Top-flight board — that’s the ticket

  • Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2013 12:01 a.m.

The sudden departure of Sue Stevens as executive director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority is disturbing, since she is reportedly leaving because of interfering, verbally abusive board members. Given that situation, the authority ideally would be working on how to make the board more functional before rushing out to hire another director.

But Authority Chairman Andy Savage already has a candidate for the top job, and hopes to get the board’s approval as early as Tuesday.

What’s the rush?

Well, Mr. Savage says that pending major work at the airport is a big concern, and that instability in the top job could cause bond rating agencies to charge more interest for financing.

If credit rating agencies are really that sensitive, we’d imagine they would be more concerned about the policy-making board, which apparently includes at least a couple of abusive members who effectively forced Mrs. Stevens’ departure. The authority board, after all, has the fiduciary responsibility for the airport.

One board member is urging his colleagues to get off the fast track in hiring of a new director in the near term.

“I think we’d do well to go slowly and look for the best person we can find,” Thomas F. Hartnett told our reporter on Thursday. “Hopefully, it would be someone local who knows what our airport is all about.”

Under normal circumstances, the former Republican congressman would be absolutely correct. But the problems at the airport go deeper than the director’s vacancy.

Mr. Savage’s pick for the job is state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, who was the head of the Alcoa Mt. Holly plant before his retirement. Certainly, Sen. Campbell knows the local landscape, and is well regarded for his management skills, engaging personality and contributions to the community.

Whether Sen. Campbell is the best person for the airport job is something that the authority board can’t really determine absent a broad search.

But given Mrs. Stevens’ well-publicized problems with some members of the board, it’s open to question whether other experienced airport directors would be willing to submit themselves to the same situation.

Board micro-managers aren’t likely to be put off by a change in staff. If anything, they may be emboldened to push their agenda more forcefully under a new director. That’s the problem that really needs to be resolved.

Sen. Campbell is a known quantity who would command respect from the board. At 67, he would be unlikely to undertake another career for the long term. If chosen, maybe he could serve long enough for changes to be made on behalf of a more functional policy-making board.

Since the authority board appears to be the main source of problems, that’s where solutions need to be focused. Why can’t the membership restrain the bullies on the board?

While there are provisions for executive session in the Airport Authority meetings scheduled Monday and Tuesday, the issues facing the airport and its authority are best discussed publicly.

Mr. Savage should make every effort to have his board do so on this highly important matter.

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