Everything seems to be expanding at Charleston International Airport, including executive salaries.
Former Charleston County Aviation Authority board member Spencer Pryor just got hired for about $165,000 a year, more than double what he earned as North Charleston’s part-time police spokesman. The airport’s lawyer, though technically not an employee, just got a raise from $250,000 to $325,000 per year. And state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, the airport’s executive director, just saw his salary rise by $50,000 to $300,000 per year.
The Aviation Authority board, which approves some but not all executive salaries, would be wise to proceed cautiously. Airport money is rolling in now. But the good times may not last with several capital projects in the pipeline and debt payments scheduled to start rising sharply in 2024.
Because airports around the country are run differently, executive salaries vary wildly and it’s hard to gauge what ours are worth. But in some cases, the recent pay increases have raised eyebrows.
Mr. Pryor, who previously put in 16 years with the airport before becoming a television reporter, then a police spokesman, clearly had a relationship with the airport and the board. He also happens to be the brother of County Councilman Teddie Pryor.
He was chosen among 31 candidates and had to resign his board post to be considered for the job. Fair enough. But the previous communications director was paid far less, about $83,000 per year.
Mr. Campbell defended Mr. Pryor’s salary, telling Post and Courier reporter Warren Wise that Mr. Pryor would be taking on two jobs. As director of communications, Mr. Pryor would also oversee the personnel department, he said, though human resources manager Julie Free would remain with the airport and report to Mr. Pryor.
Mr. Pryor had made about $99,000 a year as North Charleston’s full-time police spokesman, before stepping down to a part-time, $68,000-a-year post last year.
The airport’s two other deputy directors, COO Hernan Pena and CFO Doug Boston, earn $193,000 and $185,000, respectively. So perhaps Mr. Pryor’s salary isn’t necessarily out of line.
But who’s to say?
Part of the problem is that the airport is only indirectly answerable to the public and local control through the Aviation Authority, an independent, state-chartered entity run by an 11-member board. S.C. House and Senate delegations representing Charleston County each nominate three members, with the governor’s approval; one member is jointly appointed by the Charleston city and county councils; and the mayors of Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and the chairman of County Council, or their proxies, are ex-officio board members.
For the record, Mr. Pryor’s previous board appointment was made by legislators.
There may be nothing inherently wrong with the board’s structure,but it merits scrutiny when ex-board members are hired for such high-paying airport positions.