COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers grilled former state attorney general Charlie Condon on Thursday as they consider whether he should lead the embattled state-owned utility company Santee Cooper.
The Charleston attorney told a legislative panel that his goal is accountable leadership through transparency.
"I'm simply here as a matter of public service," he told a subcommittee of the Public Utilities Review Committee, which included members of the House, Senate and public. "Given the past, I hope to be a part of the solution."
Gov. Henry McMaster tapped the former prosecutor to lead the utility's board of directors after former chairman Leighton Lord resigned in December. McMaster said he wanted the former chairman removed after Lord failed to turn over documentation about the two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer plant.
If approved by the committee and the Senate, Condon will serve the remainder of the term left vacant by Lord that ends in May. McMaster said he would then appoint Condon to a full term.
Condon said leaders must be held accountable for such actions.
"I think there's a $3-4 billion hole in the ground, and it's worthless," Condon said. "Given the assets of Santee Cooper, that has to be an issue that has to be addressed going forward."
Condon said he spent hours examining Santee Cooper's issues but admitted he has "a lot more to learn." Condon said as chairman he would focus on employee morale and insist upon healthy debates. He thinks solar energy has promise for the future.
Republican Sen. Luke Rankin of Myrtle Beach questioned Condon about his allegiance to McMaster and whether the governor's desire to sell the Fairfield County plant would influence his role as chairman.
"I'm acutely sensitive to influence of a person that is appointed here," Rankin said. "There's no question the governor's agenda is to sell Santee Cooper."
President and CEO Michael Couick of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina Inc. praised the attorney's performance and said Condon hit on key points needed as a new chairman.
"The General Assembly is in charge of what happens to Santee Cooper's future, sold or not sold," Couick said, adding that the board and agency will take responsibility in how they operate.
Lawmakers voted to overhaul Santee Cooper's 12-person board of directors following the failure of the $9 billion project.