There’s been more drama recently among S.C. Education Television leaders than on “Downton Abbey.”

The chairman of SCETV and two others resigned this week after months of scheming to try to get more money from the nonprofit endowment that has pumped in millions of dollars to ensure South Carolinians get high-quality public programs.

It’s downright pitiful what’s been going on, and three cheers go to Gov. Henry McMaster for protecting public television, which we’ve described in the past as a blessing and a gem.

Public broadcasting got its start in South Carolina in the late 1950s as an economic teaching medium to help unskilled workers get more skills and, as a result, boost their family incomes. As it blossomed into a public network, the ETV Endowment of South Carolina started in November 1977 to provide much-needed money for quality public television and radio programming. In just the past three years, for example, the endowment has given more than $13.2 million in unrestricted programming support to SCETV. Only $4.5 million of the total was raised through on-air fundraising, according to the endowment.

A few years ago, Gov. Nikki Haley tried to zero out state funding for the network. She wasn’t completely successful, because state legislators changed how the network got state funds. Instead of large direct appropriations, it moved to an indirect appropriation model in which broadcast services were reimbursed through the new Department of Administration. In 2005, for example, the agency received $12.7 million directly from state lawmakers and had a total budget of $24.1 million. By comparison, the network’s state budget in 2016 was just $277,532, although it generated millions more through services and pass-throughs for a total public budget of $19.2 million.

Fast forward to mid-2018, when Haley-appointed sharks still on the SCETV Commission started churning the funding waters with relatively new SCETV president and chief executive officer Anthony Padgett. By February of this year, board minutes reflect they hatched a plan to try to siphon off more endowment money so the partnership would be “modernized and codified.”

By March, the funding putsch was on full display as Haley holdovers on the commission pushed through a resolution that said SCETV “must maintain complete, accurate and secure records of all uses of donor information and must maintain active control of donor lists. …”

In other words, they wanted control. They wanted to use endowment donor records and start their own fund-raising efforts, which would have crippled the successful endowment and, to say the least, confused donors. The sharks even threatened lawsuits and institutional retribution in what one attorney described as “an aggressive effort to gain substantial control over the foundation’s funds in order to use them in support of ETV in a much broader fashion than is contemplated by the ETV Foundation’s charter.”

Then came a point where everything might have just gone too far. According to a July letter apparently sent in September to the endowment’s director, then-SCETV Board Chair Brent Nelsen of Greenville had the audacity to ask the endowment to provide a $21,527 bump to Padgett’s pay “for exemplary performance over the past year and to help ensure retention.” Currently, he earns $173,800 from the state. Really? Reward someone for plotting against you?

By the commission’s Sept. 18 meeting, McMaster had filled a couple of vacancies on the SCETV Commission with folks who understood the historic relationship with the endowment. Power on the agency’s board shifted away from Padgett and Haley’s appointees. The new members stopped the whole nonsense in its tracks by helping to rescind a detrimental and orchestrated March resolution designed to hurt the endowment.

Padgett, obviously now worried about his job, has started singing another tune. In his September president’s report, he outlined how the very efforts in which he had been engaged were “divisive and distracting to both organizations. Given our history and long-standing relationship with the ETV Endowment, and their support, we have decided that it is best to focus on what helps us build our organizations, rather than what divides us.”

In recent days, Nelsen and two other Haley appointees resigned, employing full-fledged Trumpian language in an op-ed that talked about draining swamps and other nonsense.

It’s good they’re gone. Now, maybe it’s time for Padgett to start looking for another job. SCETV needs leadership that embraces the endowment, not that conspires against it.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to feedback@statehousereport.com.

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