COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Two current and one former state Transportation Department commissioners were appointed illegally because South Carolina law prohibits them from serving a consecutive term, the state Supreme Court ruled Jan. 8.
Citizen watchdog and former president of an Upstate road-paving firm, Edward Sloan, along with the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation filed a lawsuit claiming the three commissioners’ service violated the law when they were re-elected by legislators.
“The only responsible thing for them to do is resign immediately,” said Sloan’s attorney, Jim Carpenter. “If they try to participate and vote in any sort of DOT commission meeting, I think that whatever they participate in will be illegal and subject to challenge by any taxpayer or citizen or any other person.”
In opposition to the lawsuit, the commissioners questioned the meaning of ’consecutive terms’ and whether the court could rule on the case, which they considered “exclusively or predominantly political in nature.”
The opinion, written by Justice John Waller, states “the plain and unambiguous meaning of the phrase ’more than one consecutive term’ is that a DOT commissioner may serve one term and may not serve a succeeding, consecutive term.”
John N. Hardee and Robert W. Harrell are currently serving. Harrell, the father of state House Speaker Bobby Harrell, was elected to serve from 2000 to 2004 and re-elected to hold the post through Feb. 15, 2008.
Hardee has been re-elected several times and is currently slated to serve until August 2010. John “Moot” Truluck was re-elected but his term ended in May and he is no longer on the board.
The case was of “sufficient public interest,” according to the ruling.
The decision is the latest controversy surrounding the state agency and its board of six commissioners, which sets policy for the department.
Carpenter said the ruling again points to “the problem of lack of accountability” at the agency.Legislators have been holding hearings on the agency’s spending and management practices.
Gov. Mark Sanford has called for more control of the agency either by making it part of his cabinet or giving him more appointments to the commission.