Politics & Government

McMaster: Delayed meeting ‘shameful’ act by ‘rogue’ SC utility to thwart transparency

SC Gov. Henry McMaster, during a press conference Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, accused Santee Cooper of acting illegally in canceling its scheduled Monday board meeting, calling it “a shameful attempt to thwart efforts to increase accountability and transparency.”
SC Gov. Henry McMaster, during a press conference Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, accused Santee Cooper of acting illegally in canceling its scheduled Monday board meeting, calling it “a shameful attempt to thwart efforts to increase accountability and transparency.” tbarton@thestate.com

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster accused Santee Cooper of acting illegally in canceling its scheduled Monday board meeting, calling it “a shameful attempt to thwart efforts to increase accountability and transparency at this rogue state agency.”

The state-owned utility delayed its board meeting because of questions about its leadership.

McMaster named an ally, former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon of Charleston, to be the new chairman of the embattled utility. However, the state Senate sued, alleging McMaster’s unilateral interim appointment violated state law.

The Senate’s lawsuit is pending before the S.C. Supreme Court.

McMaster forced out the utility’s previous chairman over the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle. He said Monday he needs Condon in place to restore order at the agency after it kept secret a critical report about the ill-fated V.C. Summer nuclear project and covertly lobbied S.C. lawmakers against its own sale.

The governor has said he wants to sell the utility — which supplies electricity to more than 2 million South Carolinians, directly and indirectly — to pay off its nuclear-related debt.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the decision to delay Monday’s meeting had nothing to do with Condon or withholding information. Instead, she cited “conflicting opinions about the legality” of Condon’s appointment.

Gore said the utility is hoping for a quick resolution of the Senate’s lawsuit so it can reschedule the meeting and its board can resume normal operations. She said nothing planned for Monday’s board meeting would have led to new findings or disclosures about past or future handling of the failed nuclear project.

During his news conference, however, McMaster insinuated more could have been disclosed at Monday’s meeting about the nuclear project that Santee Cooper and SCE&G walked away from in July 2017, but for which SC electric customers still are paying.

The governor argued Santee Cooper’s interim chief executive, James E. Brogdon Jr., had no authority to postpone Monday’s board meeting, saying the action violated the utility’s bylaws, the S.C. Freedom of Information Act and possibly other requirements.

“It just makes you think there is something in the records, something in the files ... that Santee Cooper desperately does not want the people to know,” McMaster said.

He sent a letter Saturday to Brogdon requesting copies of all correspondence and communications sent or received related to the board meeting scheduled for Monday.

Brogdon, in a response Monday evening to McMaster’s request, however, said he “found noting” in Santee Cooper’s bylaws or state law that “which provides a specific mechanism for postponing a meeting or prohibits postponing a meeting.”

“Santee Cooper has canceled, postponed, or moved the location of Board and Committee meetings in the past without calling a meeting to do so.” Brogdon wrote. “Given that calling a meeting to postpone a meeting, when it is unclear who would chair the meeting, is problematic, we believe the best course of action under the circumstances was to act as as we did.”

State Rep. James Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor, responded Monday, saying the state-owned utility’s problems are many, but McMaster is “playing politics instead of looking out for the people of our state.”

“This sort of thing will not happen when I am governor,” Smith said in a statement. “I will comply with the law in making appointments and will do so in consultation with other state leaders, not in defiance of them.”

Also on Monday, asked of the latest involving the shutdown of a Fairfield County TV-maker, blamed on the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese parts, McMaster said his office has been in contact with the U.S. trade representative’s office in anticipation of testimony by Element Electronics executives this week about the tariffs.

“Element’s leadership is well aware that Gov. McMaster stands ready to help them in any way that he may be of assistance to them,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said.

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83
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