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City Council Election Debates

Contenders for District 12 square off
How independent would Kathleen Wilson be?
Warwick Jones, Editor

In our view Council member George was the winner. His opponent, Kathleen Wilson spoke confidently and handled well the questions put before her. But Council member George's experience and knowledge of detail shone through. His voting record on Council also lent substance to his thoughts, a quality that was lacking in some of those expressed by Ms Wilson. We will come back to this later.

Council member George and Ms. Wilson faced off last night in the first of a series of debates organized by the League of Women Voters. The debate last night was between the two contenders for District 12, encompassing much of James Island. Debates between contenders for other seats are scheduled over the next 2 weeks.

Similar views except on McLeod Plantation
Ms. Wilson in her concluding remarks commented that her views in most instances were similar those of Council member George. The major difference was in relation to the Mc Leod Plantation. Council member George was opposed to the sale to the School of Building Arts (SOBA) and wanted the plantation preserved, a view that he has expressed many times. Ms Wilson was happy about the sale to SOBA and sympathized with the Historic Charleston Foundation as to the reasons it sold the plantation to SOBA.

Although she did not mention it in her summary, there were also some differences in relation to another attempt to form a township of James Island. She would support its formation if this were what citizens wanted. She would make every attempt to work with the new town. Council member George did not say anything contrary to this but he did say that the formation of the township was now a bad idea and he could not support it, a view that surprised some of us considering his support in the past. What changed his view is the uncertainly that will be injected into the relations between the new town, the City of Charleston, the County, the State, and the number of public agencies. The City of Charleston has threatened a lawsuit and this could make it difficult for any of the bodies involved in planning or infrastructure to consider seriously any development work. Because of this, infrastructure spending on James Island and West Ashley could generally suffer.

Most important issues facing district?
The debate kicked off with the League of Women Voters asking the contenders to list the most important issues facing the District. Ms Wilson was first to field the question and named development, traffic and the quality of life. Time precluded lengthy elaboration but she noted that there was too much development and in consequence, too much traffic and in turn, the quality of life had deteriorated. Not surprisingly, Council member George responded with a similar answer. He specifically called for the completion of I-526, financing for which is now being considered by the County. He spoke of the need to keep the Urban Growth Boundary in place. But he added the need for greenspace, and specifically mentioned the need to preserve McLeod Plantation.

Other questions and responses
Other questions and the responses were;
One thing you would change on City Council?
Wilson. Allow more discussion between members and greater attempts to build consensus. Hve more committees with citizens involved.
George. Have draft of City budget available earlier for members. There is not enough time to discuss this important document. In consequence, questions that should be asked are not asked.
Rezoning of Grimball Tract? Both were opposed and are also opposed to any rezoning that increases the density of dwellings on James Island.
Support for African American Museum? Wilson. Will support and can see no harm in the City helping financially.
George: Opposed as there are many other projects deserving of funding. City has already provided planning and infrastructure. It may be a noble cause but $30 million cost is a large burden (Actually we believe the projected cost exceeds $50 million) Museum should be funded privately.
Retention of Ansonborough Field as greenspace? George. The Field should be retained as greenspace, a view he has held for some years. Better to place "affordable housing" elsewhere.
Wilson. Would like more information but generally supports the City's position. The low level nature of the Field may be impediment to housing but its low-lying nature is little different to much of Charleston. She would look again at the issue of contaminaton of the Field.
Accessibility to electorate? Both promised to be very accessible.
Appearance before Council and Planning bodies? This was an easy one for Council member George and perhaps unfair for Ms.Wilson. George: Has appeared some hundreds of times and has been fighting issues since 1975, well before becoming a member of Council.
Wilson: Has not appeared before Planning but has appeared before Council on some issues.
Property Taxes? Both agree as to the need for some relief. George: Looks to the imposition of a state sales tax.
Wilson. Problem was the school budget more than anything else. City had held down rates, suggested possibility of relief specifically for senior citizens, high taxes on second residences and luxury autos, and the possibility of a sales tax.
Stabilization of City spending? Wilson: Need to spend wisely and establish a "rainy day" fund. Increases have been related to safety more than anythig else.
George: Problem is debt service. Debt has been rising faster than any thing else and is equivalent to about $700 per person.
Address urban sprawl on James Island? George: Island is about 85% developed and fully developed would have a population of about 45,000 persons. We need to keep Urban Growth Boundary in place and not increase zoning. Need to complete infrastructure.
Wilson: Essentially the same but noted need to complete I-526
Golf tunnel across Maybank Highway? Both opposed.
How to make Charleston a safer City? George; Hire the right person to replace Chief Greenberg. Look more to crime in the City and deal with drug problem. Maybe increase foot patrols.
Wilson: Essentially the same.

Closing statements
Both contenders were allowed a short time for a closing statement. Ms. Wilson noted the similarity of views with Council member George except in relation to the Mc Leod Plantation. She again mentioned the reasons for her view. Council member George asked the question of voters as to who has the experience, knowledge, integrity, and courage to represent the District? Who will work and hold the City accountable for it actions and spending. Fiduciary oversight is the most important consideration in voting on November 1, he said.

Can Ms. Wilson be independent of the Mayor when it comes to voting?
And this brings us to the question that was not posed last night. How independent of the Mayor would either contender be in shaping their voting decisions on Council? Council member George's record speaks for itself. He has a conspicuous record of being outspoken on important issues. Skim the archives on our website if evidence of this is needed. Can we be sure that Ms. Wilson will exercise the same independence and integrity? As she was picked and supported by the Mayor, we have our suspicions. She indicated her opposition last night to some issues that are supported by the Mayor. But when it comes to a live show down, will her position be resolute?

We notice the lead of the political flyer in support of Kathleen Wilson available at last night's meeting were:
"Kathleen Wilson will
1. Address problems caused by increase traffic on James Island.
2, Control Suburban sprawl. "

Funny this. These are issues that Council member George has been trying to address for as long as we have been attending Council meetings. By and large, these issues continue to be ignored by the Mayor and the majority of Council and indeed, we would add that the problems have been exacerbated by the City. Does Ms. Wilson really think that her views will make a difference? Ms Wilson may indeed be talented and full of goodwill. But too many see her run for Council as an attempt by the Mayor to rid Council of its most outspoken critic, and to replace him with somebody who is compliant. This will be a big obstacle for Ms Wilson to overcome.