By Matt Tomsic
Published July 30, 2013
In a divided vote this afternoon, the Charleston County Aviation Authority decided to offer the job of airports director to state Sen. Paul Campbell.
Board Chairman Andy Savage will negotiate an agreement to hire Campbell then bring that agreement back to the board for approval, according to the motion, which passed 7-6.
Voting for the motion were Savage; Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor; North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey; Charleston Mayor Joe Riley; Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails; Spencer Pryor; and Michael Stavrinakis.
Stavrinakis voted Monday to open the job to candidates besides Campbell, but he was not available to discuss why he changed his vote.
Larry Richter, Mallory Factor, Tommy Hartnett, Ben Hagood, Pat Waters and Ellie Thomas voted against the motion.
The vote capped a four-hour meeting that included a two-hour closed session so the board could discuss personnel matters and receive legal advice regarding former airports Director Sue Stevens’ resignation.
Stevens met with Savage, aviation authority attorney Arnold Goodstein and her lawyer, Nancy Bloodgood on July 23 to discuss leaving the authority on Sept. 30. A day later, Savage and Stevens agreed she would begin paid leave starting Monday, and Deputy Director of Airports Bill New was named interim director.
Savage called two meetings to discuss Stevens’ departure, scheduling a committee meeting for Monday and a full board meeting Tuesday.
Hartnett, Hagood and Stavrinakis held the committee meeting and voted unanimously to recommend that the board receive and consider other applications for the job as well as Campbell’s application.
Today, the board decided against that recommendation as its members debated whether the authority needs to fill the position immediately or can take time to open it to other interested candidates.
“Under normal circumstances, I would agree with what the committee recommendation is, but right now we’ve got some very unusual circumstances going on,” Summey said, adding the authority is negotiating a land sale with the Boeing Co.; preparing to issue bonds for a terminal redevelopment project; and is beginning that project. “I think it was all of our hope that our current director had stayed on through those processes.”
Summey also recommended offering the job to Campbell, citing his experience in the state Senate and at Alcoa, among other positions. Campbell ideally would serve for two or three years to get the aviation authority through its terminal redevelopment then step down, Summey said.
“If anybody would say that this is not a political animal that we’re dealing with, this body is very political and has become more political in the last few years,” Summey said. “I think we need someone who understands the political nature of this body.”
Waters disagreed, saying that offering the job to Campbell without considering other applicants is “asking for nothing but trouble.”
Factor and Thomas also raised concerns about offering the position to Campbell without looking at other applicants. Earlier in the meeting, Savage said four other people had contacted him about the job.
“You just said that four other people had contacted you,” Factor said. “As a public body, are we being fair to those other four people? Are we giving those people an opportunity whose names I don’t even know yet?”
Hagood said the three-person committee didn’t hear any discussion during its meeting Monday that prompted them to feel like they had to act urgently to fill Stevens’ position.
“If I had heard something different in that regard, my thought process would have been very different in terms of what we talked about yesterday,” Hagood said.
Thomas said he doesn’t know Campbell and can’t vote for someone because other board members endorse him.
“Asking me to vote for someone and there’s no process, there’s no vetting, there’s nothing, to me would be negligent on my part, bordering on gross negligence,” Thomas said. “I just don’t think this is the way to do this.”
Hartnett said the issues cited by Savage and other board members are mostly out of the authority’s hands and having a permanent replacement for Stevens wouldn’t affect their outcomes.
“The two main issues that have been cited are well taken care of,” Hartnett said. “We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the people of Charleston County, we owe it to our tenants, we owe it to the people who do business with us to find the very best director.”
Summey said filling the position creates stability and will have an impact.
“When you have immediate need, you take immediate action,” he said. “You don’t do things as normal. We’ve got major issues hanging over our head right now.”
Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.
Check www.charlestonbusiness.com for updates to this story.
(Editor’s Note: An emailed version of this story contained an improper attribution. Board member Ellie Thomas said he doesn’t know State Sen. Paul Campbell).