South Carolina’s embattled comptroller announced he will resign next month, after state investigators held him responsible for a multi-billion dollar accounting error.
Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, who’s held the position for the last 20 years and was unopposed in last year’s election, said in a letter of resignation Thursday he wanted to give legislators time to select his replacement following the fallout of revelations his office misplaced $3.5 billion of public funds meant for state universities.
“I have taken great pride in the responsibility entrusted to me,” Eckstrom said in a letter of resignation to Gov. Henry McMaster. “I have been humble in my approach to the job, an attribute I hope our constituents have recognized and remembered.”
A growing chorus of lawmakers had called for Eckstrom’s removal after a routine budget meeting in February turned into a surprise announcement by the comptroller that an inputting error made in 2007 — overstating the amount of funds sent to state universities by $12 million — had gone unnoticed in internal audits, compounding into a $3.5 billion overstatement of South Carolina’s general fund balance.
The announcement led to an investigation by the Senate Finance Committee’s Constitutional Budget Subcommittee that found Eckstrom had displayed a “willful neglect of duty.”
State officials testified Eckstrom’s office ignored external audit warnings, and investigators highlighted staff reductions driven by the comptroller himself and lax internal control mechanisms under his leadership for creating the conditions necessary for such a large error.
While the funds were only misplaced, not entirely lost, the committee recommended his removal by legislative vote; Eckstrom initially resisted those calls, as did Gov. Henry McMaster, who said judgment should come at the ballot box and not through the legislature.
With Eckstrom’s resignation dated April 30, lawmakers will be charged with selecting an interim comptroller.
Draft legislation would put to a public referendum the option to make comptroller an appointed, not elected position.
The move would see the comptroller’s responsibilities absorbed by other offices, including the state Treasurer, Department of Administration, and the attorney general’s office, said Sen. Larry Grooms, a Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee’s Constitutional Budget Subcommittee.
Eckstrom said in his letter of resignation that passing “an amendment to the constitution that would make the office of comptroller general an appointed position” was something he has long advocated.