Senate advances SPA reforms

State Ports Authority

A bill that would restructure the State Ports Authority, adding tighter requirements for its board and more transparency about its finances, passed a Senate vote Wednesday in Columbia and now heads to the House.

Among its provisions, the bill would require board members have at least five years of experience in relevant fields, such as maritime shipping, law or finance, economics and statistics. It also would eliminate the governor's power to remove board members at will.

The bill moves from the Senate on a 31 to 14 vote after days of discussion.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, who sponsored the bill, said it is an innovative step that will position the agency to compete in the modern marketplace. Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, and Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, co-sponsored.

Gov. Mark Sanford frequently spoke against the bill, saying it reduces accountability. Former Sanford chief of staff and former SPA board member Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, echoed that sentiment in floor debate.

"When (board members) are protected and can't be removed at will, you'll see politics then," Davis said.

The governor, according to the bill, should ensure the board's membership includes representatives from various regions of the state, as well as members with specific business skills. The state's chief executive would be allowed to remove board members for clear problems, such as wrongdoing, neglect of duty or conflict of interest.

The bill calls for the board to conduct an annual performance review of the SPA's executive director and submit its findings in writing to the governor and to the General Assembly.

Former SPA chief executive Bernard S. Groseclose Jr. resigned at a January board meeting during a performance evaluation. The agency has said it does not have any

written record of that evaluation.

If the bill becomes law, board members would receive performance reviews of their own from the Senate and House ways committees. The two committees would review the SPA and its operations, as well as the board and the executive director, at least every two years.

An amendment to the bill would reduce the terms of the nine board members to five years from seven.

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The proposed legislation also would require:

--The SPA to post on its Web site a detailed account of all money received and disbursed each year and keep a regularly updated register of all expenses of more than $100.

--The SPA to seek approval from the Budget and Control Board for the sale of any real property.

--The SPA to take action to expeditiously develop its planned container terminal at the former Navy base and to continue moving forward with its plans for a joint terminal with the Georgia Ports Authority in Jasper County.

--The creation of a committee to consider private partnerships in port operations. The committee would submit a report to the governor and the General Assembly by March 1, 2010, and then dissolve.

Reach Allyson Bird at or 937-5594.