Legislators say new treasurer merits trust

COLUMBIA --South Carolina's new treasurer is a soft-spoken accountant who served as a valuable lieutenant for House leadership.

Lawmakers elected Converse Chellis III, 63, Friday to replace Thomas Ravenel, who resigned last week.

One of three professional accountants in the Legislature, Chellis served on the state board of accountancy and as president of the South Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants.

He takes over a job that oversees state banking contracts and transactions and manages some of South Carolina's investments. And he will be one of five voting members of the State Budget and Control Board, which approves hundreds of millions in state contracts, land sales and other transactions.

"To me, this sounds like a perfect position for a CPA," said House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee chairman Harry Cato, in nominating Chellis.

On Friday, Chellis received broad support from both House and Senate lawmakers.

Chellis, Cato said, has all the qualities needed for the job -- work ethic, fairness, attention to detail, and integrity -- and represents the best of The Citadel.

"The honor code is for life," Cato said. "I know of no one who epitomizes what The Citadel stands for better than Converse Chellis."

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, appointed Chellis to a committee working out a final agreement for changes to the state's workers' compensation system. The issue was one of Harrell's top three priorities.

"I believe Converse is qualified," Harrell said. "I trust him."

Though a dependable ally, Chellis was not a prolific lawmaker while in the House. In his nine years there, Chellis was the lead sponsor for seven bills that became law. Most of those bills focused on his areas of expertise: changes to state tax code or local Dorchester County legislation.

In January, Chellis drew criticism when the House Rules Committee quickly approved changes to House open meeting rules. Those changes ensured House Republicans could meet in public to discuss political strategy and state policy.

However, Chellis called the Rules Committee meeting with no public notice, a violation of state law, according to South Carolina Press Association attorney Jay Bender.

It was one of the few times Chellis found himself in any public controversy.

Mostly, Chellis' time in the General Assembly was spent focusing on local issues.

Chellis had led his Dorchester County delegation since entering the House in 1997, and also chaired a subcommittee in the influential Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee. In addition, Chellis was the chairman of the House Rules Committee, an important panel that sets the standards for House debate.

Born in California, Chellis earned his degree from The Citadel before working for a handful of Charleston-area accounting firms. He and his wife, Sharon, have two children.