Rescind airport power grab
As chairman of the Charleston County Airport Authority, Rep. Chip Limehouse created an unnecessary controversy earlier this month by supporting a power grab that gave him the authority to hire and fire the airports director. On Friday, he rightly asked his fellow authority members to rescind that ill-considered decision in a special meeting today. The board should comply.
In a letter to the board, Rep. Limehouse called the dispute a distraction and said it threatens the forward momentum of airport progress. Putting the issue to rest also should ease some of the mounting criticism of Rep. Limehouse’s leadership of the board. The authority is scheduled to vote on the chairmanship in its regular meeting on Thursday.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has pledged to reverse the board’s Sept. 4 decision to make Airports Director Sue Stevens accountable solely to the chairman of the authority. The mayor serves as an authority member by virtue of his city office.
Rep. Limehouse’s latest proposal also should mute the criticism over the manner in which the motion was made, in apparent violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Though a major policy shift, the proposal was not included on the published agenda.
In his letter, Rep. Limehouse insisted that his intention was to serve as a “conduit for the board” in regard to the airports director, adding that “certainly the chairman would not act without the full authority of the board.”
But the Sept. 4 motion clearly stated that the director would serve at the pleasure of the chairman, so it’s hard to construe any process for shared decision-making. The motion, incidentally, was made by former Charleston City Councilman Tim Mallard, who was serving as a proxy for Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston.
On Friday, Sen. Campsen named a new proxy, former state Rep. Ben Hagood, whom he said will “prove to be a conscientious, competent and constructive” member.
In a letter to Ms. Stevens on Friday, the senator explained that he won’t personally serve on the authority because it would be, in his view, dual office-holding, which is illegal under state law. The state Legislature approved a law five years ago to have the chairman and vice chairman of the local Legislative Delegation serve on the commission. Mr. Campsen is vice chairman of the delegation; Mr. Limehouse is chairman.
The law in question has been challenged, but has yet to be decided by the court. Rep. Limehouse’s critics have cited the dual office-holding dispute as a reason he should not serve as chairman.
Mayor Riley contends that Rep. Limehouse’s “high-handed” leadership style is an argument against his continued service as chairman. The mayor warned that giving the chairman more power threatens to politicize the airport administration.
Rep. Limehouse’s decision to back off that power grab demonstrates that he is responsive to legitimate criticism.
“I believe that all of our business should be done with proper public notice, and going forward I intend to go to great lengths in order to insure that,” he wrote.
Rep. Limehouse could underscore that commitment by backing off a recent nomination to fill a vacancy on the authority, also made without adequate public notification or advertisement.
And that would help finally ground this divisive controversy.