PICKENS COUNTY — The Pickens County Tourism Department was left reeling following allegations that donations to the Pickens County Museum of Art & History were being diverted into the county’s general fund.
The accusation came from Pickens County Cultural Commission member Gilda Hendricks who stated to County Council recently that not only were the funds being diverted, but former museum director Allen Coleman was fired when he tried to stop it.
Coleman abruptly departed as director last December, after roughly 20 years of service.
Hendricks’ statements, in conjunction with complaints to the state Attorney General’s office made by Coleman, prompted action to be taken by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.
SLED spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson confirmed that there is a preliminary investigation into allegations of “financial irregularities” and that the investigation is ongoing.
Helen Hockwalt, tourism and marketing director for Pickens County, issued what amounts to a blanket denial on all the allegations, stating that there were no financial irregularities nor was money transferred from “designated accounts” into the county’s general fund.
“We were contacted by SLED last month, and we provided them with all information they requested,” said Hockwalt. “We also referred them to our external auditing firm for an outside perspective on the county’s financial management practices, both generally and as it pertains to the Museum.”
Hockwalt referred to the SLED investigation as “routine” and insinuated that the allegations were retribution from a disgruntled employee.
“… a former employee of the Museum, Allen Coleman, contacted the Attorney General’s Office at some point after he was terminated by the county for inappropriate conduct,” she said.
Previously, The Greenville News cited a financial report from 2015 that reportedly showed a total of $78,871 drawn from five different museum funds, with four of the five funds labeled as restricted — an assertion Hockwalt says is “completely without a factual basis.”
“Records that are readily available to the public from the Finance Office show a fund balance in the contingency account for the Museum of $73,318.00 as of today’s date, with any and all revenues and expenditures accurately recorded,” she said. “Much of this information is also available on the County website.”
Hockwalt further defended her denials of irregularities in the museum’s finances by stating that there were no “material weaknesses, significant deficiencies, or noncompliance with financial statements” noted in the county’s most recent audit by an independent external auditing firm.
“It is correct that the County Museum is going through a transition in leadership,” the county said in a statement issued Wednesday. “But it is wildly inaccurate to suggest that the County is withdrawing support for the Museum or its mission.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.