The departing director of South Carolina’s environmental and health agency won’t accept a consulting contract that would pay her to help the department while it searches for her replacement.
Catherine Heigel, who leaves the Department of Health and Environmental Control next month, told The State that she is declining a “transition services contract” because she did not want to leave the agency amid controversy.
“A contract would be a normal way to do it,” Heigel said, referring to helping the agency transition to new leadership. “But I don’t want my legacy at the agency clouded by this type of controversy. It’s just not necessary.”
Heigel’s decision is a departure from DHEC’s two previous directors – Catherine Templeton, now challenging S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in the GOP race for governor, and longtime regulator Earl Hunter – who took similar contracts after they resigned.
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News this week that Templeton and Hunter had been paid after leaving the agency raised questions – including from McMaster’s campaign – about whether the practice of paying outgoing directors was justifiable.
Heigel, who replaced Templeton in 2015 and has been praised for her efforts at DHEC, told The State she will be happy to help the agency after she leaves ‑ without being paid.
Heigel was expected to get a consulting contract after she steps down Aug. 4, the agency said Tuesday, when asked about Templeton’s contract.
But Heigel said Thursday that she would not take the contract. Heigel said agency staff members are up to overseeing DHEC until her permanent replacement is hired. Longtime agency regulator David Wilson will run the department until DHEC’s board picks a new director.
“I have complete confidence in the executive leadership team to carry on the business of the agency and do not want negative attention stemming from a potential post-employment contract to detract from the important work of the agency and its employees,’’ Heigel said in an email to The State.
In an interview with The State, Heigel said — unlike Templeton and Hunter, when they left DHEC — she has a job lined up and doesn’t need the contract. She is taking a job as chief operating officer at Elliott Davis, a Greenville accounting and business firm, where Heigel said she will earn more than her $195,000-a-year DHEC salary.
“If David Wilson needs to talk to me, David Wilson is going to be able to talk to me,” Heigel said. “I will always be a friend to the agency.’’
The DHEC board offered services contracts to Hunter and Templeton under the leadership of Allen Amsler, chosen to head the agency’s board by Nikki Haley after she was elected governor in 2010. Amsler and three of the board members who offered Hunter the contract are still on the agency’s board. Hunter resigned in September 2011.
Templeton was paid $86,500 for a five-month contract she signed Jan. 13, 2015, the day after she resigned from DHEC. The pay amounted to $17,300 a month plus some expenses – more than her monthly DHEC salary of $14,090.
Templeton was paid through a limited liability company, Brawley Templeton LLC, which was incorporated with the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office on Jan. 22, 2015, nine days after she signed the contract to provide services. Her first invoice to DHEC was for $17,300 on Jan. 24, 2015, records show.
Templeton said she worked with DHEC and Gov. Haley’s office during confirmation processes for Eleanor Kitzman and Heigel. Kitzman, a Haley friend and supporter, withdrew after controversy over her nomination.
Sens. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg —both on the screening committee for DHEC directors – said they understood why the agency would pay an outgoing director to help with a transition. But both also said they understood why Heigel preferred not to accept such a contract.
“This would not be an issue if Catherine Templeton weren’t running for governor,’’ Hutto said. “It would be a normal DHEC transition. But (Heigel) might be right. Why go through the hassle?”
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, said Heigel’s decision not to take a contract with DHEC, unlike her two predecessors, was a matter of “personal preference.” But he defended Templeton’s contract.
“Catherine Templeton had experience with DHEC. It is a very large and intricate agency,” Simrill said, adding Templeton’s counsel helped “to move DHEC forward until the next person came.”
“I don’t see a story there. I don’t see an issue.”