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City Council Meeting March 8

Kwadjo Campbell takes center stage
Marc Knapp who covers City Council

His name was never mentioned. But Council member Campbell was the focus of last night's meeting. The Council member has been charged with marijuana possession and in the last few weeks, has been subjected to a lot of media attention. The Mayor has also sought his expulsion from Council.

Despite his sharp criticism of the Council member in the press, Mayor Riley was silent on the matter last night. The assault was led by Council members Tinkler and Bleeker, two of the Mayor's most faithful supporters. Council member Tinkler suggested that all council members be subject to drug testing. After all, he said, City employees were subject to drug testing if there was a reasonable suspicion of illegal use. Council member Bleeker suggested that the legality of testing council members be pursued.

Council member George was uncomfortable with the suggestion of drug testing and Council member Lewis was clearly opposed. Council member George spoke of the phrase "moral turpitude" which allows for the expulsion of Council members. He questioned as to whether the charges against Council member Campbell could be defined as such. Council member Lewis noted the Council member Campbell has been elected to his position and should not be dismissed by Council members. There were rules in place already governing ethics. This issue of drug testing for council members was a waste of time.

Most other members of Council were silent during this discussion with Council member Gilliard seemingly uncomfortable. He asked whether the Council should go into executive session rather than discuss the matter publicly. The City's attorney said no.

Citizen participation time brought out support for Council member Campbell. One speaker noted of the excellent work that Council member Campbell was doing for the East Side and that it was up to his electorate to decide, not Council members, as to whether he was fit to serve. This view was echoed by the President of the East Side Association, Ms Latonya Memminger. The supporters were not all African Americans. One of the most supportive speeches was given by Sharon Fratepietro who lives in the Council member's District. She said that the Council member did a good job for his constituents. But her criticism was sharp for the Mayor whose actions she thought disappointing and surprising. She referred to the constant blown-up media reports of what she described as charges "so trivial". And as for Council members drug testing each other, it was appalling.

Our view. We think Council member Campbell does a good job on Council; he is one of the few council members that will stand up to the Mayor and speak his mind. His expulsion would be a considerable loss. More importantly, no one should be assumed guilty of a charge until tried. The Mayor's desire to expel the Council member at the least, is premature, at worst, vengeful. And we agree with Council member George and some of the speakers, the charge if proved, does not warrant expulsion. A reprimand, yes. Let the voters decide at the end of the year as to whether they want the Council member to continue in office.

Nobody moved a motion to expel Council member Campbell. But a motion was proposed that Council investigate what other Councils did in relation to drug testing in South Carolina, and to examine the legality of drug testing of Council members. This motion was approved with only Council member Lewis opposed.

Next step in the development of Ansonborough Field
There was no vote as development has been approved. But the Mayor and the Chairman of the Real Estate Committee reported that the City was about to begin pre qualifying developers for the Ansonborough Field project. Mr. Tim Keane, the ex head of City Planning gave a presentation as to what was proposed at the Field. Strangely, it was less detailed that that given by the Mayor at the Real Estate Committee meeting on Monday evening. Mr. Keane would not be drawn into stating how many housing units there would be on the site whereas the Mayor indicated there would be about 250. A large proportion would be "affordable" units with the balance for sale at market prices. As well as housing, there would be a hotel with 50 rooms, commercial and retail space, and possibly even a second hotel. The Mayor spoke with more certainty about the likelihood of two hotels.

The development would be at both ends of the Field with Concord Park, about 5 acres, separating the developments.

The process of development would be through a Request for Proposal (RFP). The City would now contact a large number of possible interested developers. They would indicate their interest and proposed team of architects, engineers, financiers etc. From these submissions, the City would choose less than 10 to make a formal proposal. The successful proposer would acquire title to the land, and commit to a development plan which broadly conformed to the plans of the City. There would also be a payment to the City which the Mayor hopes to be large enough to develop Concord Park, buy a small parcel of land from the Port Authority. He also hoped there was something left over to fund more "affordable housing" in the City

Council member Fishburne questioned what the cost would be and drew little response, He mentioned a figure of over $50 million but this was not confirmed. All that was said was that the footprint of the development areas was 3.7 acres.

Our guess is that the development will entail about 450,000 to 500,000 sq ft of floor space. If our guess is right, the development cost is probably well above $50 million. We also suspect the City is more certain than what it is saying. After all it has estimated the annual benefit to the City by way of taxes, - property, hospitality etc- at $730,000. That's a pretty precise figure for an uncertain development!

Council member Campbell questioned what had been done in cleaning the site. After all, one of the reasons for the closure of the housing development in 1989 was the hazardous material on the site. He asked also as to who was responsible amongst the City departments for overseeing the clean up. This information was to be supplied, we understand.

The Council member was also interested to know the target group of citizens who would be eligible for the "affordable housing" on the Field. The answer, supplied by the Mayor, was anybody earning between the 50% and 120% of the median income. Council member Gilliard reminded Council of the many people who were removed from the housing development nearly 20 years ago. He hoped that they would be given an opportunity to move back. After all, this was the main reason why he supported the development.

Council members unhappy about traffic build up
The last item on last night agenda related to a rezoning near Bees Ferry Road by the new Wal*mart. The rezoning will allow the construction of an access to the new store but will do little to relieve traffic congestion along the road.

Talking of traffic precipitated discussion amongst some of the Council members about problems they had observed. Council member George, who has an office on Savannah Highway, notices the heavy trucks and congestion that was occurring on the Highway. The trucks were exiting 526 and making for Savannah and joining other traffic that was exiting for Johns Island. He urged that Highway 526 and the Glen McConnell Highway be extended as soon as practical to help relieve this congestion. Council member Morinelli noted that she and Council member Shirley had attended meetings with developers in Dorchester County that were planning communities with 3900 new homes. If each of these houses had 2 cars, the traffic burden on surrounding routes could be unbearable.

We share the Council members concerns. But in the meantime, I ask Council, could you do something about the traffic lights downtown? I come onto the Peninsula twice a week early in the morning. There is not much traffic but the journey across West Ashley and along the Pensinsula takes nearly 30 minutes. It should be only 20 minutes The problem is the traffic lights. I know they are needed, but please, can they be made to operate with some degree of synchrony? At the moment, they change at random, with a needless slowing effect on traffic flow.

Your Comments:

Bar all vehicles below Calhoun St. between 6am & 11pm Mon. Thru Fri. All Trucks and heavy equipment are allowed only by permit ($25 per hour)with prior notice. Create a Shuttle bus system between East Bay St. and Lockwood Blvd. All streets below Calhoun St. should be for pedestrian traffic. No motorized vehicles operated during the aforementioned hours. Residents will be afforded reduced rate passage on shuttle buses during peak travel periods.

Posted by: Just a Thought at April 3, 2005 12:43 AM

I too believe that more traffic lights should be synchronized but I'm not sure if you fully realize the traffic problem for those taking Highway 61 to Bees Ferry Rd to Glen McConnel Pkwy in the morning. On an average off-peak time of day it takes 4 minutes for my brother to leave his neighborhood and arrive at West Ashley High School. During mornings, on the other hand, he sits in traffic for 30 minutes just to travel a few miles. I am also unsure about the proposed traffic circle that the Mayor is hailing as the answer to the problem. Thanks, please send your thoughts.

Posted by: Matthew at April 10, 2005 11:09 PM

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