Former SCRA Chairman: Turnover No Surprise

April 10, 2012

Investigative Reports

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8a1f7ec3aa0c3e9d9bb4b2f4a69dc3f7The former chairman of the S.C. Research Authority said he’s not surprised by high turnover among top executives at the state agency.

“Honest people sometimes leave a place so they can sleep at night,” Bill Masters wrote in response to the story. “Others simply bury their heads in the sand to achieve the same.”

The Nerve reported Friday that since June 2010, at least eight of 12 key executives have left the organization, according to a comparison of Internal Revenue Service documents and the state salary database.

The most recent to depart are Dave McNamara and John Gregg. McNamara, formerly a senior vice president and director of SCRA affiliate SC Launch, recently left “to pursue other options,” while Gregg, who had been a senior executive vice president, retired in February to “spend more time with his family,” according to company and media reports.

Both McNamara and Gregg brought home in excess of $200,000 annually, according to the most recent data available.

Masters, a successful businessman, was appointed SCRA chairman by former Gov. Mark Sanford in 2009. Sanford urged Masters to ask tough questions about the Research Authority’s dealings and work to bring more transparency and accountability to the agency.

When Masters resigned last year, he fired off a scathing letter to Gov. Nikki Haley along with a report that painted a damning picture of the entity charged with leading South Carolina’s knowledge-based economy.

The real issue, Masters wrote in response to The Nerve’s most recent article on the Research Authority, is with SCRA’s leadership, and that includes its executive committee and full board, “who in my experience and opinion choose to not look at the real issues and blindly accept” what they’re told by Chief Executive Bill Mahoney.

Mahoney could not be reached for comment for this story.

The Research Authority is a state-created and state-controlled technology and real estate development and management company.

SCRA goes back to 1983, when it was chartered through legislation. The agency does not receive direct state appropriations, but it has received government largesse over the years.

Upon its creation, the General Assembly gave the agency approximately 1,400 acres of undeveloped land, estimated at that time to be worth $10.7 million, and $500,000. Since then SCRA has received other land grants, as well.

The Research Authority is exempt from income, sales and property taxes under its enabling legislation.

In addition, SC Launch, the SCRA affiliate that is controlled by the Research Authority, receives $6 million annually indirectly from the state in the form of contributions that are 100 percent deductible against state income taxes.

While chairman, Masters said he sensed both he and other board members weren’t allowed to fully investigate issues they were charged with understanding and voting on, but instead were fed only what management wanted them to see.

“When I pushed for more information with which to make solid decisions for SCRA I encountered pressure from select members of the board that had special relationships, and at one point the CEO threatened to sue me personally,” Masters said.

Masters claims that during his tenure as chairman he found examples of board meeting minutes being changed after being voted on, without the board being informed of the changes.

He said he also found mistakes in accounting information presented to SCRA’s executive committee, and that the committee “simply accepted the CEO’s excuses and voted without fully vetting the mistakes.”

“SCRA’s management, in my opinion and experience, is a clear example of what is bad in our state,” he added. “Maybe some politicians somewhere will have the guts to take a hard look at this agency’s management.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.