The appointment of state Sen. Paul Campbell to head the Charleston County Aviation Authority didn’t exactly bring the authority board together, as shown by its 7-6 vote to approve him for the job. But the former Alcoa executive says he is committed to winning over those who opposed him, and we hope he can bridge the divide. The authority has never been more important in the economic life of the Charleston metropolitan area.
The Berkeley County Republican already has big challenges ahead of him in addition to the board. There is a major terminal expansion looming, a potential reconsideration of the sale of airport property to Boeing, and, for Mr. Campbell, a steep learning curve in a demanding job for which he has minimal aviation-related experience.
To say it is a full-time job would probably be an understatement, and Mr. Campbell ought to devote his full energies to it. Even if the attorney general says he can legally hold both the airport job and his Senate seat, it’s not a good idea.
The perception will be that he is shortchanging either the Aviation Authority or his constituents in Berkeley County. Moreover, the authority’s employee handbook clearly states that an employee may not “be a candidate for public elective office in a partisan election.”
That restriction should apply as equally to the top employee as it does to anyone else who works for the authority.
Of course, there are other legislators who hold positions in the public sector. But we doubt if any of those jobs are as demanding, or as potentially sensitive, as that of the executive director of the Aviation Authority. As long as Sen. Campbell remains in the political arena, his actions will be judged accordingly.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey made this case for Sen. Campbell: “We need someone that understands public policy and understands political positions.”
But the authority doesn’t need a sitting politician as its administrator, and the board should make that clear when it considers Sen. Campbell’s terms of employment.
As the employee handbook states regarding outside employment: “The authority expects you to devote your full attention and energy to the job.”
Meanwhile, there are lingering issues. Mr. Campbell’s predecessor, Sue Stevens, has charged that some authority members acted unethically when she was director.
On Monday, Mrs. Stevens said the reason she left was not that she was verbally abused but because of “serious improprieties and unethical behavior” by some board members.
Authority chairman Andy Savage said Tuesday that an inquiry he instigated to determine if some board members had tried to steer work to a specific company found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Stevens’ public allegations demand the investigation by a law enforcement agency, probably SLED.
It’s bad timing, as Sen. Campbell prepares to take charge of the aviation authority.
But it has to be done.