city’s internal auditor examine the mayor’s office after allegations of impropriety were raised by District 10 Councilman Harry Griffin.
Griffin said he first learned about the potential misconduct when he received a business card with Mayor John Tecklenburg’s information on one side and contact information for Sandy Tecklenburg, the mayor’s wife, on the other, alongside the city seal.
A box of 500 business cards costs about $150, Mayor Tecklenburg said, with a $10.47 difference between printing on one side versus printing on both. The mayor said he also has a set of business cards that doesn’t have Sandy Tecklenburg’s name printed on the back, but if he runs out of the single-sided cards, he often uses hers.
Griffin, who is running for mayor, said he also learned that Sandy Tecklenburg sometimes drives the mayor’s city-owned car and that the city sometimes pays for her to travel with the mayor on business trips. Mayor Tecklenburg said the couple reimburses the city for her expenses.
“A non-elected, non-hired person has access to resources and means that no other resident has,” Griffin said, adding that Sandy Tecklenburg “obtained that through a blatant abuse of power by her mayor husband, and to top it all off, expensed it back to the taxpayer. Mr. Mayor, what you did was a misappropriation of city funds.”
Mayor Tecklenburg, who appeared shellshocked during the 50-minute discussion prior to the vote, did not deny the allegations but said his intention is always to help the citizens of Charleston, which he feels Sandy Tecklenburg does.
Prior to his printing cards with Sandy Tecklenburg’s name on the back, the mayor said, his wife would write her name and email address on the blank side of the mayor’s business card and give it to people she met.
“It was a good way for her to make those connections,” Mayor Tecklenburg said. “I authorized it. I thought it was a good idea.”
Susan Herdina, Charleston corporation counsel, said she had looked into the issue and found no laws that Tecklenburg had broken nor ethics rules he had violated.
“I don’t think it’s ever happened in the Riley administration ... but I couldn’t find anything that prohibited it, that it was illegal in any sense,” Herdina said.
She said that the Tecklenburgs have not received significant economic benefit, nothing on the card was a misrepresentation and Charleston’s ordinance about the city seal doesn’t cover this type of situation.
After the mayor spoke for approximately 10 minutes about the work Sandy Tecklenburg does in her capacity as first lady of Charleston, several council members told Mayor Tecklenburg that the problem isn’t with Sandy Tecklenburg — it’s about the mayor’s judgment.
“This is just simply a business issue where multiple policy violations have occurred, internal policy violations,” said District 1 Councilman Gary White, who also is running for mayor. “And I can tell you from my professional experience, when you are at the top and you are at the helm, you are held to a higher standard than anyone else around you.”
The mayor agreed to stop printing and handing out business cards with Sandy Tecklenburg’s name on them, as well as to be more careful about other policy violations in the future.
“I’ll gladly reimburse the city for every single business card that was ever procured with her name on it,” Mayor Tecklenburg said. “But I assure you the intent for both Sandy and I has been nothing but one of service. There’s never been an economic interest from either one of us by our service to the city.”
Robert Majernik, director of internal audit for the city, has 60 days to complete his audit and report to City Council.
“I’m not looking for a witch hunt or anything else,” said District 11 Councilman Bill Moody. “I just want these items brought to the attention of somebody’s who’s qualified to look at them ... to clear the air.”
The allegations of misconduct come almost exactly a year after a judge suspended Tecklenburg from managing the finances of Johnnie Wineglass, a former neighbor of the mayor’s, after it was discovered that he had used the 92-year-old’s money to make unsecured loans to himself. Tecklenburg repaid the loans but was not allowed to resume his conservatorship.