Earlier this year we considered, S. 351, which makes several changes to the State Ports Authority (SPA). A major change is the status of the SPA’s board membership. Currently, the SPA’s board is appointed by the Governor on an “at will” basis. This means that the governor can make any change on the board that he/she sees fit. S. 351 made these appointments “for cause”. “For cause” means there must be some type of violation, absenteeism, etc. for the governor to cause a removal. I’ve always supported the notion that the chief executive of this state should be just that, the chief executive of this state. Back in the day, Ben Tillman led the effort to draw the constitutional boundaries very narrowly for the judicial and executive branches, leaving the legislature, holding most keys to most locks. I’ve been consistent in restructuring efforts to distribute these powers more equitably, so naturally, I voted against S. 351 mainly because of the “at will” portion.
On June 2, Governor Sanford vetoed S. 351. You can read his veto message here. There are many interested parties in favor of this veto and many opposed to Sanford’s veto. “I will support the veto, unless you give me an overwhelming reason to change my mind. I’d love you hear what you’ve got to say” was my standard reply when individually approached. Unfortunately, my position has been distorted,and I’ve been placed in the “leaning toward over-riding the veto” column in a few conversations. Not true, my position hasn’t changed. I’ll vote to sustain the veto, but my ears are open to any and all views and opinions as I am with all issues we consider in Columbia.
You may be interested in an editorial by the State posted on Thursday, Jun. 11, 2009
WE REALIZE THAT a Mark Sanford veto is akin to red meat tossed at the General Assembly, particularly one in which he complains about lawmakers usurping his gubernatorial authority. But as lawmakers prepare to take up Gov. Sanford’s veto of a bill that strips him and his successors of the power to remove their own appointees to the Ports Authority board, we would urge them to set aside their emotions and try to look at this logically. If they do, they’ll realize that they could very well be thwarting their own efforts.
The legislation, explains The Post and Courier in Charleston, where this issue is covered with understandably intense interest, “received many hours of attention over the past several months as the SPA’s largest customer, Danish shipping giant Maersk Line, announced that it would depart Charleston, and the agency’s chief executive, Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., abruptly resigned.”
Now, we’ve never been entirely clear (and it’s not clear that anyone is) on precisely who did what wrong to put the port’s financial viability at risk, or even why Mr. Groseclose suddenly departed. But this much is clear: Mr. Groseclose, and in fact the entire agency, answered to a board made up of Mr. Sanford’s appointees. If Mr. Groseclose was the problem, then the board has fixed the problem, and there’s no need for the Legislature to get involved in the management structure. If, on the other hand, the problem is the board that agreed to give him $132,000 to go away “voluntarily,” then something needs to be done about the board.
But the bill the Legislature passed last month makes it impossible for Mr. Sanford * or, if the problem is his refusal to acknowledge the problem, then his successor * to take immediate action to replace problematic board members. Instead, those members get to keep causing problems until their seven-year terms end.
Set aside the notion, which the Legislature clearly doesn’t buy, that a governor should be able to put his stamp on the executive branch of government once he takes office. This inability to take corrective action when a board goes astray is the problem with all of those boards out there whose members are appointed by the governor but cannot be removed unless they break the law or refuse to do their jobs. It is a problem shared by the many, many local boards that should be controlled by county councils but instead are appointed by county legislative delegations.
Regardless of who appoints the people in charge of state agencies * even if those appointments were made by the Legislature * the appointing authority should be able to remove those people when it’s clear that they’re leading the agencies in a bad direction. The ports legislation makes that impossible in the case of an agency that either is or has been going in the wrong direction. And that’s just not smart.