December 18, 2014

SC congressional delegation vows to block president on Cuba

Congressman Jeff Duncan (File)

Congressman Jeff Duncan (File)

Republicans are threatening to block efforts by President Obama to reopen the American embassy in Cuba as the U.S. thaws relations with the island nation.

Congressional Republicans say they could take advantage of their new Senate control by refusing to approve a new ambassador or set aside funding for the embassy.

That includes South Carolina’s Third District Congressman Jeff Duncan, who will now chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. “We all have a like mind that the administration got this one wrong,” he told Greenwood affiliate WCRS, adding that it would require Congress to take some actions. “They still have to get funding for an embassy. They still have to get an ambassador confirmed by the Senate. That ain’t going to happen. A lot of this is just for optics.”

Both of South Carolina’s senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott echoed Duncan. “Normalizing relations with Cuba is a bad idea at a bad time,” Graham tweeted on Wednesday, vowing to block any funding that would reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana. Scott added that he was glad to see American hostage Alan Gross released as part of the deal, but added that he was concerned the president was rewarding Cuba for decades of human rights abuses.

Duncan said he thinks the U.S. should have gotten much more out of the agreement besides the release of a hostage. “This administration has done a terrible job negotiating on this deal,” he told WCRS. “America got nothing, other than the ability to bring some Cuban cigars back when you travel to Havana.”

Fourth District Congressman Trey Gowdy told Greenville affiliate WORD News that his issue was the president acting unilaterally. “He’s doing it intentionally where the voters would never have a chance to rebuke him,” he told WORD’s Vince Coakley. “If he’s so right about it… then he needs to face the voters.”

At least one GOP congressman went against his colleagues. First District Congressman Mark Sanford said he supports the deal. “(U.S.) Cuba travel policy was inconsistent with our country’s founding principle of individual liberty and the freedom of movement that should come with it,” Sanford said in an email to news organizations. “In fact with the exception of Cuba, we are allowed to travel to any country in the world. Think about that. Americans could travel to Iran, North Korea or Syria, but not Cuba fifty miles off our coast?”

Besides embassy funding, Congress would also need to approve ending the trade embargo that bans US companies from importing or exporting to Cuba.

Governor appoints head of new Department of Administration

Gov. Haley and Marcia Adams. South Carolina Radio Network photo.

Gov. Haley and Marcia Adams.

Governor Nikki Haley has made her choice to head South Carolina’s newest Cabinet-level agency.

Haley selected Marcia Adams to lead the new state Department of Administration. “I am very, very proud to say that Marcia Adams will be leading the Department of Administration.” Haley said Thursday afternoon during a press conference at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

The Department of Administration was created as part of a government restructuring bill that passed earlier this year. The agency replaces the state Budget and Control Board and handles most of the state’s bureaucratic functions like human resources, building maintenance, and information technology. Adams had led the Budget & Control Board since July 2011, when she was promoted from the agency’s chief of staff. Prior to that, she led the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Adams said she is looking forward to leading the new department. “I am excited to be the first director of the Department of Administration and to be a part of the team that is going to set the direction for this very important agency,” she told reporters on Thursday. She added that she will collaborate with other state agencies.

The Budget and Control Board is currently in a transition period, as it spins off former divisions into their new home. Adams will not take over her new responsibilities until the transition is complete in July 2015.

Former Haley chief of staff to lead powerful business group

Ted Pitts during his time as Gov. Nikki Haley's chief of staff (Image: SCETV)

Ted Pitts during his time as Gov. Nikki Haley’s chief of staff (Image: SCETV)

Gov. Nikki Haley’s former chief of staff has been named the next president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.

Ted Pitts gave up his job in the Governor’s Office soon after Haley was reelected last month. At the time, the chamber said it was hiring Pitts as executive vice president. On Thursday, the chamber reported Pitts would replace current President and CEO Otis Rawl.

The SC Chamber says it represents more than 18,000 businesses by promoting industry and trade concerns in state, local, and federal government.

Pitts had worked with Haley’s administration during her entire first term in office. He served first as a legislative liaison before being promoted to chief of staff last year. Prior to that, the Presbyterian College alum served with Haley as a fellow Lexington County legislator in the South Carolina House. He is also a major in the South Carolina Army National Guard.

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Federal investigators stop firing of Charleston TSA inspector

Charleston airport

Charleston International Airport (Image: Charleston County Aviation Authority)

Federal investigators have blocked the firing of a dog handler at Charleston International Airport after she claimed she was removed for whistleblowing.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which investigates and prosecutes wrongdoing by federal employees, said it had obtained an order blocking the removal of Kimberly Barnett. Barnett was an inspector who handled explosive detection dogs for the Transportation Security Administration at the Charleston airport.

According to the announcement, Barnett claimed she was fired on November 26 after a chain of events that began a year earlier when she reported safety violations by a supervisor. The OSC noted that Barnett said her supervisor inaccurately recorded the amount of time that he trained and used his dog to make it appear he was meeting TSA requirements. Barnett said a TSA manager told her she was throwing her supervisor “under the bus,” and did not act on her complaints. She then reported the alleged misconduct in June.

Shortly after that, she was involved in a minor car accident when a bus hit her parked car. The TSA supervisors proposed to fire Barnett in October for her role in the crash and cursing while reporting it to her superiors. Barnett insists she does not remember swearing during the phone call and has never been disciplined during her 12-year career. She was terminated a month later.

OSC officials asked the Merit Systems Protection Board to postpone Barnett’s firing while it investigated Barnett’s case as a possible whistleblower who suffered retaliation. The board agreed on Tuesday.

“I find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that TSA proposed Ms. Barnett’s removal based on her protected disclosure” in retaliation for making disclosures of wrongdoing,” board member Mark Robbins wrote.

Jay Harper contributed to this report

SC probation agency director resigns

PPP director Kela Thomas had been with the agency for most of Gov. Nikki Haley's first term

PPP director Kela Thomas had been with the agency for most of Gov. Nikki Haley’s first term

The director of South Carolina’s Department of Probation, Pardon, and Parole (PPP) has resigned.

An agency spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Kela Thomas submitted a resignation letter to Gov. Nikki Haley after four years leading the agency. Thomas was one of the original Cabinet members from Gov. Haley’s first year in office. She was a deputy director at PPP when the governor promoted her in February 2011. Haley’s first choice to lead the agency left after less than a month in charge.

The State newspaper first reported the departure, noting an email was sent to PPP employees on Wednesday. No reason was given in the resignation letter. The spokesman said Deputy Director Scott Norton will act as interim director while the governor finds a replacement.

PPP is responsible for transitioning offenders back into public through probation and parole. The agency also helps victims of those offenders recoup any financial losses from their crimes.

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