Travel records for Charleston airport officials released
The travel records that Charleston County Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse requested for airport officials don’t show anything out of order.
Limehouse sought documents for Sue Stevens, executive director of the Charleston International Airport, and former Aviation Authority Chairman David Jennings earlier this month after the board voted to give him authority over the director. The board unanimously reversed that vote Monday.
The travel records show Stevens spent on average $11,600 each year since she took the helm in 2007 and Jennings spent about $7,000 a year for the five years before he was not reappointed to the board in 2010.
Limehouse said he wasn’t looking for anything in particular with Stevens’ travel expenses, except to shed light on who approved it.
“It’s not about the executive director,” Limehouse said. “It’s about the position of executive director. Everyone needs someone to oversee them.”
Stevens said she has oversight by the 13-member airport board, which approves travel expenses as part of the airport’s $30 million budget every year.
Stevens defended her travel expenses as necessary to keep up with emerging trends in the airline industry and to retain her accreditation.
“It’s a board policy decision,” she said. “Do they want the executive director to be a professional, someone who knows the industry, someone who learns emerging trends and what the best practices are?”
Stevens serves on the board of the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International — North America. She is chairwoman of the Small Airports Committee and a liaison for the ACI-NA legal committee.
Her travel records reflect her attending conferences for those organizations, other airport-related meetings and efforts to land Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways in Charleston.
“I don’t think conferences bring people to Charleston,” Limehouse said.
Jennings said that Limehouse was grasping at straws by asking for his travel records.
“It shows the length he will go to to deflect attention away from his poor performance,” Jennings said, citing the Aviation Authority being sued over the $150 million construction contract for the overhaul of the airport, another suit challenging Limehouse’s seat on the authority and the controversial “power grab” earlier this month that put him temporarily in control of the airport director.
Limehouse pointed out that under his leadership the airport embarked on its extensive makeover, raised passenger levels 30 percent and landed low-cost carriers. He also said he spent no airport money on travel since he was chairman, and Jennings spent more than $35,000 over five years.
“It seems a bit much to me,” Limehouse said.
Jennings defended his travels. For two years, he served on the national board of the Airport Council International.
The authority approved a travel policy for board members in 2005 that required board members to be notified in advance.
“No one objected,” Jennings said, including Limehouse, who came on the board in 2007.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said the request for records didn’t make sense.
“If there is a problem with the travel policy, we need to take a look at it going forward and not looking back,” Summey said.