Limehouse criticized over airport board appointment
Some lawmakers are crying foul over the telephone tactics a colleague used to appoint his person last month to the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
They say state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, ignored the state’s public meeting laws — and an earlier vote of the House delegation — to get Mallory Factor on the board, without other lawmakers having a chance to consider 18 others who also had applied for the seat.
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said the appointment stemmed from a conference call and violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
“I’ve got 38,000 people I represent, and I’m not going to let their voices be X’ed out because somebody wants to elect somebody by a phone call and I’m not a part of that phone call,” Stavrinakis said. “The public has a right to expect way, way better than that.”
But Limehouse said the vote to elect Factor was taken in August, and Limehouse simply polled members later to ensure they still supported him.
“The way it (the appointment) has been done was the way it’s always been done for 100 years on the delegation,” Limehouse said. “We had a quorum. We took a vote.”
After that August vote, the delegation met again and voted to rescind Factor’s nomination. Asked about that meeting, Limehouse called it “a very disorganized, disjointed meeting. I’m certain Mr. Factor was duly elected in August. I’m 100 percent certain.”
However, the delegation office did seek new applicants for the vacant position in the wake of that meeting, and 18 applied. Their names were never considered during a delegation meeting.
State Rep. Peter McCoy, R-James Island, said last week he was concerned about the process.
McCoy’s is one of five signatures — all in the same script — on a Nov. 1 letter to Gov. Nikki Haley nominating Factor.
“Anytime you have anybody vetted for a particular seat that the delegation appoints, I think it’s only proper to do it for transparency in front of everybody,” McCoy said. “I think we have to have this vote done in an open delegation meeting. I support transparency.”
County legislative delegations are public bodies and subject to the state’s open meeting laws, which don’t allow action to be taken after a series of phone calls, S.C. Press Association director Bill Rogers said.
“You can’t just call people up. They’re taking action,” Rogers said of the appointment. “I think it could be challenged in court.”
The controversy over the appointment came not long after Limehouse, the aviation commission’s chairman, tried to have airport director Susan Stevens report directly to him. He also is facing a lawsuit challenging whether his service on that board violates the state’s ban on dual office-holding.
Adding to the heat is that both Limehouse and Stavrinakis often are mentioned as candidates for higher office, from the 1st Congressional District seat to the 2015 Charleston mayoral race.
Limehouse noted Stavrinakis’ brother Michael also serves on the aviation authority board.
“His vote was exactly the same way Mallory’s was done,” Limehouse said. “It wasn’t an issue then. .... It looks to me like it’s about personalities.”
State lawmakers often play loose when making appointments.
Earlier this year, state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said he made “a major mistake” when he hastily appointed North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey’s daughter to fill a magistrate post formerly held by Summey’s wife. No one else was considered for the vacancy.
“We don’t have any internal rules (for appointments), which hopefully is going to change,” Stavrinakis said, “but there are legal requirements for how government does business. We are not allowed to hold elections in secret.”
Other lawmakers had mixed reactions — and they did not break along predictable party lines.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard of Charleston was the only Democrat to sign Limehouse’s Nov. 1 nomination of Factor.
“I had two minorities I wanted to get on that board, and it fell through,” he said.
But Republican Rep. Jim Merrill of Daniel Island said he is a fan of Stevens’ work at the Aviation Authority and wants to see her work there continue. Merrill also said he is just not a fan of making appointments via a phone poll.
“Chip says that (polling) is a method that has been used in the past,” Merrill said. “If that’s so, that’s fine. We need to change that.”
None of the lawmakers, including Stavrinakis, said their opinions were shaped by Factor, who Gilliard described as being caught in a crossfire.
“He could be the greatest guy in the world,” Merrill added. “It’s nothing against him whatsoever.”
The letter went to Haley, who appointed Factor late last month. Haley’s office has said she defers to local lawmakers on such appointments, provided the nominees clear a background check.
The delegation’s next meeting is set for 6 p.m. today at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center’s Club North.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.