By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Feb. 22, 2013
After the Charleston County Aviation Authority’s bond committee tied on two separate votes to pick bond counsel for its upcoming issuance related to the terminal redevelopment, the full board engaged in a heated discussion and eventually voted to go with a new firm — leaving its longstanding relationship with previous attorneys.
The authority voted 9-2 to hire Howell Linkous & Nettles and Peck Shaffer & Williams to counsel them on the upcoming issuance of about $175 million in bonds. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Spencer Pryor voted against the hire. Elliott Summey abstained from voting and Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails was not present.
The move marked a departure from the authority’s longtime relationship with the McNair Law Firm, which had counseled the airport for decades. Discussion on whether to open up the bidding process for the job began in the fall when several board members questioned whether opportunity had been given to other local attorneys.
In a bond committee meeting held this week, the four members split their votes in deciding between the proposals. McNair’s bid came in at about $170,000 and Howell Linkous & Nettles’ bid came in at a flat fee of $95,000.
That price difference proved to be the final selling point for many members of the authority, as debate ran on for about an hour over the issue.
Aviation authority member Teddie Pryor told the board that because the committee found both firms qualified, he believed the authority should choose the cheaper option. Riley said he thought it was best to stay the course with their existing counsel and negotiate the fee.
Both firms made presentations to the board, and during McNair’s presentation, authority member Ben Hagood asked attorney Bill Youngblood if the firm would do the job for the flat fee of $95,000.
“Yes,” Youngblood said.
Sam Howell, partner with Howell Linkous & Nettles, said his firm brought in Peck Shaffer & Williams to give them institutional knowledge in handling aviation bond issuances.
“We are a large practice in bond counsel in South Carolina,” Howell said. “But we have no extensive airport experience.”
He said they brought in Peck Shaffer & Williams because of their recent work in the aviation sector — they’ve handled 29 transactions in the past five years.
“They see the current issues in airport finance,” Howell said. “They are on the cutting edge of airport finance.”