At a time when South Carolinians were pushed out of work in record numbers by the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent societal shutdowns, bureaucrats at the Palmetto State’s abysmally managed government-run utility Santee Cooper saw their already inflated salaries padded further.
According to records obtained by reporter Rick Brundrett of The (Columbia, S.C.) Nerve under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws, Santee Cooper employees received $5 million worth of bonus payments beginning in March.
We reported on one of these exorbitant bonuses earlier this year – a $165,000 pay raise for the agency’s second-in-command – but according to Brundrett’s report, 1,463 Santee Cooper employees collected cash payments averaging more than $3,500 apiece.
As a result, Santee Cooper now has 1,459 employees who are paid more than $50,000 per year (not counting benefits). Of those, 483 employees are paid more than $100,000 per year (again, not counting benefits).
A spokeswoman for the agency told The Nerve these controversial bonuses were tied to a “corporate goals program that incentivizes employees to achieve certain financial, safety and customer satisfaction goals.”
Curiously, Santee Cooper bragged about its customer satisfaction ratings in a news release earlier this month, boasting that it had obtained “100 percent” satisfaction among its industrial customers.
We wonder … is that why one of the utility’s largest industrial clients was forced to take this “rogue agency” to court earlier this year in an effort to escape its anti-competitive prices?
Surely that customer wasn’t satisfied, were they?
Clearly, Santee Cooper’s “satisfaction” surveys – like the rest of the “real facts” emanating from its propaganda machine – must be taken cum oceanum salis.
Which means these bonus payments may be illegitimate in addition to being astonishingly tone-deaf …
Salaries, bonuses – and multi-million dollar golden parachutes – have been the subject of controversy at this state-owned utility for years.
For example, Santee Cooper’s current chief executive Mark Bonsall receives a salary of more than $1.1 million annually – making him the highest-paid agency head in state government.
That figure was cited by lawmakers this week, incidentally, when Bonsall failed to show for a special meeting of an ad hoc legislative committee led by S.C. House ways and means chairman Murrell Smith.
Bonsall was on a family vacation in Arizona at the time of the meeting.
“Yet another sad example of a deficient sense of fiduciary responsibility to the people of South Carolina, their ratepayers and their employees by the leadership of Santee Cooper,” said state representative Leon Stavrinakis of Charleston. “It further highlights the need for the General Assembly to mandate major changes to the leadership culture at Santee Cooper as they seem incapable of changing on their own.”
Lawmakers are debating whether to sell Santee Cooper after it racked up billions of dollars in new debt associated with NukeGate, the botched construction of a pair of since-abandoned nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville, S.C.
This legislatively encouraged command economic debacle set South Carolina ratepayers and taxpayers back by around $10 billion (and counting) after Santee Cooper and its crony capitalist partner – SCANA – failed to complete the reactors on schedule and then lied to the public (and bondholders) about the status of this project.
In fact, Santee Cooper proposed a huge rate hike just one week before it pulled the plug on the reactors back in July 2017.
A joint federal-state investigation into the debacle has achieved some early successes – although as of this writing no current or former Santee Cooper executives appear to be in the line of fire.
Which is shocking given the clear chain of culpability …
Lawmakers on Smith’s panel grilled the Santee Cooper leaders who did bother to show up this week on the utility’s latest borrowing schemes – which appear to be in clear violation of a state law governing its potential sale (and in violation of the terms of a recent ratepayer settlement that is yielding some pretty anemic dividends).
Specifically, lawmakers are concerned the utility is taking on additional debt at a time when it is already drowning in red ink.
“Had this been a rate refinance for the same amount of money nobody would have said a word,” state representative Kirkman Finlay said. “It’s the additional $100 million that is making everyone uncomfortable.”
Do lawmakers really want to continue enabling such behavior?
As we have frequently pointed out, leaders in the S.C. General Assembly should have offloaded Santee Cooper when we first proposed doing so way back in the spring of 2008. Instead, they empowered this “rogue agency” to embark on the mother of all command economic boondoggles.
These bureaucratic pay raises are the latest example of the contempt with which Santee Cooper views its own ratepayers and the taxpayers of South Carolina – and the latest example of why state lawmakers must do what they should have done years ago and offload this albatross.
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