A majority of the members of Charleston County Aviation Authority decided to bypass a committee-recommended full search for a new executive director Tuesday and offer the job to state Sen. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek.
On a 7-6 vote, the agency moved to allow board Chairman Andy Savage to negotiate a contract with the former Alcoa executive for the director’s position, replacing seven-year director Sue Stevens, who suddenly called it quits July 23. She is on paid leave through Sept. 30.
As part of the vote, Savage must come back to the board for approval of the agreement and hiring.
After the vote, Campbell, who also worked as a consultant, said he will do his best to earn the confidence of the six board members who voted against him.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “I think there is a lot I can bring to the table. The airport is such an important part of the Lowcountry. I want to make that operation as good as possible.”
He commended Stevens for doing a good job and welcomed the challenge to work even harder.
Campbell, 67, said he does not intend to resign from the Senate seat he has held since 2007, saying he can work remotely from Columbia when the Legislature is in session from January to June. The Republican’s current term ends in 2016.
“If it becomes an issue, I will deal with it at the time,” he said.
He also said the Attorney General’s Office determined there was not a legal issue with his serving as a lawmaker and the head of Charleston County’s three airports.
Campbell will also have to deal with a stipulation in the authority’s employee handbook that prohibits employees from being a candidate in a partisan election or participating in political campaigns.
Campbell said he had not seen the handbook and could not comment on it.
If Campbell, a former Alcoa executive, takes the job, he will have to work with a split board at a turbulent time for the Aviation Authority.
Stevens said Monday she decided to quit because of “serious improprieties and unethical behavior” of some board members and “intolerable” working conditions under the board’s present makeup, not because of “civility or verbal abuse” as Savage cited last week.
She did not detail the allegations or name any board members involved.
Savage reiterated Tuesday that an inquiry he launched earlier this year to determine if certain board members tried to steer construction work to a specific company found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The vote followed a four-hour meeting where the board took legal advice from Jenny Horne, an attorney and state representative from Summerville, in case Stevens decides to pursue legal action related to her departure.
The board also voted unanimously to accept Stevens’ resignation and to name deputy airports director Bill New as the interim executive director. He plans to retire Dec. 31.
How they voted
As the vote on Campbell indicated, opinions were split on hiring him. Those in favor wanted to move quickly to show a sign of stability while those against wanted more time to vet candidates in a wider search.
Those voting in favor of offering the job to Campbell were Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, businessman Michael Stavrinakis, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor and Savage, an attorney.
Those voting not to hire Campbell were former Judge Larry Richter, former U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett, attorney and former state Rep. Ben Hagood, businessman Mallory Factor, accountant Ellie Thomas and outgoing board member Pat Waters.
Summey moved to hire Campbell, saying the job was too important to leave open for a full search, especially with New stepping down at the end of the year.
He said the authority is operating under unusual circumstances with Stevens’ sudden departure at a critical time because of a pending land deal with Boeing, the looming sale of $170 million in bonds to pay for a long-awaited overhaul of the terminal at Charleston International Airport and the two-year construction job itself, which is about to get underway in earnest.
Summey preferred the board hire someone local who has knowledge of the area and the issues and can hit the ground running by working side by side with New while he is still there.
“We need someone who is personable and will not take it personally,” Summey said. “(Campbell) has a wealth of knowledge and management experience.”
Waters said it was wrong to inject another political personality into the mix of a board that many say has become too political.
“Even to consider putting a political official in the position is nothing but asking for trouble,” he said.
Summey countered, “This body is very political and has become more political over the years. We need someone that understands public policy and understands political positions. You have to have someone who can take constructive criticism.”
Riley supported hiring Campbell as well, using an analogy of a football coach leaving at mid-season and saying a new coach needed to take the helm to lead the team through the rest of the season.
“I see Charleston County Aviation Authority in a position of a season well underway,” he said. “We really don’t need to lose any time.”
Savage, too, said he didn’t see an issue with Campbell being a politician.
“I’m satisfied with his candidacy and his application,” he said.
Thomas said he could not vote for a someone who has not been properly vetted through the board.
Hartnett said hiring someone without the board conducting interviews would contribute to the board’s “image problem.” He also said Campbell’s resignation from the Senate ought to be a hiring condition.
Richter called the hiring of Campbell a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“It’s a mistake to come in here, and some of us have never laid eyes on the man, and offer him a job,” he said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.