GOVERNOR’S ETHICAL PROBLEMS IMPACT ONGOING PORT DEBATE
By Jerry Lahm || So the South Carolina General Assembly is looking at bringing up the ethical complaints on Governor Nikki Haley again after they quickly dismissed them on a technicality early this month. This time the hearings are supposed to be conducted in public, which if the governor’s claims of innocence are true should further exonerate her from what she has referred to as unfounded allegations.
For the good of the state I sincerely hope that the Governor’s assertions are correct because there are several smoking guns out there that would make it appear as though there is merit to the ethical complaints that are circulating.
One of the private entities that our governor is being accused of currying favors for while serving in the legislature is Wilbur Smith, an engineering and consulting firm. It has been alleged that Haley made efforts to help Wilbur Smith with state contracts for the S.C. State Farmer’s Market while also receiving money from them as a consultant. Questions as to the validity of this claim will hopefully be resolved during the ethics committee’s hearings, but while the committee is exploring that issue it also needs to take into account possible connections that continue to this day.
When the governor first took office, she weighed in on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the State of South Carolina and the City of North Charleston regarding rail access to the Port of Charleston.
“A promise made will be a promise kept,” she said.
Haley offered this answer in response to a direct question from (then) radio host Richard Todd about the specific issue of rail access on the north end of the former Charleston Navy Base. Well, shortly after making this statement Haley’s Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said that there was “wiggle room” in her proclamation, at which point the governor simply stopped answering questions about the issue.
She stopped answering them from reporters, stopped answering them from City of North Charleston officials and went as far as to ban constituents who asked questions about it from her Facebook page so she would not be seen as evasive. Additionally, she refused to appear on Todd’s radio show ever again and continues her silence on the issue to this day.
Efforts to free the S.C. Commerce Department and its subsidiary, SC Public Rails (SCPR), from abiding by the MOU has cost the state (and the city) millions of dollars in legal fees already. It will also cost the state hundreds of millions to build a second rail yard to service the one port facility, destroy several hundred acres of non-industrial property on the north end of the base and eliminate 8,000 existing jobs on the base right now.
Since the yard will be operated by SCPR employees, a union workforce, it will strengthen unions in this state – something Haley says she opposes. And, by the way, the additional rail yard would be constructed so that Norfolk Southern, the preferred rail carrier of Chairman Hitt’s former employer BMW, won’t have to share an inter-modal yard with rival CSX, something they do in many other parts of the country already.
You might ask what the rail dispute between North Charleston and the governor’s Commerce department has to do with her past ethical problems?
In a word, plenty. You see, Wilbur Smith is the engineering firm that performed the design work for the Commerce department’s plan to put additional rail yards on the north end of the Navy Base.
These plans are in direct violation of the MOU – which gave the state the south end of the base for a new port facility and gave the City of North Charleston the north end for a massive urban renewal project. This agreement was crafted at the behest of the State Legislature and later approved by the same body – but now the governor and her staff want to ignore this agreement.
What’s at stake? Millions of dollars in additional construction costs for the state, loss of private sector investment, loss of non union jobs and breaking a promise made that was supposedly going to be kept … all to build a second rail yard that will destroy a decade of revitalization around the Navy Base that has stagnated for the last year and a half because this issue has not been settled.
And yet with all of these negatives, the governor continues to pursue violating the MOU in direct contravention of the state’s promise – and her promise.
The governor may not be receiving a check from Wilbur Smith anymore but this connection does warrant a thorough investigation if and when the ethics committee revisits the governor’s potential transgressions.
Jerry Lahm is a resident of North Charleston, S.C. He was one of the first people to be blocked from commenting on Gov. Nikki Haley’s Facebook page. Follow him on Twitter @JerryLahm.