Airport mess will get ugly

An aerial of Charleston International Airport

Waring S. Howe doesn't look much like Nostradamus.

But six months ago, the local attorney and former airport board member filed suit against the Charleston County legislative delegation, claiming lawmakers were bringing politics to the Aviation Authority.

Local officials say that prophecy has come to pass.

This week the Charleston County Aviation Authority board apparently gave state Rep. Chip Limehouse, its chairman, the ability to hire — or fire — the airport's executive director.

Some board members say no one person should have that much power. And since this wasn't on the agenda, the vote was illegal anyway.

Limehouse says they're wrong — this is about accountability, and the Freedom of Information stuff is a red herring. Limehouse concedes to friction with director Sue Stevens, but says it'll work out.

Howe predicts this bodes ill for her long-term employment prospects.

Well, not if Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey have anything to do with it.

Howe says delegation members illegally passed a law to give themselves seats on the authority. They also appoint most members of the board.

Incidentally, Limehouse co-sponsored the bill and later became board chairman.

Now, Riley says giving Limehouse sole firing power is a “big step toward making this a political operation.” He wants the board to reverse its action, and warns that Stevens had better not become a casualty in this brewing war.

“I think any move to get rid of her would backfire, so they'd better not,” Riley says.

Summey says the vote violated the Freedom of Information Act and, besides, “This board is not the administrator of daily operations.”

Other local officials are so mad about the delegation's power grab that they are whispering about injunctions.

Lawsuits, injunctions — could dueling be far behind?

Limehouse knows he isn't popular at the airport. He says it's because he's been trying to make the place more user-friendly, and he's taking a hard look at the finances.

“I'm running the airport for the public's benefit,” he says.

No employee should be without a supervisor, Limehouse argues. He says Stevens and he have had disagreements, and he is having trouble getting her expense reports and travel records. But “we're going to settle it. It's not the end of the world.”

Limehouse says this is not, as rumors have it, about appointing friends to powerful positions at the airport.

Locals say no, it's bigger than that. It's about state lawmakers trying to control everything. “Home rule,” they say, is poorly named.

This is going to get ugly. Limehouse stands for re-election as chairman soon. Shortly after, Howe's lawsuit will be heard.

He can't imagine the delegation mounting a defense with a straight face. But then, Howe doesn't appoint the judges. Legislators do.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.