Sanford names Limehouse transportation secretary

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford named H.B. "Buck" Limehouse the first secretary of Transportation on Monday, retaining the man who has led the agency since May.

Lawmakers granted Sanford the ability to choose who runs the agency's day-to-day operations in June, part of a bill designed to reform the agency and make its leadership more accountable. Sanford, in a news release, said he opted to retain Limehouse for his "institutional knowledge" while the agency adjusts to the new law.

Limehouse, 68, is a former Transportation Department commission chairman, appointed by Gov. Carroll Campbell in 1994. He served in that capacity until 1999 after he was reappointed by Gov. David Beasley.

Under the new law, Sanford can remove Limehouse at any time.

"I think Buck brings a unique skill set and perspective to this job as we sort out what works and what doesn't under this new management model," Sanford said in the news release.

"This appointment will give us through the next legislative session to not only see what works and doesn't work within the agency, but to clearly determine whether or not Buck is the right fit with this administration to bring those changes," he said.

Transportation Department reform became a major issue this year after a November audit revealed the agency has squandered millions on poorly written contracts, had not properly documented contracts and had questionable relationships with some contractors. Elizabeth Mabry, the agency's director at the time, retired at the end of last year.

The new law allows Sanford the ability to hire and fire the agency's day-to-day leader as well as appoint one of the seven-member commission. In addition, the agency must rank road, bridge and maintenance projects according to safety, traffic, cost and other criteria.

Limehouse, in accepting the position, also said parts of the new law need to be changed.

"I think this legislation is a step forward," Limehouse said in a news release, "but, at the same time, there are clearly some unworkable components that need to get addressed."

Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said the governor agreed and hoped Limehouse could help lawmakers understand problems with the law.

One example, Sawyer said, was a provision requiring the commission to handle most projects under $10 million. Last week, the commission voted to give those duties to Limehouse, drawing criticism from lawmakers.

Commissioner Henry Taylor, who represents Lexington and parts of Richland County, approved the decision.

"I'm excited about it. I think it's a good choice," Taylor said. Taylor was appointed to the commission earlier this year and said Limehouse has taught him much about the "complex issues and problems affecting the department."

The commission and agency are trying to understand all the changes of the Transportation Department reform bill, Taylor said, and Limehouse's experience has been a benefit.

"The new law has been a challenge in getting our arms around it," Taylor said.