The Charleston County Aviation Authority has finalized its action on a new director, but it still has plenty of unresolved issues on its agenda. Let’s hope the authority can move as quickly to deal with alleged improprieties on the board, cited by former executive director Sue Stevens, as it did in choosing state Sen. Paul Campbell to run the airport.
Regarding those charges, Authority Chairman Andy Savage says he has “taken the necessary steps to preserve the integrity of the authority.” That includes asking the state attorney general’s office to look into an allegation about a campaign contribution to a board member. A spokesman for the State Law Enforcement Division told us Friday that SLED has begun a “preliminary inquiry.”
Mrs. Stevens alleges a variety of ethical breaches, including some board members seeking “favors, jobs and employment benefits for their friends and relatives,” as cited in her July 23 letter of resignation. An independent review of all those charges is essential.
Then there’s the pending court case over legislative board membership that is long overdue for a resolution. In 2007, the Legislature passed a bill sought by the local legislative delegation to give its chairman and vice chairman seats on the authority board.
The delegation vice chairman, state Sen. Chip Campsen, says it violates the law against dual office-holding, and the constitutional prohibition against the legislative branch executing the laws that it passes.
The South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, which has challenged the law in court, agrees.
Given that controversy there is no small irony that the authority has added yet another legislator to the mix, with the Thursday appointment of Sen. Campbell as executive director.
The case is pending before the state Supreme Court and if the law is found unconstitutional it would restrict direct legislative involvement on the local board. The arguments against the law are persuasive; the sooner it is decided, the better.
Meanwhile, every member of the authority board should recognize that his duties don’t include interfering with the day-day-day operations of the airport.
As North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said Thursday, “This board will settle down only when every member respects the limited role of a board member. We set policy and govern. We are not there to run the Aviation Authority.”
As noted in our Friday report, there was intense debate during the meeting between those who wanted Sen. Campbell to head the authority and those who wanted to advertise the job, or at least sought some conditions to his employment.
A reasonable condition would have been to require Mr. Campbell to step down from his Senate seat. The executive director position is a full-time job.
Mr. Campbell, who is 67, says he will resign his Senate seat if he finds that his legislative duties are diminishing his performance on the authority. It could hardly be otherwise for such a demanding job, which Mr. Campbell’s predecessor described as 24/7. The Senate is in session three days a week for five months.
Mr. Campbell was purportedly hired for his executive abilities, as demonstrated at Alcoa. Maybe his supporters on the authority board believe his legislative connections can help the airport, too. As Ron Brinson points out in his column on today’s Commentary page, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, one of most powerful politicians in the state, considers Sen. Campbell a key ally.
In our view, there’s already more than enough politics on the authority board, and hiring a sitting state senator as executive director on a three-year contract adds another political ingredient to a volatile mix.