Charleston airport board rescinds vote giving chairman power over the director
Rep. Chip Limehouse’s two-week reign over the director of airports in Charleston County is over.
The House of Representatives legislative delegation from Charleston County is seeking applicants to fill an unexpired term on the county Aviation Authority.
The seat, one of three appointed by the House delegation to the 13-member board, became vacant in April after former board member Joey Jefferson resigned because his firm has ties to the Austin-Hitt construction team selected to oversee the $150 million terminal expansion of Charleston International Airport.
Those interested in the open position should call the House delegation office at 740-5855 and request an application. The governor makes the appointment upon recommendation of the House delegation. Deadline to apply is Oct. 8.
Charleston County Aviation Authority on Monday unanimously reversed a vote earlier this month that gave Limehouse, who serves as chairman of the airport board, power to oversee the director.
The move set off howls of protest that it was a power grab by the chairman and was illegal because it was not on the posted agenda.
In a letter to board members Friday, Limehouse called for the board to rescind the decision.
“It became more of a distraction than it was worth,” Limehouse said Monday after the vote. “The real message is the overwhelming success of the airport while I have been chairman.”
Limehouse became chairman in 2010, three years after he co-crafted a law that appointed the chairman and vice chairman of Charleston County’s legislative delegation to the airport board.
That law faces a lawsuit over its constitutionality. A hearing is set for Oct. 22.
On Monday, Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, who moved to rescind the vote that gave the chairman authority over the director, said it was not a directive.
“It was a sense of the board for him to have authority over the director,” he said.
The motion — made by former Charleston City Councilman Tim Mallard on Sept. 4 that set off the controversial shift of power — states, according to an audio recording, “It is a sense of the board that the position of director of the airport serve at the pleasure of the chairman of Charleston County Aviation Authority. The chairman of the authority, acting on behalf of the board, shall have this responsibility over this position.”
Before the vote, the director answered to the entire 13-member board and not one person.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, the senior member of the airport board by virtue of his elected position, was the only board member to challenge the move, calling it a structural change in airport policy and a violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act because it was not on the agenda. He pressed for it to be reversed, saying, if it stood, one person could then hire and fire the director at will and cause instability with the leadership of the airport.
At the time the motion was made, Mallard was serving as a stand-in for delegation Vice Chairman Sen. Chip Campsen. On Friday, Campsen revoked giving his proxy vote to Mallard and instead bestowed it on attorney and former lawmaker Ben Hagood.
In his letter giving the proxy vote to Hagood, Campsen also said he would not serve on the airport board because he believes the law is likely unlawful as violations of the state constitution’s provisions over separation of powers and dual office-holding.
Limehouse, who serves as chairman of the legislative delegation, said he doesn’t believe the law is unconstitutional and will continue to serve on the airport board until the case is decided by a judge or he is no longer an officer of the delegation.
Limehouse said reversing the controversial decision over the director’s oversight ahead of Thursday’s vote to elect new officers was not meant to line up support to be re-elected chairman but to refocus the agency on progress at the airport.
Under his helm as chairman, he pointed to the airport’s success with landing low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, which started service in 2011, and JetBlue Airways, which announced last week it will launch nonstop service Feb. 28 to and from New York and Boston.
Other positive changes at the airport include a $150 million makeover of its 27-year-old terminal, which will start in November, and a 30 percent increase in passenger traffic since last year.
As part of the airport overhaul, board members on Monday accepted an $8 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to help pay for expansion of the airport ramp, or apron.
The ramp must be widened before six new gates can be built. The $18.2 million ramp revamp will begin in October.
Altogether, the airport received $15.2 million in federal money for the ramp expansion. The rest will come from the $4.50 passenger facility charge the airport levies on all boarding passengers to help pay for the terminal expansion project.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524