Legal opinion sought last week in airports director job

By Matt Tomsic
Published July 31, 2013

Last week, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion saying a state lawmaker could also be airports director in Charleston.

The opinion came days before the Charleston County Aviation Authority would vote to offer the job to state Sen. Paul Campbell. The attorney general issued the opinion after receiving a letter on Thursday from state Rep. Jenny Horne, who has also been hired by the Charleston County Aviation Authority board to represent the authority in any legal issues arising from former airports Director Sue Stevens’ departure. Horne was not available to comment.

The board voted 7-6 on Tuesday to allow Chairman Andy Savage to negotiate an agreement to hire Campbell and then bring that agreement to the full board for approval. Some of the board members who voted against the motion were concerned about not vetting other job candidates and about Campbell’s current position as a state senator.

During the meeting Tuesday, board member Tommy Hartnett said that one condition of Campbell’s employment should be that he resign from the S.C. Senate and that the board would be abdicating its responsibility by not accepting and considering applications from other job candidates. Hartnett voted against offering the job to Campbell.

Hartnett chaired a special three-person committee to discuss the effects of Stevens’ resignation, and the committee recommended the aviation authority open the application process to consider other interested candidates during its meeting Monday. Hartnett said he was disappointed that Savage appointed a committee to look into those issues but ignored its recommendation.

“Obviously, the decision has already been made,” he said today. “My committee was just wasting its time doing what we did.”

Hartnett said Campbell is a well-qualified candidate, and he’s sure the state senator can work his way into the job.

“I know he’s qualified,” he said. “But I don’t know if he’s the best qualified.”

According to the attorney general, Campbell could legally hold both positions.

“Based on the conclusion that the director of airports of the Charleston County Aviation Authority is not an office of ‘honor or profit’ for dual office purposes, it appears a court would likely find a legislator would be allowed to serve as director without violating the dual office provision of the South Carolina Constitution,” according to the opinion, which was issued Friday. “Nevertheless, this office would urge taking into consideration the additional legal limitations referenced above and further suggests you seek any ethical opinions from the South Carolina Ethics Commission.”

If Campbell is given the job, his status as a state senator could violate aviation authority policy, which doesn’t allow employees to be candidates for public office. Campbell did not return a message, but he told The Post and Courier that he does not plan to step down from the S.C. Senate.

The aviation authority policy also covers coercion of state or local officers and employees to contribute “any thing of value to a party, committee, organization, agency or person for political purposes,” and employees can’t use their positions to influence or affect election results or nominations. If an employee files an application to be a candidate for any public office, “this action automatically constitutes a leave of absence without pay as of the date of his filing the application.”

Aviation authority policy also covers outside employment, mandating that employees cannot conduct any outside business during paid working hours.

Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.

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Added: 6 Aug 2013

First off, please let me say that I don't often get to read the Business Journal. I'm lucky I get to read the hard copy of the newspaper, however I do read on line all that I can get access to. The on-line article I read about what is happening at the Airport Authority aroused some interest. I was dismayed that someone like the now departed executive was seemingly push over the cliff by her peers if the articles I read can be believed. What is more appalling is that anyone thinks they can put someone else in the demanding position of director and not require he sever allegiance to his current employer. The very idea that a man or woman thinks they can adequately perform equally to two employers is like trying to serve 2 masters. It simply can not be done. If the Airport Authority wants an outstanding job done, then they must appoint a person who is not trying to do an outstanding job for another employer. The man ask to take the position must think he is Superman and lives on physical & brain steroids. The Authority needs to get over this blunder and go back to square one. Look for a qualified candidate who uses the whole Boards ability to fuel his or her brain cells and not his own prowess. Respectfully Submitted, Alice Gray North Charleston, SC Alice & A J 843-303-9020 (home)