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The SCDOT Chicken Run

My grandmother never wrung the necks of her chickens. She used a hatchet.

Modern urban chicken aficionados, the ones with high-class chicken coops and fancy French chickens, consider the hatchet method more humane than neck wringing or so I hear. Maybe that advice came from Martha Stewart – learned while she was down on the prison farm.

I witnessed my grandmother’s hatchet skills when I was a young boy. My grandparents farm was just up the road and I was a frequent visitor, especially after seeing this pre-culinary violence.

The whole farmyard stood larger than life to my young eyes. My grandfather, a World War One veteran and follower of the old ways, cut timber from the woods, milled it, cured it and built the two-story farmhouse along with a barn, woodshed, corn crib, chicken house and a washhouse.

A particular fascination for me was the washhouse. It had a big room for, I presume, washing even though I remember it being used to put up vegetables and store a vast collection of glassware and bottles. It also had a feed room, tool room, curing room and attached wagon shed – wonderful places to pretend.

After the building was done, my grandparents scattered fig, pear and plum trees along with grape and scuppernong vines throughout the yard. It was through this maze of fruitful delight that headless chickens ran flailing their blood over the ground like some pagan fertility rite.

Speaking of spring fertility rites, the House finished debating the annual state budget a couple of weeks ago. Just before we began debate, the Senate amended and sent back to us a simplified version of our transportation bill. You remember – the comprehensive bill we passed last year to fix our roads. The bill, though not perfect, contained the needed elements of reform. The Senate merely had to give them the same consideration that the House did.

Instead, the Senate’s version requires the state’s General Fund to transfer $400 million of recurring income and sales taxes to SCDOT every year. It also modestly changes the SCDOT’s governance structure. They gave the Governor appointment power to choose commissioners with the advice and consent of the Senate. After Senate approval, the commissioners appoint a Secretary of Transportation who serves on the Governor’s cabinet.

Why not just let the Governor pick her own Secretary of Transportation subject to the General Assembly’s approval of qualifications and rid us of the Commission?

In another act of inexplicability, the Governor demanded that the House concur with the Senate version posthaste. In other words, she wanted us to agree with the Senate version without amending it and before we debated the budget. The House refused.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Audit Council was wrapping up their independent audit of SCDOT. Their 350-page audit, released this week, makes for a sobering read. One might think that the Senate and the Governor would have waited for its release before demanding concurrence from the House, but I could not comment on their intent.

The audit report starts with SCDOT’s governance issues. From page 17 of the audit:

• It is unclear whether the Secretary of Transportation or the Commission is the ultimate governing authority of the department.

• We cannot determine how much value the Commission adds to SCDOT processes.

• The SCDOT internal auditing function is ineffective due to the impaired independence of the chief internal auditor.

• A number of employees do not meet the minimum qualifications for their job classifications and were not granted equivalencies by the Division of State Human Resources.

• The department does not adequately measure and report on key performance indicators that affect the public.

• Internal management policies have led to the questionable use of public resources.

• There is considerable room for improvement to SCDOT’s strategic direction plan and performance measures.

• There are a number of instances in which the department has not appropriately collected, maintained, used, or shared data.

They could have just said that the commissioners have been running around in recent years like chickens with their heads cut off flailing money at random projects while blindly leading the department and our roads to destruction.

The House has before it a hatchet – this amended transportation bill – that can be used to fix the governance problems reported in the audit. We just need the Senate and the Governor to help us act humanely and make a clean cut of it.