Airports director to step down, cites verbal abuse and disrespect

By Matt Tomsic
Published July 24, 2013

Sue Stevens, director of Charleston International Airport, is resigning at the end of September, citing disrespectful treatment and verbal abuse by some of the aviation authority’s board members.

Charleston County Aviation Authority Chairman Andy Savage notified board members of her resignation by email Tuesday night. The authority met earlier in the day, and afterward, Stevens asked Savage to meet with her and her attorney.

Sue Stevens, director of Charleston International Airport

Sue Stevens, director of Charleston International Airport

Their meeting lasted two hours, Savage said today, and the aviation authority’s attorney, Arnold Goodstein was also included.

During the meeting, Stevens and her attorney, Nancy Bloodgood, notified Goodstein and Savage of issues with a few board members on the authority and her resignation. Bloodgood handles employment and labor law for Foster Law Firm and is a former deputy attorney for Charleston County. When reached by phone, Bloodgood said through a secretary that she couldn’t comment on the issues.

“I was blindsided by it,” Savage said. “It’s more than a bump in the road, but it’s not the end of the road.”

Savage said two issues between the board and Stevens weren’t well-received. In June, the board asked Stevens to leave the room during an executive session. Stevens also disagreed with how the airport lost Jim Fann, former deputy director of engineering and planning, because of his interactions with a handful of aviation authority board members. Fann’s resignation took effect June 30, and Stevens had tried to keep him by creating a position to oversee the airport’s terminal redevelopment project, but the position wasn’t created.

“I’m hopeful by this new position we can hold onto him,” Stevens told a human resources committee, which voted 4-0 to create the position, in early June. “I think it’s very important for continuity in the project.”

Savage said he began Tuesday’s board meeting with a request for everyone to be civil, and in the past, some public exchanges between board members and staff have been at best uncomfortable and bordering on disrespectful.

“Sometimes lines get blurred, and sometimes it can be interpreted as being disrespectful,” Savage said.

He and other board members, including Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, were concerned about the timing of Stevens’ departure. Swails also said he was surprised by the announcement.

“It couldn’t come at a worse time,” said Swails, who also sits on the aviation authority board. “We’ve got the FAA deal going on, expansion going on, the bond issue coming up.”

The aviation authority is in the process of trying to finalize a deal to sell the Boeing Co. hundreds of acres of its property for $12.5 million, and the Federal Aviation Administration needs to approve the sale.

“We’re going to work like hell for Boeing and try to get this deal done,” Savage said.

The airport is also in the middle of its terminal redevelopment project and is planning to begin selling bonds to pay for the project in the next several weeks.

A spokesperson for the Aviation Authority said Stevens wasn’t available for an interview, but offered a statement from her.

“This is a personnel matter that I hoped could be handled in a private manner to avoid as much harm as possible to the Aviation Authority and my employees," Stevens said. "I am sorry that the board has chosen to discuss my employment issues publicly. My attorney remains available to meet with the board in executive session regarding this matter.”

Savage said he has begun considering who will fill in on an interim basis for Stevens and who will replace her. Stevens has worked for the airport for 26 years.

“It’s my intent to, by the close of business today, know who I’m going to have as a temporary director,” Savage said.

He’ll also begin considering Stevens’ replacement, and he’s looking for someone with a strong management background, saying it won’t matter whether the candidate runs a railroad, airport, corporation or any other organizations. He also said the Lowcountry has several individuals who could be candidates for the job.

“Those functions and those talents can be transferred from one business enterprise to another,” Savage said. “I need somebody’s who is a leader; somebody who’s got a lot of experience and somebody who can have a relationship with the board that is perhaps more productive than we’ve had in the past.”

Savage met with the airport’s management today and has called a special meeting of the aviation authority for Tuesday, when the board will discuss Stevens’ departure.

Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.

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