The governing board for the State Ports Authority could soon get two new members if a bill working its way through the S.C. Legislature becomes law.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, would let the Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Commerce attend closed-door meetings, known as executive sessions, and vote on all matters the SPA’s board of directors considers. The holders of those offices already are “ex-officio” SPA board members, but they have no voting rights and can’t sit in on private talks.
“I believe the state, with such a significant investment in the port, needs to be present or have a designee present for these important discussions,” Senn said on March 11 during a Senate Transportation Subcommittee meeting. She said she decided to introduce the legislation after meeting with DOT secretary Christy Hall about port-related traffic issues.
“I asked her if she had a seat on the board and she said, ‘Sort of,'” Senn said.
The original legislation only would have let the DOT and commerce chiefs attend the closed-door meetings. The subcommittee amended the bill to give them full-fledged voting rights.
“I actually think they should be voting members,” said Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry County. “At the very least, I want them to understand and know what’s going on so we’re not surprised by some of the requests we’re getting now from the port.”
The proposal follows the SPA’s request that legislators approve a $550 million debt plan for improvements at the port, including a new rail yard in North Charleston and a barge operation at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. Several senators have said they were blind-sided by the request and that leaders from the maritime agency never discussed the plan with them before a resolution supporting the financing was introduced. That resolution ultimately was approved by the Senate and is now being considered by the S.C. House.
The SPA’s board currently consists of nine members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The proposed legislation now moves to the full Transportation Committee.
The State Ports Authority is increasing its outreach to minority firms looking to do business with the agency following a discussion about the SPA’s lack of diversity.
State Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Kershaw and Richland counties, said she raised the issue with Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO, during discussion of the proposed $550 million port debt plan.
“Obviously, African Americans are grossly underrepresented on the (SPA’s) governing board, as well as internally, at executive levels,” McLeod said in an email to constituents. “Likewise, when it comes to the ability of minority-owned businesses across S.C. to fairly and equitably compete for opportunities to do business with the (SPA), it’s not surprising that small minority businesses are also grossly underrepresented.”
The SPA’s board includes two Black members and one woman. The executive management group includes three women but no people of color.
The maritime agency has had a goal of hiring minority-owned businesses for at least 5 percent of the contract work that’s awarded. Newsome has agreed to raise that goal to 15 percent.
“It’s encouraging to know that Mr. Newsome didn’t hesitate to honor my request by ‘raising the bar’ and agreeing to set a new baseline for minority-business participation that is three times the current goal,” McLeod said in her email. “That decision alone could very well be a game-changer for small businesses across S.C.”
Rags to riches
Walterboro-based Carolina Textiles is adding 15,000 square feet to its production facility that will support an unspecified number of new jobs, said Brad Grossman, the company’s president and owner.
This is the second expansion in two years at the site, which opened in 1995.
“Companies like Carolina Textiles are the backbone of our regional economy,” Marty Sauls, chairman of the Southern Carolina Alliance, said in a statement. “Every job created here offers a better future for a family, and that’s what economic development is all about.”
Grossman attributed the company’s growth to “the loyal workforce here in Colleton County and the low turnover in employees.”
Carolina Textiles makes wiping rags and cloths, cotton wipers and disposable wipes for a variety of industries.
The owner a Summerville concrete plant has entered into a settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency over violations of the Clean Water Act.
Van Smith Block Co. LLC is accused of discharging stormwater from the operation into a drainage ditch that ultimately leads to the Ashley River. The discharges took place between May 2015 and April 2020, according to the settlement. The plant also did not submit a Notice of Intent to the EPA that would have alerted the federal agency of the discharges.
Van Smith Block Co. agreed to pay a $20,000 penalty for the violations.
Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_
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