Slow down on picking an Aviation Authority director
The current flap at the Charleston County Aviation Authority is not about state Sen. Paul Campbell. He is surely an able and fine fellow, perhaps the proverbial “best thing since sliced bread.” What is at issue is the CCAA Board’s method of operation and its exercise of what I believe is terrible judgment.
On July 23, the then-director notified CCAA Board Chairman Andy Savage that she was resigning. By the next day the chairman and, I believe, some other members had focused on Sen. Campbell as the man for the job, the only man for the job, the man who must be hired within a week, with no criteria established, no search, and no vetting.
The board was told by email on July 24 that the chairman had located a worthy replacement director who was willing to take the job and had even approved our salary structure. This all happened within one day after the former director resigned, and with absolutely no input from the CCAA Board; in my view, a less than thoughtful method of doing business.
On July 26, the chairman appointed a committee tasked with determining a process for selecting a new director. On July 29, the committee heard from staff and advisors that there was no urgency to hiring a new director, and thus recommended that the board conduct a full search process.
The next day at a full board meeting the committee reported that recommendation, which seven members promptly ignored.
Opposing this course of action — the lack of any process or deliberation — I and five other board members strenuously resisted acting to hire a replacement a mere seven days after the director’s resignation.
Seven members, however, voted to immediately enter negotiations with Sen. Campbell. And that was that. No advertising the vacancy, no process, no vetting. Just precipitous, ill-advised action at a frantic pace. Why?
Not because immediate action was necessary.
My friend Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has declared that we were faced with an “emergency.” That is not the case, and the best evidence is that almost a full month has passed, and under the leadership of its very capable deputy director the airport is doing just fine. On Tuesday we sold all of our newly issued bonds — all on the first day they were offered.
What would have been learned if the CCAA Board had waited, advertised, conducted a search, and executed a process? What other candidates might there be? I don’t know; no one does. According to the Riley op-ed, Campbell is the finest sort of hiree. And, Mayor Riley said, we had to act right away. But the chairman had not even, until recently, placed the issue on the agenda for our Aug. 22 board meeting and apparently did not plan to, at least until several board members, myself included, protested that the matter needed to be immediately revisited. So, it finally was added to the agenda.
Were there political underpinnings involved in the selection of Sen. Campbell? Time will tell. Why didn’t the seven board members voting in favor want the board to establish criteria and undertake a reasonable process in finding a new director? Why not get input from knowledgeable sources?
I think we were obligated to do so, and I think the public we serve is entitled to have us do so.
We could have debriefed past directors. Two such persons are right here in Charleston, and they could perhaps offer meaningful insight. It wouldn’t have cost us a dollar to do that, just a little bit of time; and the introspection that process would afford would be healthy.
Unique problems arise in choosing a state senator as our next director. Especially is this so when he votes on appointments to the very CCAA Board which wants to hire him, for whom he will work, to whom he will be accountable. Who exactly will be in charge, the senator who votes on appointments to the board or the board that he has helped appoint and which is now hiring him? Confusing to say the least.
Before hiring an officeholder as director shouldn’t we know how many of his financial supporters have business with the airport? Shouldn’t the CCAA Board at least ask before hiring a sitting senator, or any public official, to be our director?
Shouldn’t we ask when the director’s post became a part-time job, one that does not require coming to the office? Our growth has been exponential; so has our workload.
Shouldn’t we at least consider public opinion? Do the other 150-plus airport employees have an opinion? If the job is so easy that it allows the person holding it to have a second job requiring a very large time commitment then we have been paying way too much to prior directors.
For some years I served in the S.C. Senate, and learned much in doing so. If I was told that something must be done right now, there was always a hidden hook. I believe in slowing down, being more deliberate, and thinking through the issues.
This is not about Paul Campbell. It is about a process, and the process must be right, look right, and be completely non-political.
We need to slow down; we need to ask some questions. We have the time to do so and the public is entitled to have us do so.
Lawrence E. Richter Jr. has served as a municipal judge, family court judge and is a retired circuit judge. He also has served as acting associate justice of the S.C. Supreme Court and in the S.C. Senate. He is in his third term on the Charleston County Aviation Authority Board.