In May, The State newspaper ran a three-part series of articles detailing the custody and rehabilitation of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley. At issue were several points, but the biggest was that spending on the submarine could reach $100 million (nine times the original estimate) and a majority of that funding has not been secured.
This figure includes costs for a free-standing Hunley museum (designed by the architect of the Holocaust Museum, in Washington, DC) and a Clemson University research center adjunct campus.
Also at issue was the governance of the project with regards to the Hunley Commission and its powerful chairman state Sen. Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston).
McConnell, in addition to being chairman for the 10-year life of the commission, has control of the funding for the project, which is a mix of private donations, private grants, and state/federal funding.
McConnell and others on the Hunley team say the commission has spent $4 million in state funds and $5 million on federal dollars.
New streams of revenue are drying up as public interest in the project has waned since the sub was raised from the ocean floor in August of 2000. This is evidenced by declining numbers of visitors to the existing Hunley exhibit on the Old Navy Base in North Charleston.
McConnell refused to cooperate with The State's reporter, saying something to the effect that the paper was out to torpedo the Hunley project.
A little over a week after The State series, The Post and Courier ran an extensive piece that was, surprise surprise, a stage for McConnell to proclaim his persecution at the hands of The State.
For those out of the loop, McConnell is an avid Civil War buff and operates a store devoted to such memorabilia, although The Eye rather doubts there was anti-Union toilet paper available to the soldiers of the Confederacy.
Anyhoo, following the publication of both papers' articles, eight state legislators became disturbed about the lack of openness regarding the project and called for a public audit of the whole deal: the City of North Charleston arrangement, the sponsorship of Clemson, McConnell's control over how professors can communicate with other academicians and how they publish or speak to the press, and FUNDING.
Last Tuesday the Legislative Audit Council voted unanimously to decline the legislators' request for an audit, citing a conflict of interest.
In a statement, council members said that because both the LAC and the Hunley Commission were created by the legislature, an audit would violate standards of impartiality.
McConnell told The State that the commission's books are audited annually and open to public scrutiny, but he wouldn't support an outside audit.
The Eye is of the opinion that Gov. Mark Sanford, himself surprised by the some of the revelations in both newspapers, needs to show some leadership for a change and call for an outside audit of the Hunley Commission — preferably conducted by a firm from out of state and out of The South.
McConnell has been part of the story for too long and can't see the forest for the trees. Perhaps the time has come to relinquish his chairmanship.
Or he can just long for the good old days, such as 1903, when Lt. Gov. James H. Tillman shot and killed Narcisco G. Gonzales, editor and founder of The State, in broad daylight with eyewitnesses.
And got away with it.