Back at Square One

Last Tuesday, the renewal of a top state employee’s contract ignited a quarrel between South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) and two legislators from his own party.

This came on the heels of last month’s announcement that the governor’s office and the General Assembly had ironed out their differences following two consecutive legislative sessions that were especially contentious.

The battle royale between the governor and state lawmakers was again enjoined when Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Cooper (R-Anderson) joined fellow Budget and Control Board member Treasurer Grady Patterson (D) in rehiring Frank Fusco as executive director of the B&C Board.

The board’s other two members are Sanford and state Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom (R), who were on the business end of a vote in which the other three members voted to rehire Fusco indefinitely.

Eckstrom told The Post and Courier, “I think that the direction that we’ve seen develop, the tone that we’ve seen develop over the last several months, has been very positive for this state … I think that [the vote] runs the risk of deliberately derailing it.”

Sanford and Eckstrom are bent out of shape because of the manner in which the vote was taken, as the matter wasn’t listed on the official meeting agenda and the three had been in cahoots over Fusco before the meeting and hadn’t bothered to inform the governor or Eckstrom.

This reminds The Eye of earlier last summer when Eckstrom applied surplus funds to the state deficit without telling his colleagues on the B&C board — except Sanford, of course.

For those out of the loop, Eckstrom technically couldn’t do that as the General Assembly holds the state’s pocketbook.

Fusco is a leftover from former Gov. Jim Hodges’ (D) tenure, but Sanford decided to keep him on after he took office even though established practice was that governors name their own exec directors.

For his part, Leatherman told the P&C, “I was not willing to simply sit back and let a very dedicated, very committed employee get away.”

Fair enough. The Eye’s spies reported that Fusco is very highly regarded in Columbia and is a 32-year-career state employee. He retired four years ago, but stayed at his job under the Teacher and Employee Retirement Incentive program (TERI is used to keep SC’s most experienced employees of retirement age).

Eckstrom saw it differently, “I don’t understand why this position has to be sprung on this board this way. [They’re] acting like the governor’s in the dunking booth at the state fair.”

Well, Dick. How about The Eye doesn’t understand why you and Marky-Mark had to keep flying up to Wall Street last year bellyaching about a problem that wasn’t really a problem and cause the state’s credit rating to be jeopardized?

Sanford, as usual, tried to play martyr as he told the P&C, “If you want to have a working relationship, this is not conducive to that.”

Hmm, mused The Eye, based on his history, The Eye wonders if the governor ever did really want a working relationship with the Statehouse.

Jesus Christ!

The continuing quest by some of the more stubbornly unenlightened souls serving on elected boards in South Carolina to invoke “Jesus” every time they sit down to lukewarm coffee and stale doughnuts to make a decision got a boost last week from S.C. Attorney-General Henry McMaster.

McMaster wrote a letter to the Piedmont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union following that group’s September letter to the Oconee County Council and the Anderson and Seneca city councils asking them to follow federal law and discontinue using the name of Jesus in prayers before public meetings.

McMaster gave his support to the Jesus folks in the letter: “There is no federal or state law which tells people that they must pray or not pray in any particular way, as this would be in direct conflict with the express words of the United States and South Carolina constitutions guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.”

Piedmont ACLU Chapter president Mike Cubelo wrote back, saying McMaster was mixing up “government prayer issues with individual freedoms.”

Well of course he is, mused The Eye, McMaster’s a politician, after all!

Cubelo went on, “This dispute has never been about an individual’s right to pray as he chooses. The ACLU supports this right wholeheartedly … our dispute, however, is about government prayer which favors one religion or denomination over others.”

McMaster told the Associated Press that his office will support the councils should the ACLU choose to litigate the dispute — something almost certain to occur, saying, “The point of the ACLU’s intent is to find fault with any prayers.”

The Eye can hardly wait to find out what form next week’s public manifestation of Jesus Christ will be.

One would think that good manners would override this nonsense.