South Carolina editorial roundup

April 10, 2019 - 6:03 pm

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

April 9.

The Post and Courier on selling reactor parts:

Gov. Henry McMaster and lawmakers should demand that Santee Cooper and Westinghouse Electric Co. set aside their legal differences to take advantage of a time-sensitive chance to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of stockpiled nuclear reactor parts. Recouping some of the billions of dollars squandered on the failed V.C. Summer project would be the rare bit of good news to come out of the debacle.

An offer from Georgia's Southern Co., which is building identical reactors, is due to expire in two weeks.

Debt-laden Santee Cooper has paid millions of dollars to mothball reactor components in warehouses and at the V.C. Summer construction site in Fairfield County. But according to a Westinghouse lawsuit aimed at forcing a sale, the state-owned utility has already balked at a deal worth about $8 million because it doesn't want to share any of the proceeds with Westinghouse.

Reasonably, Westinghouse has suggested putting the proceeds in a restricted bank account until the dispute can be settled. That seems fair enough, considering that the two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being built in Georgia are the only two under construction in the United States. The next likeliest markets would be China, the only country to have successfully completed one of the designs, or India.

With about $4 billion in nuclear-construction debt, Santee Cooper could use the cash, and the opportunity may not come again. Unless major reactor components such as steam generators, turbines and pumps are properly maintained, they could become worthless, except as scrap.

In a statement Monday, Santee Cooper said Westinghouse's lawsuit "seeks to strip value away from Santee Cooper customers and instead profit itself." In a competing statement, Westinghouse said Santee Cooper was refusing to let it sell the equipment and puzzled by its stonewalling, "particularly in light of the urgent and special nature of this opportunity."

Westinghouse's day in court can wait. The company, which filed for reorganization bankruptcy in 2017 and was later sold by parent Toshiba to Brookfield Business Partners, contends it wasn't fully paid for all the reactor parts shipped to the V.C. Summer site. SCE&G, the majority partner in the nuclear project, has already relinquished its ownership of components, which should leave the ownership battle relatively clear cut.

There are no doubt at least two sides to the legal dispute. But at this point, unless Santee Cooper can demonstrate that there is a realistic chance it can sell the equipment to someone else for a better deal, its board shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. It should negotiate a fair price and cash out, because Westinghouse and its suppliers presumably would be happy to supply Southern Co. with all new parts.

The standoff also demonstrates a need to give the governor more control of Santee Cooper's management. Ideally, he could simply order the utility to proceed with the sale. Just last week, the S.C. House voted to strip the board of some of its autonomy and give the governor more authority over how Santee Cooper is run, while also giving the Legislature some power the governor should have. But none of that will solve the immediate problem.

The governor and Legislature must use what's at hand — the bully pulpit and the power of informal persuasion — to keep Santee Cooper from botching a potentially lucrative deal to unload some otherwise unusable hardware. Sell it now while there's a viable nearby market.



April 8

The Post and Courier of Charleston on requiring school makeup days:

State law says public schools have to operate 180 days a year. Unless it snows. Or rains. Or gets too hot. Or too cold. Then, if the school district closes the schools for more than three days — those first three days off have to be made up — it can start lopping days off the calendar.

The school board can "forgive" three missed days, cutting the school year back to 177 days and stealing three days of education from students. Then it can ask the State Board of Education to authorize the theft of three more days of class time.

This was actually a reform of the old system, under which the Legislature routinely granted individual school districts' requests to shorten the school year by however many days the districts saw fit.

But apparently forcing schools to remain open at least 174 days a year, regardless of snow or rain or heat or gloom of night, has created too great a burden on some districts. And perhaps on too many vacation-sensitive parents, who sometimes lead the opposition to providing their children — and other people's children — with the full 180 days of education promised in state law.

So Reps. Carl Anderson, Joseph Jefferson and Robert Williams introduced H.3929, which allows the State Board of Education to excuse as many days a district asks it to. Less than a week after it was introduced, the House passed the bill 107-0. The Senate Education Committee approved it as well, and now it's just a couple of Senate votes away from the governor's desk.

The bill was designed for school districts that had to cancel classes for as long as three weeks after Hurricane Florence, and it would only apply to the current school year. But that's the way these things generally get started.

A state fiscal impact statement notes that although the amount "depends upon the number and size of the districts requesting the forgiveness of days and the number of days forgiven," the legislation could "create cost savings" for the affected districts.

No question about that: Cancelling classes is a lot less expensive than holding them. So imagine how much money we could save if we just reduced the standard school year to 170 days. Or 150. Or 120. Heck, think of all the money we could save if we just eliminated all the school days.

As Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey asked a little less absurdly but still rhetorically: "If they can forgive three weeks of school and still get all the education that they need, then we don't need to have a 180-day calendar?"

The point isn't that a 180-day school year is sacrosanct. It's possible that it's too long. Or too short. The point is that we need to stick to that mandate unless or until we decide as a state that it makes sense to change that mandate. The point is that we don't need to be "forgiving" school days whenever it's inconvenient to obey the mandate. Because when they "forgive" school days, what school officials are saying is that school isn't important enough to provide when it isn't convenient.



April 7

The Times and Democrat on sheriff's reaction to indictments against law enforcement:

"With this indictment, we honor the hard work and dedication of the very fine officers across South Carolina who put on the police uniform every day and risk their lives to protect the rest of us. If these allegations are proved, these defendants do not deserve to wear the badge and should not be allowed to bring disrepute on the overwhelming majority of men and women in blue who serve South Carolina with integrity. We will not tolerate the hypocrisy of those who would pretend to enforce the law, while violating it themselves as they seek to line their own pockets. We call that public corruption, and we will always call it out."

In making the statement a week ago that seven law enforcement officers from Orangeburg County were being charged with corruption, South Carolina U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon was careful also to state that suspects are to be presumed innocent unless found guilty.

And if any of the accused ultimately are exonerated, they are due headlines of the same sort as greeted their arrests. But let's be clear, the U.S. attorney did not make the case resulting from a sting because the office does not believe it can make the charges stand up.

Such an investigation alone resulting in charges of visa fraud and protection of drug trafficking is stain enough on law enforcement - and not just in Orangeburg County. What happened taints all law enforcement at a time when there is such a need for public faith in and cooperation with those sworn to serve and protect.

One of the schemes alleged in a 13-count indictment involved fraudulent U Nonimmigrant Visas, which are set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result of the crime. To obtain a U-Visa, a law enforcement official must certify that the alien is assisting that law enforcement agency in the investigation or prosecution of the crime of which the alien was a victim.

According to the indictment, four officers helped individuals obtain fraudulent U-Visas by taking bribes for fraudulent certifications and creating fraudulent incident reports indicating that aliens were victims of crimes.

The indictment further alleges that officers took bribes in exchange for protecting methamphetamine and cocaine or the proceeds of drug trafficking.

Sheriff Leroy Ravenell responded to news of the indictment with expected disappointment and anger as four of the officers indicted were his deputies, one stood as a reserve officer, and two others, including the Springfield police chief, were formally with the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office.

"I stand here angry - no, mad as hell and extremely, extremely disappointed in the alleged actions," Ravenell said. "I will never turn away an outside agency when they are trying to do an investigation and trying to rid of anything or anybody not standing for law and order."

The sheriff has the right to be angry. The news that those he put out front to serve the public are accused of such crimes is bad for an agency that needs all its personnel in a huge county in which people are already complaining about not enough coverage.

He said the loss of the deputies does hurt the office's ability to provide coverage for the 1,100 square miles and almost 100,000 citizens of Orangeburg County.

But these are not normal times. The sheriff, as are city police and law enforcement around the county, is facing a wave of violence that has people comparing things to the early 1990s.

Anyone with knowledge of those years in Orangeburg knows that Connie L. Johnson in her recent column, "Surviving Orangeburg," is not the first to compare today's happening with the violence during the height of the crack cocaine crisis.

These are tough times at the office of Leroy Ravenell. But we have faith in him as did the people of Orangeburg County in overwhelmingly re-electing the sheriff in 2016 with 83 percent of the vote in a three-way race in the Democratic primary. He was unopposed in the general election.

The sheriff will overcome this obstacle. He must. There is much to address in this county.

And those he trusted have made the mission tougher. As the sheriff said, "It is a sad day for law enforcement. Here we are again having to fight for the trust of citizens for what they are paying us to do."


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