BY RON BRINSON
So, the Aviation Board has acted — Paul Campbell will be its executive director.
And Executive Director Campbell will continue to serve as State Senator Campbell.
My friend Paul Campbell has mounted a tiger of scrutiny and public expectations.
He’s confident, for sure. “I’m convinced I can do both jobs well!” he confidently declared to his board Thursday.
One of his Senate colleagues has no doubt that he can. “He’ll be great for the Aviation Authority, and he will continue to be a great senator for his people,” says Sen. Hugh Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
And Sen. Leatherman adds, “We need him in the Senate!”
Eight members of the Aviation Authority Board believe they need Paul Campbell, too.
He takes over this weekend.
Board Chairman Andy Savage acknowledges the perplexing question for the public — and the other five of his board colleagues — is, why Senator Campbell and what’s the rush?
His answer: “Our staff is depleted; we’ve lost our No. 3 manager — who was our chief engineer; we’ve lost our chief executive who had more than 20 years of institutional knowledge; our No. 2 manager is scheduled to retire early next year; and we have a divided and contentious board.”
That’s a formidable register of corporate maladies. Blend it with the Aviation Authority’s most ambitious capitalized development program ever and the risks-of-failure screen amps up.
Charleston Mayor and Aviation Board member Joe Riley describes the board’s status as an “emergency.”
“We need a permanent director. … We need stability,” Riley declared.
So Paul Campbell seems to be a risk management choice, someone who can deal with the “people” equations and the management challenges. Savage believes the senator is personally motivated to address the Authority’s diverse and risky challenges immediately. “He brings a style of leadership that can settle the board and operations into a rhythm of performance and achievement.”
While Director-Sen. Campbell is doing his thing, Savage intends to reassure the public that the board can rise above its division and rancor and govern responsibly — and transparently. He promises fuller explanations of former executive director Sue Stevens’ grievances and related investigations. Stevens left last month with cryptic declarations of “improprieties and unethical behavior” among some board members. Reportedly, Stevens’ good-bye letter also mentioned a mysterious campaign contribution.
Savage invites the press and media to “help” the board by “covering us vigorously and telling the public what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.” The Post and Courier is obliging by pressing its demand for a copy of Stevens’ letter. Savage says that letter and other documents will be released — on a schedule dictated by negotiations with Stevens and possible litigation.
It’s like Chairman Savage has been reading the best-practice governance code book. He was determined that the board’s meeting to finalize Campbell’s appointment would be in open session. The meeting started with a refresher workshop delivered by Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, on the board’s legal duties to assure that its governance operations are transparent to the public view — and accountable. A healthy dose of rapt public attention can be therapeutic for the agency that manages the Charleston International Airport, arguably the most important strategic economic development asset in the Lowcountry.
Savage has some other longer term goals, too — like having women appointed to the board.
But his biggest challenge could be rebooting collegiality in the board room. Talk to a few Aviation Board members and you quickly sense the sad reality that this board is anything but a warm and fuzzy governance enterprise.
You hear the animus of enemies, not the dialogue of colleagues. It’s clear that some of these folks just don’t like each other.
“The organization has been injured in large part by members of this board,” Mayor Riley frankly declared to his colleagues Thursday.
Those words simply prime public concerns for what’s really going on with a board populated by men who bring broad experiences and expertise to the board room.
“Some of us have known each other politically over long periods and we bring years of ‘personality’ relationships to the table,” one board member said. “Sometimes, it’s just hard to move past the past.”
It might be “hard” but this board must figure out how to move past those “pasts.” The Aviation Board’s mission supports all of the Lowcountry’s economic engines, from the hospitality industry to the “Boeing” dynamics. Its role has never been more important; its governance has never been more risky.
Ron Brinson, a former associate editor of this newspaper, is a North Charleston City Councilman. He was president/CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities from 1979-86 and president/CEO of the Port of New Orleans from 1986-2002. He is a consultant on port authority governance. He can be reached at email@example.com.