By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Sept. 20, 2012
The Charleston County Aviation Authority has had a turbulent September, and the debate wasn’t expected to diminish this week as the board was scheduled to elect officers.
But on Thursday, the board met and voted to delay the election of officers until January. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey made a motion not to amend the bylaws and permanently change when elections occur, but to postpone the election of the chairman until January.
Summey cited ongoing litigation questioning the constitutionality of state Rep. Chip Limehouse and state Sen. Chip Campsen’s positions on the board, ongoing terminal redevelopment efforts and a desire to put the board on a calendar-year election cycle similar to other governmental boards.
Litigation affecting the board could be resolved as early as Oct. 22, when a hearing is scheduled to rule on whether Limehouse and Campsen’s positions on the authority violate the state constitution. Limehouse serves as the chairman of the aviation authority.
Last week, Campsen wrote a letter to Sue Stevens, the airport’s director, informing her that he would not personally serve, but would instead send a proxy to fulfill his duty. He wrote that he believed serving on the board would violate the separation of powers and dual office holding provisions in the state constitution.
The board voted 9-2, with George Patton Waters and Hernan Pena in dissention.
During the meeting, board member and former state lawmaker Thomas Hartnett questioned the board’s involvement in the recruitment of JetBlue Airways.
Last week, the airline announced it would begin service to Charleston in February, but Hartnett said he felt like the board was kept in the dark about incentives offered to the carrier.
“Although I think it is a wonderful addition, I just would like for someone to explain to me why this authority was kept in the dark as to the addition of a carrier, and who among us approved,” he said.
Hartnett, Summey and Lawrence Richter, the authority’s treasurer, took up most of the debate. In 2007, the aviation authority approved standing incentives for attracting new air carriers that provided for a $150,000 ceiling that could be used for infrastructure improvements.
Hartnett questioned how long the incentives packages authorized in 2007 would be good for while Summey said he believed it was OK that the authority was not privy to the negotiations because similar arrangements happen in economic development offices all the time.
Richter said not knowing about the deal until the day before JetBlue announced was not genuine and questioned how many times in a year incentive packages could be negotiated and what would happen if an outside group negotiated terms with an airline and the board refused to approve it.
Limehouse said he agreed with Hartnett’s sentiments and suggested the board consider readopting incentive package ceilings annually.
“We need to know what incentives are out there and what is pending,” he said.
Ben Hagood, a former lawmaker and proxy for Campsen, asked Stevens if it would be possible for the board to receive a briefing on the process of negotiations and what incentives are on the table to be bargained with. His motion passed with unanimous approval from the board.
JetBlue was offered up to $150,000 in infrastructure improvements and possibly the waiving of certain fees. Stevens said any formal incentives package would have to be approved by the board.
The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau spearheaded negotiations with the airliner and both Limehouse and Stevens said they only found out a deal had been reached the day before the company’s announcement.