If you take a job that state law says comes without pay, the commission that oversees the Columbia Metropolitan Airport would be a pretty good choice.
The perks available to Columbia airport's politically appointed commissioners exceed what even far larger airports around the Southeast provide their governing boards.
As The Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox reports, commissioners treat themselves to trips to Hawaii, Las Vegas and other sites of conference/junkets, the best seats and liquor-stocked hospitality suites at local sporting events, $35 and mileage every time they represent the airport — like, say, at golf tournaments and other marketing events — and free parking at the airport for themselves and anyone whose political support they think they might need.
Best of all: They can’t get fired for exercising lousy judgment. Like squandering all that money on perks while the airport loses business to competitors that have far more airlines and flights and far better rates.
Everything seems to be expanding at Charleston International Airport, including executive salaries.
It’s true that the perks don’t add up to enough to noticeably reduce Columbia’s high ticket prices. They aren’t in the same league with the $165,000 job that a politically connected Charleston County Aviation Authority member just landed with our airport. And when it comes to cultivating politicians, the parking passes the Columbia commission hands out to local legislators is nothing like hiring a state senator to run the airport, as Charleston’s did. But at least the Charleston airport is growing. Columbia’s struggles not to shrink.
Under S.C. law, Columbia airport commissioners can’t be removed before their four-year terms end unless they engage in “neglect of duty, misconduct, or malfeasance in office.” Neglect of duty can mean consistently missing meetings, but the two other reasons for removal essentially mean violating the law. And that takes us back to the first principle of employment: If your boss can’t fire you, you don’t have a boss.
So far, the commissioners’ bosses have shown little desire to fire them. Until Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian was elected to the state Senate last year, no one much complained about the commission, which provides free all-you-can-park passes to Lexington and Richland county legislators, local city and county council members, statewide elected officials, members of Congress and former airport commissioners.
Back during his first stint as state Democratic Party chairman, when he was grappling in the mud with Republicans for the title of king of vit…
And there’s not a long line to join Mr. Harpootlian’s protest. One representative routinely lends his parking pass to constituents who ask for it — a tiny thing, but the sort of thing that endears lawmakers to their constituents. Sort of like giving the passes to legislators endears commissioners to their not-quite bosses. Another representative asked how commissioners were supposed to get ideas for improving the airport unless they traveled on junkets.
We can’t be sure, but we’d start by calling up counterparts in Charleston, or Charlotte or Raleigh or Atlanta, which run much better airports with only a fraction of the perks.
It doesn’t make sense for local legislators to appoint airport commissioners, particularly since it’s the county councils that are required by state law to make up any shortfalls in airport budgets. But whoever appoints the commissioners ought to be able to remove them because they’re not happy with the jobs they’re doing rather than having to wait for them to violate the law.
Some officials need to be protected from being fired for political reasons: members of the State Ethics Commission and the State Election Commission, for example. But like Santee Cooper board members and members of countless other state and local commissions, the members of airport commissions do not need union-like job protections. Because some people who don’t have a boss act like they don’t have a boss, and put their personal interests ahead of the interests of the public.