State Sen. Paul Campbell insisted Wednesday he doesn't need to resign from the Legislature after being offered one of the biggest jobs in the Charleston area — that of running Charleston County's three airports at a critical time of terminal redevelopment and a land deal with Boeing.
Some board members disagree, especially those who didn't vote to offer the job to him Tuesday. They question whether he can handle both jobs at once and do either effectively.
If he takes the job, Campbell said Wednesday he will be hands-on through December, working side by side with interim Executive Director Bill New, who plans to step down at year's end, and then delegate responsibilities to staff members when the General Assembly meets from January to June each year.
“I don't see it being an obstacle,” the Goose Creek Republican said. “I think the staff is really competent. I'm there to make the hard decisions when they need to be made. There is going to be delegation anyway. Give them the tools to do their job and get out of the way.”
Charleston County Aviation Authority members voted 7-6 Tuesday to offer the job to Campbell, a former Alcoa executive, after seven-year Airports Director Sue Stevens decided to step down July 23, citing “intolerable” working conditions under certain members of the present board.
Campbell discounted notions that he has no experience running an airport.
“I don't think you need airport experience if you have competent people working at the airport,” Campbell said. “I look at it as a challenge. I think it will be a lot of fun.”
The retired chemical engineer realizes it can be an around-the-clock job, fielding late-night phone calls and juggling issues that erupt after hours, but he said he's done it before when he managed Alcoa plants in five states.
“Most of my life I've worked 60 to 70 hours a week,” he said.
For those who have an issue with his age, Campbell, 67, said, “You are either green and growing or you are ripe and rotting.”
He said his best asset is his ability to work with people. “I'm a quick learner,” he said.
Among his first duties, Campbell said, would be getting to know staff members, bringing himself up to speed on airport issues and the upcoming $170 million bond sale to pay for terminal redevelopment, learning the agency's financial position and making sure the deal to sell 320 wooded acres along International Boulevard to Boeing South Carolina moves forward.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which must sign off on the land sale, has raised lots of questions about the deal, including the appraised land value and road and radar realignment.
“It's on course,” Aviation Authority attorney Arnold Goodstein said. “There's no reason for it not to continue as it is, regardless of who the director is.”
Resign or stay?
Campbell said he intends to meet all 13 board members, especially those who voted against him to reassure them he plans to work with them.
Many of those board members look forward to meeting him, but some question whether he can remain in the Senate and do justice as airports director.
“I think it's a full-time job,” said attorney and former lawmaker Ben Hagood. “My expectation is that we have a full-time director.”
Hagood said he believes Campbell is qualified, but he voted against offering him the job because he said the board should have followed a search process to properly vet candidates.
Hagood said he has “reservations” about Campbell remaining in the Senate.
Outgoing board member Pat Waters also believes Campbell can do the job, but he doesn't believe Campbell can do it effectively while serving in the Legislature at the same time.
“My wish is that he will resign from the Senate,” he said. “Does he want to be a senator or run the Aviation Authority? I think doing both is too demanding.”
Board member Mallory Factor also voted against offering the job to Campbell, but said Wednesday he voted against the process, not the man.
“If he is our executive director, I will be extremely supportive of him,” he said.
As for whether he should resign from the Senate or is capable of doing both jobs, Factor said, “We will have to see how the job lays out and how much time he has to put into it. This has been done fast, and we haven't come to grips with it.”
Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, who sits on the airport board and voted to offer the job to Campbell, said he believes Campbell will quickly realize the responsibilities of the airport job and leave the Senate.
“I think Columbia will be a thing of the past,” Pryor said.
Michael Stavrinakis, a member of the committee that voted 3-0 to conduct an outside search on Monday, changed his mind Tuesday to offer the job to Campbell after being swayed by comments made by the mayors of Charleston and North Charleston, who also sit on the board.
“They made a really compelling case on the quality of the candidate, the urgency of the situation and the landscape around the airport,” he said.
As for whether Campbell should resign his Senate seat, Stavrinakis said, “I will have to wait and see if the legislative session interferes with his work at the airport.”
Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, who also sits on the board and voted to offer the job to Campbell, called the offer “a stroke of genius. He is the right man at the right time. I know we are going to get criticized for what we did, but I think we did the right thing.”
He believes Campbell should remain in the Senate because of his connections there.
“I think it was a coup,” Swails said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
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