November 29, 2015

SC Big Story: “Today’s the day that my job ends”


Robert St. Onge

A week ago, the South Carolina Department of Transportation was scrambling to prepare for a winter storm that would eventually dump several inches of snow onto the state’s roads.

Now, the agency is scrambling to find a new leader.

Former Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge resigned his post Friday, only a few hours after he was released from jail on a DUI charge. The Associated Press and several other news outlets obtained dashboard camera video on Monday of a Highway Patrol trooper arresting St. Onge on Interstate 20 just northwest of Columbia.

The video shows St. Onge struggling with several sobriety tests. When asked if he had been drinking, the transportation secretary told the arresting trooper he had some vodka the night before but did not consider himself impaired. However, the trooper arrested the secretary and brought him to the Lexington County Detention Center. During his arrest, the retired general told the trooper “Today’s the day that my job ends.”

Haley has named current SCDOT Deputy Secretary of Finance and Procurement Christy Hall as acting director.

Flags coming to State Parks beaches

South Carolina’s state parks are adopting a flag system for use on beaches to alert swimmers about water conditions. State Parks Director Phil Gaines told the Beaufort Gazette that the flags will start flying once the weather warms up in April. Employees will fly a green flag when there are few problems, with yellow and red flags showing medium and high danger. Two red flags will fly when it is unsafe to swim at all. A purple flag will fly when dangerous marine life is around.

Several municipal and privately-run beaches already use the flags. South Carolina has four state parks that offer swimming.

S.C. State University needs millions to stay out of debt

South Carolina State University is projected to run a $4 million deficit and needs $13.3 million just to pay its bills, according to a letter that college president Thomas Elzey sent to the state Budget & Control Board last week. State budget leaders asked Elzey to submit a financial plan within two weeks, according to another letter sent to all state lawmakers Friday. At lease one state senator is concerned after yet another year of financial problems at South Carolina’s only public, historically-black college.

A school spokeswoman told South Carolina Radio Network that Elzey plans to brief the school’s board of trustees on Wednesday, but will not make any further public statements before that point.

Widow of well-known political operative to run for SC schools chief

Sally Atwater, widow of legendary S.C. political operative Lee Atwater, says she is running for state superintendent of education. The State newspaper reports Atwater currently lives in Colleton and teaches at a Colleton County elementary school.

Atwater served as executive director of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities under Bush. Her late husband Lee ran Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign. Mr. Atwater is also widely credited with helping the Republican Party rise to prominence in the Southeast. He died in 1991 from a brain tumor.

She said she decided to run for state superintendent after hearing Gov. Nikki Haley speak at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro about her education reform plan, which includes about $60 million for reading coaches and technology upgrades.

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