The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council Meeting June 16

Heated meeting on procurement and hiring policy of the County
Simmering issue with Town of Mount Pleasant
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

It started with the discussion of a $3.6 million contact for road resurfacing. It ended with a call for executive session to discuss the County's policies on hiring and procurement. In between there were a series of very heated exchanges between Council members on the tardiness of the administration in formulating a policy and the lack of communication between Staff and members of the Council.

The contract up for discussion was simply the catalyst to the sharp exchanges. The County acts as the agent for the Charleston Transportation Committee (CTC) and had called for sealed bids to resurface a host of roads through the cities of the County. The lowest bid was from Sanders Brothers Construction of North Charleston for $3.6 million. This was well below the only other bid, from Banks Construction, at $4.4 million. The funds were coming from the State.

Councilmember Darby asked about the policy of hiring in relation to the contract, He wanted to be assured that there was diversity in employment and that the contractor would attempt to draw labor from the areas in which it was working. He pointed to the large number of poor folk in the County and the need for them to be employed. He didn't quite say it but the allusion was there that there were a large number of folk in the area, shall we say from south of Texas, who were displacing local labor. He suggested that the contract be awarded only after some diversity conditions were attached.

His suggestion was not received enthusiastically by all members of Council. Council members Scott and Chairman Stavrinakis expressed sympathy with his intention. Now was not the time to change County procurement policy, they said. It was possible to change policy but this should only come after discussion amongst staff and Council. If Council wanted to change policy immediately and impose it as a condition to the contract up for discussion then the contract would have to be put out again for bidding. As Council Member Inabinett pointed out, specialists are also employed in road laying and the application of diversity may not be so easy.

Council member Darby was incensed by the seeming prevarication of the Council and staff. He stated that the issue of diversity in employment had been raised at a Finance Committee meeting some months ago when hiring was being considered to administer the new sales tax proceeds. Staff was asked to begin its consideration then. Yes, there should be sufficient time to properly consider the issues. But the Staff and Council had time! How much time was needed? Why has there been such a delay in formulating a policy?

Mr. Roland Windham conceded that there should have been the time but the work load on staff had been heavy over the last month or so. There were matters relating to the new sales tax and Budget preparation in particular that got in the way. He also said that staff had been working on the issue but the formulation was not complete. The County was not sitting on its hands and had initiated some "in house" programs to better educate staff.

The issue progressivley became wider and Council member Bostic joined the battle with some indignation that policy changes were being considered with some Council members uninformed. He was roused by a document from which Council member Darby read and which we understand was not available to the public. The document had a reference to some proposed policy changes, we believe. Council member Bostic warned that suggestions by Council members are taken sometimes taken too seriously by staff. When it comes to policy, all members of Council should be involved.

Chairman Stavrinakis conceded that some things had remained undone too long and that there had not been the fullest consultation with Council members. He understood the concern of Council member Bostic.

It was clear that the majority of Council preferred to award the contract and to wait for another time to shape a new policy in relation to hiring and procurement. But this was not good enough for Council member Darby. "The word "wait" was a too familiar word in the ears of poor people", he stated. He was not prepared to wait. He wanted action now and called for an "executive session" to discuss the matter. He was prepared to take up the matter in public, a challenge that Councilmember Bostic was prepared to accept but Council voted to go to "executive session". This was to be held on the completion of the Finance Committee meeting. We have no knowledge of what transpired.

Putting Mount Pleasant on notice
Like the previous issue, the subject before the Planning Committee seemed hardly contentious. But it too led to some harsh words. This time, they were directed to the Town of Mount Pleasant. Council member Scott suggested that Council look seriously as to whether it should approve requests for sales tax funds for financing projects in Mount Pleasant. What prompted such a harsh comment was a rezoning request before the Committee. The subject 1 acre property is located on the corner of Highway 17N and McKnight Road, just outside the boundary of Mount Pleasant. The Committee had a request before it to change the zoning from Rural Residential to Neighborhood Commercial. This was not contentious and it was duly approved.

Council member Scott stated that the problems for the owner had now really begun and was beyond the immediate control of the County Council. The owners wanted to have water and sewage services linked to the site. These are available from the Mount Pleasant Waterworks. However it was the policy of the Mount Pleasant Council to provide the services on only 2 conditions - If the property were contiguous to Mount Pleasant, then the property had to be annexed into the township. If it were not contiguous, then the zoning had to be compatible with the Mount Pleasant Overlay.

Council member Scott felt that Mount Pleasant was holding the property owner hostage by withholding water and sewage until it joined the town. This was not right. He also thought that there was a legal obligation under Federal law to provide the services to the property owner. After all, the capacity was available and the property owner was willing to pay the cost of linkage. Council agreed to have its legal department look at the issue.

This is the second example we have seem this week of such "hostage taking". Senator Ford sent a letter to members of County Council urging action similar to that suggested by Council member Scott. The property to which Senator Ford referred is also in the unincorporated area of the County and close to the township. In this case, there is a suspicion that the town wants to have the property annexed so it can be condemn it and make way for a new road.

Decision on Conservation Bank deferred for 120 days
At the previous session, the Finance Committee asked the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) to offer an opinion on the Conservation Bank ordinance proposed by Council member Bostic. It was given two weeks which meant it could only he discussed at one meeting of the GAB. Understandably, the GAB thought it needed more time and sought to delay consideration by the Finance Committee for 6 months. This was too long the Committee decided. It deferred consideration for 120 days.

The discussion of the bank ordinance was not long and the arguments were similar to those presented before. Council members Scott and Bostic were prepared to approve the ordinance last night in its existing form but other members wanted a sufficient time for review. Chairman Stavrinakis also suggested that a public hearing be held.

Our view is still that the Conservation Bank may be a good thing but its creation is premature. We think that the content of the ordinance needs a good airing and the role of the proposed bank, the Parks and Recreation Commission and GAB in disposing of the sales tax funds marked for greenbelts needs to be properly determined. A public hearing is very necessary. We made a written submission to Council and it can be accessed by pressing here

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