A bill allowing the chairmen of the two powerful budget-writing committees in the General Assembly to serve on the S.C. Research Authority’s governing board is one step closer to becoming law.
The House Ways and Means Committee – one of the budget-writing committees – last week unanimously approved the bill (S. 1331) on a voice vote. The full House this week could take up the bill, which was introduced in March and passed the Senate last month.
During last week’s Ways and Means meeting, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she had concerns about what she described as a lack of diversity on the 24-member SCRA board.
“I’m talking about race and gender, and specifically people of color,” said Cobb-Hunter, who is black, quipping, “Angry white men already rule in this state; that’s our problem.”
The SCRA board is dominated by white men.
Cobb-Hunter said despite her concerns, which she noted she also voiced at an earlier subcommittee meeting, she wouldn’t let the issue hold up the bill. Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, who is white, told Hunter, “I concur with your concern.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence and chairman of the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, would allow the Senate Finance and Ways and Means chairmen to serve on both SCRA’s board of trustees and executive committee. Under current law, only the chairmen’s designees can serve on those panels.
Leatherman's proposal also would expand the SCRA board’s executive committee to nine members from seven, and add the authority to a list of state boards and commissions that lawmakers can join. Generally, S.C. law prohibits lawmakers from serving on non-legislative state panels.
Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson and the Ways and Means chairman, didn’t comment at least week’s meeting on the bill's provision that would allow him to serve on the SCRA executive committee and board.
At a Senate Finance meeting in April, Leatherman said allowing him and the Ways and Means chairman to serve on the SCRA board would give them a better understanding of the organization.
“Frankly, that’s one of the reasons we’re proposing to put Ways and Means and Finance on there – to give us some access to find out what’s going on there with them, what’s actually happening,” Leatherman said then.
Contacted last week, former SCRA Chairman Bill Masters, who was appointed to his position by former Gov. Mark Sanford, told The Nerve that he doesn’t have a problem with Leatherman or White serving on the authority’s board.
“There’s been so much noise about some questionable dealings with SCRA that they (Leatherman and White) wanted to put themselves on the board,” said Masters, who resigned in February 2011 after frequently clashing with Bill Mahoney, SCRA’s chief executive officer.
As for adding two members to the SCRA executive committee, Masters said he believes the aim behind the proposed expansion is to “dilute” the appointment authority of the governor.
SCRA officials did not respond to a written request last week from The Nerve seeking comment on Leatherman’s bill.
Under state law, the governor appoints the SCRA chairman and one board member. After Masters resigned, Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Marco Cavazzoni, a top Boeing Co. executive in South Carolina, as board chairman. Haley also appointed Paul Meeks, a senior equity research analyst with CapStone Investments, to the board, according to S.C. Secretary of State’s Office records and SCRA's website.
Larry Wilson, who is listed on the SCRA website as a venture partner with FirstMark Capital and who formerly headed Policy Management Systems Corp., a computer software firm in Richland County that later was sold to Computer Sciences Corp., has been the Ways and Means chairman’s designee since 2005, records show.
In a written response last week to The Nerve, Shannon Wiley, deputy general counsel at the Secretary of State’s Office, said her office has no records on Leatherman’s appointee to the board. Masters told The Nerve that Leatherman appointed Emerson Gower, a retired Progress Energy executive who is listed on SCRA’s website as an “executive in residence” at Francis Marion University.
Created in 1983 by the General Assembly, the SCRA is a little-understood state-controlled technology and real estate company charged by legislative leaders with leading South Carolina’s “knowledge-based economy.”
Adding Leatherman to its board and executive committee would give him an even greater role in economic development projects statewide.
Leatherman, as a member of the powerful S.C. Budget and Control Board and chairman of the state Joint Bond Review Committee, plays a key role in the issuance of taxpayer-backed bonds for economic development projects. He was a main player, for example, in approving a $270 million bond package for the Boeing Co’s assembly plant in North Charleston.
Under state law, besides designees of the governor and Senate Finance and Ways and Means chairmen, the SCRA’s board members also include the presidents of the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Medical University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University and Francis Marion University; the S.C. Technical College System board chairman; the president of the Council of Private Colleges of South Carolina; the S.C. Commission on Higher Education chairman; the Savannah River National Laboratory director; and the S.C. Commerce secretary or his designee.
The remaining 10 board members are elected by the other members to four-year terms.
The SCRA executive committee is made up of the governor or her designee; the SCRA board chairman; the presidents of USC, Clemson and MUSC; and the Senate Finance and Ways and Means chairmen’s designees.
The authority’s mission under state law is to “enhance the research capabilities of the state’s public and private universities, to establish a continuing forum to foster greater dialogue throughout the research community within the State, and to promote the development of high technology industries and research facilities in South Carolina.”
SCRA’s total revenues last fiscal year were $195.2 million, most of which was derived from research and commercialization contracts with the United States military and large defense contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, according to the authority’s fiscal 2011 annual report and Mahoney.
Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.