State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, might soon have a new job as executive director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority. But that doesn’t mean he wants to leave his old one as state senator. In an interview at this newspaper last Friday, Sen. Campbell said he wants to see if he can manage both jobs over the next five months, and then make a decision.
The authority board, which recently voted 7-6 to begin negotiations with Mr. Campbell, should look askance at such an arrangement, considering the extensive duties of the authority job and the major challenges facing the airport in the near future.
And there’s another important consideration: the Senate District 44 residents, in parts of Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties, whom Sen. Campbell represents.
If the senator comes to terms with the authority on the executive director’s position and then resigns his seat, the process for a special election could get under way without delay.
Eighteen weeks would be needed to meet the requirements of filing, primary election, runoff and general election.
Assuming a timely decision by the senator, an election could be held before the legislative session begins in mid-January. That would give the successor to Sen. Campbell the opportunity to get up to speed on the issues and develop an agenda as a senator.
If Mr. Campbell were to resign at the start of the legislative session, District 44 would go unrepresented in the Senate for most of the session. That’s a lot to expect just to accommodate Sen. Campbell’s personal wishes.
Moreover, there is the policy of the Charleston County Aviation Authority about running for office. Its handbook states that employees may not “be a candidate for public elective office in a partisan election.” Authority board chairman Andy Savage says that doesn’t apply to the executive director, who works under contract with the board.
In our view, the director ought to be subject to the same rules on elective office as any other airport employee.
For his part, Sen. Campbell notes that the prohibition only refers to candidates for office, not sitting legislators. Hence, he says he would be technically exempt.
And he says the handbook provision was written to comport with the Hatch Act, which restricted the political activity of officials who were employed by the federal government or whose salary was paid in part with federal money. President Barack Obama signed Congress’ revision of the Hatch Act late last year, removing local and state officials from its restrictions.
Since that vote, the authority has had plenty of time to revise its handbook, if it believed a change were warranted. And, anyway, the handbook also states, “The authority expects you to devote your full attention and energy to the job.”
How would that be possible for a senator spending more than half the working week in Columbia?
Maybe that provision doesn’t apply to the director, either.
But it should.
The Aviation Authority has major projects looming and a meddlesome, politicized board. The challenges to the next director are obvious.
The airport is an essential part of the area’s economic life, more than ever with the development at Boeing.
The next airport director shouldn’t be distracted by legislative matters. He should be able concentrate his energies on the job, which pays in excess of $200,000.
Forced into a choice, Sen. Campbell acknowledges that he would take the airport job over staying on as state senator.
That would be the right choice, and the authority board should insist that Sen. Campbell make that call as a condition of his employment.