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Commerce Dept. e-mails describe golf, travel plans

November 13, 2001

COLUMBIA — Several months of e-mail involving top state Commerce Department leaders reveal a great deal about priorities at the agency, and golf outings are near the top of the list.

The e-mails also support local economic developers' fears of a two-tiered playing field and give a glimpse of the agency's willingness to make state business-hunting expeditions compatible with travel preferences of leaders' wives.

The missives also are notable for what's not there: The top leaders of an economic development agency with a commitment to recruiting high-tech industries did not use e-mail to communicate directly with each other.

In a Freedom of Information request, The Associated Press asked to review all correspondence and e-mail between Wayne Sterling, the agency's former chief of staff, and Commerce Secretary Charlie Way. However, Commerce Department lawyer Karen Manning said there was no direct e-mail between the two men.

"Any e-mail communications by Secretary Way and Mr. Sterling was via their assistants, Reve Richardson and Elinor Stevens, both of whom sent e-mails in their own names on behalf" of Way and Sterling, Manning wrote.

Sterling and Beth Braswell, the department's communications director, resigned suddenly on Sept. 17. They have since taken economic development jobs for Henry County, Va.

In the e-mails, golf is a recurring topic and appeared to be Sterling's most common tool of choice in luring business to South Carolina.

On July 3, Braswell told Stevens she was worried about an upcoming round. "It could all go down the tubes if I don't get money from Jay Specter because Charlie is not going to be happy about spending state $$."

Specter recalls that outing and that he was having problems with his company, Insurall Casualty Group, setting up a call center in Hemingway. The town had increased costs for supplying water service to the facility, scheduled to open in January, by $20,000, he said.

The group talked on the course about the issues, then worked out details on the drive back to Columbia, Specter said. The center "is almost complete due to help from Wayne Sterling."

E-mail from Stevens to Braswell on May 18 shows how wives could have affected business trip itineraries.

"Wayne objects to leaving the women in one place for several days because he says that he has to pay the hotels if Becky doesn't travel on his itinerary. He mentioned that she would like to go to London and Paris and it looks as if neither of these are on the trip," Stevens wrote.


By JIM DAVENPORT, Associated Press.


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