Charleston airport board denies access to letter from outgoing director

The Charleston County Aviation Authority on Thursday denied The Post and Courier’s request for a copy of a letter that the agency’s top staffer submitted when she decided to quit.

The newspaper had asked for a copy under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act

Authority attorney Arnold Goodstein said the document is “incidental to proposed contractual arrangements which have not yet been resolved.”

The Freedom of Information Act allows public bodies to withhold information under certain circumstances, including “documents incidental to proposed contractual arrangements.”

Outgoing airports director Sue Stevens did not have a contract with the Aviation Authority nor was she negotiating one when she resigned July 23, according to Andy Savage, board chairman. It was Savage who received the letter after meeting with Stevens that day.

Goodstein said the letter involves a settlement Stevens is seeking related to her departure. She called working conditions “intolerable” under the current make-up of the 13-member board and is considering legal action.

Goodstein would not elaborate on what amount Stevens is seeking, except to say it’s “sizable.” She is on paid leave through Sept. 30, and has retained an employment attorney.

S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender, who also represents The Post and Courier, said the Aviation Authority has a right to withhold the part of the letter that relates to a proposed settlement.

“If in fact it is a demand from the departing director for some form of settlement, it can be legitimately sheltered from disclosure until the agreement is reached or it is clear there cannot be an agreement,” Bender said Thursday. “After that, it has to be disclosed.”

He also said the Aviation Authority must release the remainder of the letter since it is not shielded under the sunshine law.

“They have to make the rest available,” he said.

The Post and Courier has asked for a copy of the remainder of the letter.

Also, Savage said earlier this month that Stevens’ letter mentioned a questionable campaign contribution made to a board member. Six of the Aviation Authority’s 13 members are elected officials.

He declined to elaborate on the nature or recipient of the donation.

In a separate letter to board members on July 29, Stevens said, “I can no longer turn my head to what appear to be serious improprieties and unethical behavior” of some board members.

Savage has asked state agencies, including the Attorney General’s office, to determine if the campaign contribution was improper. On Thursday, he said he had not received a report yet on those findings.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.

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