Charleston, SC – In a bold move, the South
Carolina State Ports Authority is encouraging reporters to visit the
Ports Authority’s Main Office at 176 Concord Street today to review
nearly two years worth of corporate charge card statements.
"The Authority’s corporate charges are reasonable
and appropriate," said Bernard S. Groseclose Jr., president and CEO of the
South Carolina State Ports Authority.
Contain the Port, a group of anti-port activists,
recently requested all of the Ports Authority’s American Express corporate
charge account statements for 1997 and 1998. Copies of the exact same documents
are being made available to the media today. Under the old system, which ended
in October 1998, corporate charge card bills were invoiced directly to the Ports
Authority. Individuals now pay their own bills and request reimbursement.
Included on the 202 pages of bills covering about 21
months are all charges that were incurred to every corporate
credit card paid by the Ports Authority. They include expenditures for travel
(such airfare and hotels), entertainment (such as meals and golf with customers)
and other business expenses.
While the charges totaled $440,355 for the entire
21-month period, the Ports Authority earned more than $144 million in revenues
from its shipping line and manufacturing customers in the same period.
Therefore, the Ports Authority earned $327 in revenue for every one dollar in
American Express charges for travel, entertainment and other business expense.
Every expense report filed by an employee must be
approved by the employee’s supervisor, and is then reviewed by the Ports
Authority’s finance department for appropriateness and documentation. The
Ports Authority also employs internal and external auditors to review accounting
"While the expenses are certainly reasonable,"
said Groseclose, "it is important to note that they were paid with revenues
earned from our customers, not with tax dollars."
The Ports Authority has not received operating subsidies
since 1959, when Senator Fritz Hollings was governor. Even with future port
expansion, the Ports Authority would not seek operating funds from the state,
only capital funds for hard infrastructure.
Many of the expenses were incurred by the members of the
Ports Authority’s marketing and sales team, who travel the state and world
encouraging companies to bring their ships and cargo to ports in Charleston,
Georgetown and Port Royal. Entertainment expenses, such as meals and golf, are
common activities for salespeople.
In addition, top port officials visited several large
accounts in Europe and Asia in 1997 to continue its close relationship with
major port customers after the retirement of Don Welch. There are currently more
than 40 global ocean carriers that send ships to Charleston, carrying trade
between South Carolina and 140 countries around the world.
"Effective marketing is quite obviously a very
important part of the Ports Authority’s legislated mission and is vital to our
success," said Groseclose.
Since 1998 when these expenses were incurred, revenues
have increased more than 25% to a projected $104 million next year. Charleston
is currently the nation’s fourth busiest container port and handles
international cargo valued at $29 billion annually.
After fulfilling a request from
Contain the Port for summary expense report information earlier this year,
the group then requested four years of detailed expense reports for
executive, public relations and marketing staff to support these numbers.
This would have been a massive request requiring many man-hours.
Contain the Port later refined their
follow-up request to one year, 1998. The Ports Authority informed the group
that this request would require 120 hours of research because it involved
553 individual expense reports. This translates into about 13 minutes per
report, as each expense report would have to be retrieved from the filing
system, copied and stripped of personal information.
The total charge for producing these
documents was estimated at $2,505, or roughly $20 per hour (The Post and
Courier archives department charges $50 an hour for research). Not wanting
to cover the costs that their request would have caused, Contain the Port
then asked for copies of statements for all corporate credit cards from 1997
and 1998. Corporate credit cards paid by the Ports Authority were
discontinued in October 1998.
Copies of these statements were
retrieved in a relatively short period of time and have been forwarded to
Contain the Port, as requested. Therefore, there will only be a minor charge
to Contain the Port for compiling the documents.