Santee Cooper: White Man’s Club?

Government-run utility has zero minorities, few women on its governing board, senior executive staff …

Earlier this week, our news outlet reported exclusively on a decision by South Carolina’s abysmally managed government-run utility, Santee Cooper, to terminate its third-in-command. According to our sources, the decision to fire former S.C. circuit court judge (and ex-state lawmaker) Mike Baxley – Santee Cooper’s head legal and public affairs honcho – was intended to “send a message” to S.C. speaker of the House Jay Lucas.

Both Baxley and Lucas hail from rural Hartsville, S.C. In fact, Lucas succeeded Baxley as the representative for S.C. House District 65 (.pdf) when the latter stepped down in 1998.

Why would Santee Cooper want to send such a message to the influential House leader? Because Lucas has been riding herd on the embattled utility in the aftermath of its duplicitous meddling during a recent emergency session of the S.C. General Assembly.

To recap: Santee Cooper and a handful of its advocates in the S.C. Senate effectively shut down the state legislature earlier this month – part of an ongoing effort to block the potential offloading of the utility to the private sector. Lucas and other lawmakers had (wisely) sought to leave this option on the table as the Palmetto State has begun to reel from the revenue impact associated with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Frankly, lawmakers should have unloaded this utility more than a decade ago (when we first proposed the idea). Such a move could have netted taxpayers billions of dollars.

They refused …

Instead, they chose to plunge the utility headfirst into NukeGate – the botched construction of a pair of since-abandoned nuclear reactors at the V.C. summer generating station in Jenkinsville, S.C. The collapse of this project has left South Carolina ratepayers holding the bag to the tune of nearly $10 billion – all for a facility that will never produce a single watt of energy.

Anyway, in recalling the many lies Santee Cooper has told related to this project – and the lies its leaders continue to tell – something stood out to us earlier this week when we pulled up the agency’s executive staff page in an effort to obtain more information on Baxley.

What did we notice?

Of the agency’s seven (now six) top executive staffersall are white and only one is female. And of the agency’s ten current board members – all are white and only one is female.

In other words, out of seventeen (now sixteen) leadership positions – fifteen (now fourteen) are currently occupied by white men. The remaining two positions are occupied by white women.

That’s right: There is zero minority representation on either the Santee Cooper’s governing board or its top executive staff …

“You would think Santee would make some effort to have minorities in leadership roles that are reflective of their users,” one critic of the agency told us.

One would think so … but what really perplexes us is the extent to which the South Carolina Democratic establishment (particularly its leaders in the S.C. Senate) appear intent on carrying the water of this lily-white board.

Isn’t such a glaring lack of diversity something black elected officials typically frown upon? Heck, isn’t it something most people frown upon?

Yes and yes …

To be clear: This news outlet has never bought into arguments based on the notion of political correctness – or diversity for diversity’s sake. We have always viewed appointments to positions of public trust through the lens of “qualified” or “not qualified.” More to the point, our assessments of nominees are based on precisely those qualifications … not on the color of their skin, their gender, their geography, their sexual orientation or any other surface characteristic.

(Click to view)

(Via: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell)

“Can they do the job or not?”

That is our litmus test …

Also, this news outlet has never argued that Baxley (like the rest of Santee Cooper’s leadership) shouldn’t have been fired.

“We cannot argue in good faith that Baxley – or anyone else employed in an executive position by this debt-addled, atrociously managed, truth-averse bureaucracy – deserves to remain employed,” we noted in our coverage.

But lawmakers felt Baxley was an “honest broker,” and are viewing his unceremonious dismissal in the spirit Santee Cooper clearly intended it – as a rebuke of Lucas’ efforts to hold this “rogue agency” accountable.

Either way, Santee Cooper’s board and executive staff could soon receive an “extreme makeover” – particularly if the S.C. Senate surrenders its advice and consent authority to governor Henry McMaster by failing to concur with the S.C. House of Representatives on a key procedural resolution prior to May 14.

Should McMaster be given such authority, we expect to see wholesale changes in the leadership of the agency …




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