House members brawl over airport appointment


“Repugnant.” “The feistiest meeting I've attended in 16 years.” “Government by dictatorship.” That's how some Charleston area lawmakers are describing a late Tuesday fracas over something that hardly ever makes news: a legislative appointment to the Charleston County Aviation Authority Board.

Gov. Nikki Haley's office might have to sort out who wins.

At issue is the August appointment of Charleston businessman and Republican supporter Mallory Factor to the board.

Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston and current chairman of the Aviation Authority board, said Factor's appointment was done properly.

Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said it was not advertised, nor was it on the delegation's August agenda. On Tuesday, Stavrinakis convinced his colleagues to rescind the appointment.

“We're not going to have government by dictatorship in Charleston County,” Stavrinakis said. “It's not going to happen.”

But Limehouse said the Aviation Authority vacancy has been “advertised in the past ad nauseam.” He questioned whether enough House members voted Tuesday to reverse the previous vote to send Factor's name to Haley.

The appointment dispute comes a week after the Aviation Authority board strayed from its posted agenda and voted to give oversight of the airport's director to the chairman, who is Limehouse.

The motion, which media advocates said violated the state's Freedom of Information Act, is expected to be reconsidered at a future meeting. The board is expected to meet next week, and electing a chairman will be on the agenda.

Stavrinakis said Factor's presence could sway the outcome of those votes, and state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, agreed. Merrill was among a few Republicans who sided with Stavrinakis on rescinding Factor's appointment.

“I do have an issue with us not following the proper procedure as far as listing the position and allowing people to apply for it and having an open meeting and the like,” Merrill said. “Maybe we'll all vote (eventually) for Mr. Factor. I don't know who else would be in there.”

GOP Reps. Bill Crosby, Jenny Horne and Peter McCoy joined with Merrill, Stavrinakis, and other Democratic Reps. Seth Whipper, David Mack and Robert Brown.

There was a heated argument over whether Whipper, who chairs the House delegation, or Limehouse, who chairs the county's entire delegation, should run the Tuesday meeting. Whipper ultimately prevailed, and the vote to rescind was taken. No one opposed the motion, but several Republicans didn't vote.

Whipper called the fight “repugnant,” adding that it was a low point of his 18 years in office. “We had some things that involved (former state Rep.) John Graham Altman, but I don't even think that was as bad as this. This is almost otherworldly.”

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, said it was the feistiest meeting he has attended in 16 years, “and that's saying a lot.”

State Rep. Mike Sottile, R-Isle of Palms, said, “I felt we needed to cool down and take this up at another time, but that didn't happen.”