Charleston airport panel recommends national search for new director
Fallout from the sudden resignation of Charleston County Aviation Authority’s top official last week continued to reverberate Monday as an airport panel voted 3-0 to recommend the full board look nationwide for a new executive director.
The panel also considered implications from the resignation of Airports Director Sue Stevens for several projects underway at the airport, including an upcoming $170 million bond sale to pay for a massive makeover of the aging terminal at Charleston International and the pending sale of 320 wooded acres to Boeing South Carolina for possible expansion.
Airports Director Sue Stevens submitted her resignation, effective Sept. 30, two years earlier than planned, citing “intolerable” conditions in a letter to board members Monday.
Stevens said her departure from her $211,140-a-year job has “nothing to do with civility or verbal abuse” as cited by board Chairman Andy Savage but about “serious improprieties and unethical behavior” of some board members.
Changes in the board’s makeup since 2007 directly affected working conditions, she said.
That’s the year Rep. Chip Limehouse co-crafted a law to put the chairman and vice chairman of Charleston County’s legislative delegation on the board. He later became chairman and at one point last year seized direct control over Stevens instead of leaving her oversight up to the board. The 13-member board later changed its mind.
“Certain members of the board continue to treat me in a condescending and demeaning manner when I refused to ‘play ball,’ ” Stevens wrote. “I have been restricted in my ability to carry out my duty and responsibilities. Beginning last summer, a pattern of innuendo and unfounded attacks on my reputation has developed.
“I have been falsely accused in public meetings of breaking the rules and not complying with board policy. Numerous false statements have been made that impugn my integrity and infer that I am acting in a deceptive or illegal manner,” Stevens said. “These attacks were made to intimidate me with the hope that I would turn my head to the actions of particular board members.”
Stevens said she had no choice but to step down. No one has named the board members involved.
Stevens has hired employment attorney Nancy Bloodgood to represent her in case she decides to file suit.
“I remain hopeful that we can resolve this matter amicably and minimize any further harm to all parties,” Stevens.
The Aviation Authority has retained employment attorney Rep. Jenny Horne of Summerville. She gave the panel and other board members legal advice in a closed session Monday.
If there is litigation, airport properties and contracts director Rob Carew said the agency has enough insurance to cover the costs.
Attorney Ben Hagood and businessman Michael Stavrinakis voted with committee chairman, former U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett, to look nationwide for Stevens’ replacement.
Savage, the airport board chairman, has recommended the board move swiftly to name a new director as a show of stability. State Sen. Paul Campbell of Goose Creek, a former Alcoa executive, has been named as a possible replacement.
That caused outgoing airport board member Pat Waters to say, “We immediately looked at a political person when we seem to have a political issue.”
The panel also heard from staff members they expect no negative effect from the upheaval on the sale of airport property to Boeing or the upcoming bond sale.
Stevens was an integral part of the deal earlier this year to sell airport-owned property along International Boulevard in North Charleston to the aerospace giant for $12.5 million for possible future expansion. The Federal Aviation Administration is questioning the land purchase over the price and the repositioning of roads and a radar site.
The full board will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday to take up Stevens’ departure.
Deputy Airports Director Bill New is serving as interim director through Dec. 31, when he plans to retire.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.