May 18, 2022

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

Ports Authority execs got big bonuses, other perks in ‘21

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

The Daniel Island Club on its website bills itself as one of the top country clubs in Charleston, offering two “nationally-ranked” private golf courses, along with swimming, tennis and fitness facilities in a “lush, resort-style setting.”

Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the state-created Ports Authority (SCPA), belonged to the swank club last year, as did three other top SCPA executives – with their pricey club dues paid by the authority, according to agency records provided recently to The Nerve under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

The total compensation in 2021 for Newsome, who announced last fall that he is retiring this year, effective June 30, was nearly $1.1 million, which included, besides $16,848 in country club dues, a $336,875 bonus, $187,153 in deferred compensation, $15,707 for “executive” life insurance and an $11,076 car allowance, records show. His base annual salary was $511,849.

In his annual state-of-the-state address Wednesday, Gov. Henry McMaster praised Newsome, who has led the SCPA since September 2009, for “providing the port with years of exceptional leadership and vision.”

The second top-paid SCPA executive last year was Barbara Melvin, the chief operating officer who was approved in October by the authority’s board of directors to succeed Newsome as president and CEO on July 1. Her total compensation in 2021 was $615,333, including a $333,084 base salary, a $145,530 bonus, $101,465 in deferred compensation, $18,721 in country club dues and an $11,076 car allowance, records show.

In an email response today to The Nerve, SCPA spokeswoman Kelsi Brewer said that “subject to Board approval,” Melvin’s annual salary as of July 1 will be $500,000 – not including benefits. The compensation for Newsome, who will stay on as an “executive advisor,” will be $585,000 “for the year,” she said.

Besides Newsome and Melvin, the following 11 SCPA executives received the highest total compensation, which included benefits, as of Dec. 16, according to agency records provided to The Nerve:

  • Paul McClintock, senior vice president, export projects: $452,029 ($88,812 bonus, $18,721 country club dues)
  • Phillip Padgett, chief financial officer: $405,657 ($79,625 bonus, $18,478 country club dues)
  • Micah Mallace, senior vice president, sales and marketing: $351,410 ($73,500 bonus)
  • Jordi Yarborough, senior vice president, community engagement: $315,158 ($64,312 bonus)
  • Stevenson Kemp Jr., senior director, intermodal, chassis and operations projects: $304,887 ($61,862 bonus)
  • Beverly Cowart, senior vice president, talent solutions: $301,718 ($61,250 bonus)
  • Michael Stresemann, senior director, crane and equipment maintenance: $299,255 ($60,637 bonus)
  • Stephen Rauch, senior director, information technology: $287,034 ($58,187 bonus)
  • Joel Britt, senior director, operations: $286,478 ($58,187 bonus)
  • Walter Lagarenne Jr., senior director, engineering and facilities: $284,935 ($58,187 bonus)
  • Brent Simon, senior director, chief of port police: $244,674 ($52,062 bonus)

Except for Simon, each of the above 11 executives received a car allowance of $7,753 last year, records show.

The Nerve’s review found that 278 SCPA employees making a base salary of at least $100,000 in 2021, excluding the 13 top-paid executives, received bonuses ranging from $1,519 to $38,213. In a written response earlier this month to The Nerve, Brewer said paid bonuses were based on “pier container volumes and operating cash flow of SCPA.”

A total of nearly $3 million in bonuses was paid last year to employees making at least $50,000, records show. The median bonus – the midpoint on the list – was $2,555.

A total of 658 SCPA employees received overall compensation of at least $50,000 in 2021, with 313 making at least $100,000, The Nerve’s review found. The Freedom of Information Act requires public bodies to release the exact annual pay of employees receiving at least $50,000 in compensation, though unlike many state agencies, the Ports Authority is exempted from providing that information to the state salary database, which is maintained by the S.C. Department of Administration.

Under state law, the SCPA, based in Mt. Pleasant, is governed by a nine-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. A 10-member legislative committee, known as the “Review and Oversight Commission on the South Carolina State Ports Authority,” qualifies board members.

The Nerve last year revealed that most members of the authority’s board of directors, chaired by Bill Stern, each received $11,700 in 2020 for their part-time jobs.

The SCPA oversight commission included the late Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who died in November. Last January, Leatherman proposed borrowing up to $550 million – to be repaid by state taxpayers with interest – for projects connected to the new Port of Charleston terminal named after him.

The Nerve in March revealed that the S.C. Treasurer’s Office projected the total taxpayer cost of Leatherman’s general-obligation bond proposal at $878 million over 20 years, including $328 million in interest.

Leatherman’s borrowing plan never made it out of the House, though lawmakers budgeted $200 million out of state surplus funds for this fiscal year, which started July 1, for the port projects, which included the construction of a rail yard. McMaster’s proposed $36 billion state spending plan for next fiscal year calls for an additional $300 million out of state surplus funds to complete construction of the “Navy Base Intermodal Container Transfer Facility.”

“With the opening of the new Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal in North Charleston, the Port of Charleston is no longer the only major container port on the east coast of the United States without significant near dock rail access,” McMaster said Wednesday in his state-of-the-state address.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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