Four months after Rep. Chip Limehouse set off a ruckus on Charleston County Aviation Authority just days before the election of officers, Limehouse is set to step aside Thursday as chairman and be replaced by attorney Andy Savage.
“He is an outstanding board member, and I look forward to nominating him,” Limehouse said today. “I can think of no one better to run the airport.”
Limehouse, a Charleston Republican, intends to focus his efforts on a bid for the 1st District congressional seat vacated by Rep. Tim Scott when Scott was tapped to become a U.S. senator to replace former Sen. Jim DeMint. DeMint resigned to take a job in the private sector.
Limehouse, according to the law he co-authored, has the power to appoint a proxy to the airport board in his place, but he has not decided who that will be.
Savage said if he is elected chairman, the board can expect changes.
One of those will be complying with the state’s Freedom of Information Act and doing away with the blanket reason for meeting behind closed doors. The agenda routinely states a laundry list of reasons for closed-door meetings without specifically stating what the meeting is about.
The Post and Courier asks for the specific reason before the doors are closed.
On Thursday’s amended agenda, the reason for the closed-door meeting has already been changed from the notice sent out last week.
It says the board intends to meet behind closed doors to talk about its contract with Boeing over the aircraft manufacturer’s intended purchase of hundreds of acres of airport property at fair market value.
The board voted in December to sell or give Boeing the option to purchase more than 800 acres around its 265-acre site it leases from the airport, but the price still has to be negotiated.
“I am a firm believer in the public’s right to know what we do and why we do it,” Savage said. “Though I understand there are exceptions.”
Limehouse pointed to the Boeing deal as one of the hallmarks of his tenure as chairman since September 2010. He also cited landing Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways as other milestones that helped break passenger records at Charleston International, where the 28-year-old terminal will undergo a $200 million renovation and expansion through 2014.
“We have been very successful,” he said. “I don’t know how we could have done anything better the past couple of years.”
But Limehouse ruffled a lot of feathers last September when he strayed from the agenda and tried to seize sole oversight over Airports Director Sue Stevens. The board initially approved it, over objections of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, an airport board member who said the move violated the state’s open meetings law because it was not on the agenda.
Because of the public outcry against the move, the board rescinded it less than two weeks later, but it sullied Limehouse’s chances for re-election just days before the board voted on new officers.
In a face-saving deal worked out at the time, the board voted to change the elections until January so Limehouse, as chairman, could oversee the first shovel of dirt turned on the terminal redevelopment project.
Limehouse also faces a lawsuit, claiming his appointment on the Aviation Authority is unconstitutional.
Limehouse co-crafted the law in 2007 that appointed the chairman and vice chairman of Charleston County’s legislative delegation to the airport board. Limehouse serves as chairman of the delegation.
The lawsuit maintains the General Assembly violated state law by passing legislation specific to one county.
Also, Sen. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, and vice chairman of the delegation, believes the law is unconstitutional because it violates the state’s separation of powers doctrine and prohibition over dual office-holding.
A hearing on the matter is set for 2 p.m. Feb. 14 in Charleston County Court of Common Pleas.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.