Charleston airport board votes 8-5 to hire state senator to run airports
In a contentious meeting of finger-pointing and rattled egos, Charleston County Aviation Authority voted 8-5 Thursday to hire state Sen. Paul Campbell as the new director of airports.
How they voted
Voting to hire Campbell: Attorney and board Chairman Andy Savage, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor, North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor, businessman Michael Stavrinakis and attorney and former lawmaker Ben Hagood, who changed his vote from July 30.
Voting against hiring Campbell: Former judge and lawmaker Larry Richter, former U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett, retired businessman Pat Waters, businessman Mallory Factor and accountant Ellie Thomas.
After the nearly two-hour rant with board members sometimes talking on top of one another and the chairman rapping the gavel several times to restore order, Campbell, a Goose Creek Republican, signed a three-year contract.
He will earn $192,000 a year and officially starts working Saturday. He also will get a $1,000-a-month car allowance, medical insurance, travel expenses and be eligible for state retirement benefits separate from those already earned through his service in the Legislature.
Campbell, 67, steps in to fill the position left vacant when seven-year Airports Director Sue Stevens abruptly stepped down July 23, citing “intolerable” working conditions under the present 13-member board's makeup. She is on paid leave through Sept. 30.
Stevens was earning $211,140 a year when she decided to resign. She worked for the agency 26 years.
A week after Stevens stepped down, the board voted 7-6 to negotiate a contract with Campbell as the new director of airports.
Campbell, a former Alcoa executive, said he is confident he can do both jobs without resigning his Senate seat.
“I'm convinced I can do both jobs,” he told the board as they fired questions at him. “I'm confident I can do both jobs well.”
When questioned about being in Columbia from January to June when the Legislature is in session, Campbell said the General Assembly meets 55 days and he considers it a part-time job that will not interfere in running the airport.
“I don't think of this (the airport job) as a part-time undertaking,” he said, adding that the Aviation Authority staff is competent and can take care of things in his absence.
Aviation board member and former U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett took issue with Campbell's position.
“To me, it just doesn't show a total dedication to the job,” Hartnett said.
Campbell responded that the agency, in turmoil since Stevens left, needs some stability. “I would like to get started now.”
Campbell's hiring came after attorney and former lawmaker Ben Hagood, a member of the airport board, moved to delay the hiring process 30 days and find two more candidates to join Campbell as finalists for the job.
“There is no evidence of an emergency before this board,” Hagood said.
“It is an emergency,” countered board member Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, pointing to the $189 million overhaul of the terminal at Charleston International Airport that is underway and the pending deal to sell 320 wooded acres owned by the Aviation Authority to Boeing for possible future expansion.
“The organization needs to move forward with a permanent director,” Riley said. “The organization has been injured in large part by members of this board.”
He said Campbell would bring stability and order back to the agency.
Hagood's motion failed on a 7-6 vote, along the same lines of the July 30 vote allowing the chairman to negotiate a contract with Campbell.
Board member Mallory Factor called the method of hiring Campbell “a dramatic departure” from the way other directors of the airports have been hired.
Chairman Andy Savage said Campbell requested a one-year contract, but Savage insisted on at least three years for Campbell to head the county's three airports to provide job security during terminal expansion and renovation.
“The previous director quit because of the way she was treated by certain members of this board,” Savage said. “She didn't have a contract. She had no security.”
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, who has served on the Aviation Authority for 22 years, said he was never more embarrassed to serve on a board than during the past year when certain remarks were made to Stevens by certain board members.
“We fell into a trap,” he said. “We need to establish policy and give somebody legs to run (the Aviation Authority). We overstepped those bounds. We need to get our act together.”
Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, who also sits on the board, said they could not have landed a more qualified candidate.
“We need this guy more than he needs us,” he said.
At one point, board member Larry Richter tore into Campbell about contributors to his campaign, saying the board needed to know who he had ties to before they could vote on hiring him.
Campbell responded that it was all public information and not relevant to his job as airports director.
“If you don't like me, you don't hire me,” he said. “I'm comfortable with whatever the board decides.”
Hartnett offered an amendment that required Campbell to resign his Senate seat to accept the job of airports director. That motion was tabled.
The board also voted unanimously to bump up the salary of interim Airports Director Bill New by 20 percent to $211,000, the same amount his predecessor was earning before she left in July. New plans to retire Dec. 31. His was earning $175,839.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.