Bauer Rehires Two Former Staff Members

September 23, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveTransitioning to a new governor and lieutenant governor after the Nov. 2 elections could cost South Carolina taxpayers $350,000 – at least seven times the amount spent last time the state’s top two executive branch posts changed hands.

Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, meanwhile, has turned to a couple of old hands in his office to help manage his departure from it.

Jim Miles, Bauer’s former chief of staff, returned to his nearly six-figure job on Sept. 1. And Frank Adams, who handled media inquiries and other duties before briefly retiring in July, returned to the office last week as deputy chief of staff.

Miles says his salary, nearly $98,000 when he left in May 2009, is unchanged.

Adams says he requested, and Bauer approved, a slight increase in his previous salary of almost $83,000.

Miles replaces Helen Ann Thrower, who served as Bauer’s chief of staff after Miles vacated the position.

Asked what happened to Thrower, Miles told The Nerve in a phone interview Tuesday, “I’m not sure. She’s not with the office anymore.”

He said Thrower left about a week after he returned. Asked whether Thrower was fired, Miles said, “That’s a personnel matter, and I’m not going to discuss that.”

Bauer’s office publicly announced Miles’ return in a two-paragraph news release dated Sept. 7 and posted on the Lieutenant Governor’s Office website.

For his part, Bauer declined to discuss anything with The Nerve. “I have no interest in doing an interview on that,” he said of Miles returning to his employ. “I appreciate you calling me, but I don’t have anything to say.”

Speaking of himself, Bauer said he has “gone back to making a living.”

Miles’ exit from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office coincided with the publication of an investigative report in Free Times, an alternative newsweekly serving the Columbia area.

The article chronicled how Miles played a key role in setting up Senior Shield, a private nonprofit the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging created and gave a $105,000 grant to in 2008.

The Office on Aging was moved out of the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services and placed under Bauer’s control in 2004, two years after he was elected lieutenant governor.

Miles, who was S.C. secretary of state from 1991 to 2003, first registered Senior Shield in the Secretary of State’s Office in April 2008 as a for-profit limited liability corporation. Seven months later – about one week before Senior Shield was publicly launched – Miles re-registered it as a nonprofit 501c3.

Ostensibly aimed at helping elderly South Carolinians identify “senior friendly” businesses, Senior Shield is not bound by the same procurement and disclosure requirements as state government entities because it is a private nonprofit.

After its inception, Senior Shield paid about $110,000 under a no-bid contract to a marketing, development and information technology firm owned by South Carolina Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd.

The money was for Floyd’s company, the Palladian Group of Spartanburg, to promote Senior Shield.

Floyd was not serving as state GOP chair at that time, but was seeking the position when the Free Times story hit.

Adams assisted in the formation of Senior Shield, but he said no one documented the number of work hours he and Miles put into the effort.

Thus, apparently no records exist showing how much time on the taxpayers’ dime the two well-compensated public employees spent working to create and sustain the private entity.

After he left the Lieutenant Governor’s Office in May 2009, Miles said his departure was wholly unrelated to Senior Shield. In fact, Miles said Bauer asked him to stay, but he opted to leave in order to help a friend prepare a Lexington County business to be sold.

And what of Senior Shield’s current status?

“I think Andre dropped that,” Miles says, adding that the program became “so politicized that Andre felt like it was best not to continue it.”

Miles told The Nerve that Bauer asked him to come back as his chief of staff to assist the lieutenant governor for the remainder of his term.

Bauer wants to be productive every minute of every day left in his tenure, Miles says. “That’s the reason I’m back,” he says, “and that’s the reason Frank’s back.”

Miles says he wanted Adams to return with him, and Bauer was agreeable to it, so he contacted Adams and asked him to rejoin the staff.

He says Adams’ position, deputy chief of staff, is not new. “As a practical matter, that’s what he was” before.

Miles says Bauer is working hard to contact state lawmakers and encourage them to restore funding cut from nutrition and other programs for seniors.

Says Adams, “He’d like to leave a game plan for the new person” who will be lieutenant governor.

Whoever that is will have a lot more funding available to transition into the office than Bauer had.

Miles and Adams say Bauer spent nothing on transition costs and did not accept a paycheck for several months when he became lieutenant governor because the office had a deficit when Bauer assumed control of it.

By contrast, the General Assembly has authorized the new lieutenant governor to spend up to $100,000 in transition expenses, according to state officials.

“We didn’t request that,” Adams says. “It came out of the legislative process.”

Similarly, lawmakers appropriated $250,000 for the new governor to get settled into office, even though Gov. Mark Sanford spent considerably less than that.

A reporter asking Sanford about the matter after a June 30 meeting of the state Budget and Control Board said the governor spent about $32,000 but was allocated up to $50,000 for a transition budget.

Sanford acknowledged the $32,000, although his spokesman, Ben Fox, e-mailed The Nerve a reference to The State newspaper citing the amount as a little more than $50,000.

“But I think that the bottom line is the numbers are incredibly generous any way you cut it,” Sanford said of the transition budgets for the new governor and lieutenant governor.

At $350,000 combined, the amount is at least seven times greater than when those two offices changed hands last time. That was in January 2003.

They will turn over again this January according to the results on Nov. 2, and while their new occupants are allowed to spend $350,000 collectively on transition activities, they don’t have to.

“And so, you know, I think that the first step in watching out for the taxpayers is indeed the first step,” Sanford said of whoever occupies the offices next.

For voters, he said, an early indication of where those two elected officials stand on watching out for taxpayers “is what they do on transition costs.”

Sanford added, “I think that the idea of spending $100,000 in transition costs on the Lieutenant Governor’s Office is absurd.”

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.