SCDOT Director Refuses to Step Down From Position

Wed November 22, 2006 - Southeast Edition
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina’s embattled transportation director refused to step down Nov. 2, saying criticism of her spending and management were unfounded.

For more than a year, the chairman of the commission that governs the Transportation Department has repeatedly called for Director Elizabeth Mabry to resign.

But Mabry said she was proud of the work her agency has accomplished, including cramming 27 years of building projects into seven years.

“No, I don’t intend to resign at all and I don’t believe that would be in the best interest of the agency,” Mabry said.

Legislators asked the state Legislative Audit Council to review the agency’s operations and spending. That report is expected to be released this month.

Mabry said there is nothing in the report that would make her consider resigning, but wished she had a better relationship with Transportation Commission Chairman Tee Hooper, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.

“I regret that I do not have a better relationship with the chairman. I would very much like to have a relationship with him that is more productive,” Mabry said.

Hooper has been asking for Mabry to resign since March 2005.

At the time, Hooper said DOT employees had told him of several high-level department employees getting Chevrolet Tahoes, with private license tags, for their personal use. He said other employees reported two high-level employees were “pushed out” for expressing unpopular opinions. He also complained that the agency missed an opportunity to claim $145 million in federal funding.

Hooper said Nov. 2 he would not talk about Mabry until after the audit report is released. Hooper has seen a draft of the report, but said state law prohibits him from discussing it.

During an hourlong meeting with reporters, Mabry’s top staff gave slide presentations to debunk news and editorial headlines critical of the agency’s operations.

Each of 11 presentations began with a headline and clip from a news story or editorial, including a couple quoting Hooper. They included pieces critical of the agency’s accountability, purchases of sports utility vehicles, work on a bridge project pushed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and use of outside consultants. They ended with suggestions of what the headline should have been used.

“Everybody can be criticized, but you do have to balance it,” Mabry said. “I do not believe that it has been balanced in the press at all.”

Mabry has criticized Hooper’s past role as a board member of HomeGold, the parent company of Carolina Investors. The 2003 collapse and bankruptcy of Carolina Investors left more than 8,000 people with more than $275 million in losses. That makes Hooper “well suited to wreck the career efforts of hardworking people,” Mabry wrote in a newspaper op-ed piece.

Mabry has said Hooper’s “mission was to put the agency under the control of the governor” and his strategy was to “destroy the reputation of SCDOT.”

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