Sanford wants DPS nominee to review agency

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford wants his nominee to run the S.C. Department of Public Safety to commit to a top-to-bottom review of discipline and promotion procedures at the S.C. Highway Patrol.

"That's what we've consistently heard the most complaints about," said Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Sanford.

Sawyer said the governor expects to have a nominee "sooner rather than later" but would not be more specific. He also would not say who is being considered.

Sanford's nominee will have to navigate a minefield of political and competency concerns before earning confirmation from legislators who are surprised and dismayed by the continuing reports of questionable conduct by some members of the Highway Patrol.

The stakes are high. The leaders of the Highway Patrol and Public Safety lost their jobs after Sanford determined they should have fired a white trooper who used a racial slur and threatened to kill a black motorist during a traffic stop in 2004. Videotape from several other stops, obtained by media outlets throughout the state, have raised broader concerns about trooper conduct.

"Every week, it's something new," said state Rep. Leon Howard, a Richland County Democrat who chairs the caucus of black legislators, which has long complained about problems in the Highway Patrol. "Most of the Senate was shocked at the depth of the problem. What they are doing now is figuring out what the problem is."

Sawyer said the governor's nominee must share Sanford's goal for the Highway Patrol.

"We want to be unequivocally clear to the Highway Patrol that all stops should be conducted professionally, and all motorists should be treated equitably," Sawyer said.

A special committee, led by Senate President Glenn McConnell, is investigating the Highway Patrol. One committee member, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, said the Senate is unlikely to take up any nomination until that investigation has shed some light on what needs to be done at the Highway Patrol.

That could take a least a couple of weeks, Sheheen said, adding he believes the committee's work should be wrapped up by June, when legislators adjourn.