The former chief of the regional transportation agency will get a lump sum payment of $70,000 under a severance agreement after she resigned following her arrest on an alcohol-related disorderly conduct charge.
The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority also will pay Christine Wilkinson $4,654 toward health insurance premiums under the agreement that was signed June 20.
In addition to the money, Wilkinson, who had worked for the transportation agency for 20 years - the last three as executive director at an annual salary of $130,000 - will be allowed to keep her CARTA-issued cellphone, laptop computer and iPad as long as they do not contain CARTA files or information, the agreement states.
CARTA Board Chairman Elliott Summey said Tuesday that Wilkinson was in the final six months of a four-year contract and that the agency had no way of severing its relationship with her "for cause" because she had not been convicted of a crime. Faced with that, he said, the CARTA board had to make a decision: place Wilkinson on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of her trial, or agree to a severance deal.
"It was a monetary and a business decision," Summey said.
Wilkinson, 44, was arrested just before 10 p.m. June 17 after an incident outside the Market Pavilion Hotel on East Bay Street.
According to the police report:
Wilkinson drove up to the valet stand and told employees she was there to get some ice cream. When asked if she needed her car parked, she declined. After being asked to move away from the valet area, Wilkinson drove south on East Bay Street before returning a few minutes later.
Wilkinson told staff members she was waiting for friends to come out of the bar. The door staff called police after Wilkinson began to act irritated.
A bicycle officer approached Wilkinson, who was still in the driver's seat of her car, and smelled a strong odor of alcohol coming from her body and breath. Wilkinson's eyes were bloodshot and her speech was slurred.
The officer asked Wilkinson to get out of her car due to her "grossly intoxicated state" and the "possibility of her endangering herself or others." When Wilkinson got out of her car, she staggered on the road.
Wilkinson asked the officer "to let her go because she worked for Mayor Joe Riley and has given 20 years of her life to this city."
"You could give me a break if you wanted to," Wilkinson told the arresting officer.
She resigned as CARTA director the same day the severance deal was signed.
On Tuesday, the Charleston Municipal Court clerk said Wilkinson was among defendants whose cases were scheduled to be heard who had requested a jury trial. No date has been set yet.
John Crangle, director of the state's Common Cause, a nonprofit advocacy group for ethical and accountable government, said that CARTA is limiting its liability in the case through the severance agreement.
"Actually, it seems like a soft settlement to me. It does appear that the employer settled the case and got rid of it for a reasonable amount of money," Crangle said. "The employer is protected. It's like buying an insurance policy."
Otherwise, he said, Wilkinson could have sued CARTA if she had been acquitted after resigning or being forced out.
CARTA said it would release the severance documents Tuesday but, acting on the advice of its attorney, only after the newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.
"Otherwise, providing this document under these circumstances opens the door for anyone to demand any CARTA documents without submitting a formal FOIA request," attorney Helen Hiser said Tuesday in an email to Summey.
"The FOIA is not intended as a shield to delay release of a document that is clearly public in nature," said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, an advocate for open government. "Their lawyers miss the point of the FOIA, which is to give the public and press access to government dealings."
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