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County Council October 18

County too tardy in shaping Diversity Policy
Some reservations about Infrastructure Bank submission
Warwick Jones, standing in for Shawn Keller who is on military duty in Iraq

There were two issues before the Special meeting of the Finance Committee yesterday. - a Diversity Policy for the County, and an application to the State Infrastructure Bank for financing to compete I-526 and the road linkage between the proposed container terminal in North Charleston and I-26. These were issues unresolved from the regular Finance Committee meeting of last week. Yesterday's meeting promised to be contentious and it was.

Anguished by lack of action
The call for the creation of a policy on diversity was made earlier this year and was headed by Council members Darby and Pryor. Their anguish over the lack of action increased in recent months and at the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday last, Council member Darby demanded that something be produced by staff for the meeting today. His demand was supported by other Council members though with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Administrator does what he is told
Council Administrator Windham did as he was told but clearly his heart was not into it, at least in preparing a meaningful document with such short notice. He began his presentation but ultimately gave up because he thought the exercise was a waste of time. He thought that at the least, a Diversity Policy should wait the completion of the Disparity Study that Council had authorized.

Mixed feelings
It is not easy to understand where every body stood in this issue. The position of Council members Darby and Pryor was easy to establish. They felt that there had been plenty of time for action and that staff should have been well on their way to preparing a Policy. The document that Staff had prepared last night went only a very small way in providing them with what they thought was needed.

Council member Scott, often at odds with Council members Darby and Pryor, was very supportive last night. He had questioned the inordinate length of time that it had taken, and the skimpy nature of the documents now before Council.

No council member took an extreme position in advocating that a Diversity Policy was a waste of time. The issue really was how fast could it be prepared, the involvement of legal staff, and whether it should wait completion of the Disparity Study. The latter was the view of Council members Fava and Condon, Council Chairman Stavrinakis, and possibly of Council member Wallace who was not at the meeting.

Executive session leads to some agreements
It was not until after the executive session that some resolution looked within the Committee's grasp. Council member Bostic proposed that Staff attempt to define a philosophy, and draw on some of the policies that Staff had gathered from other municipalities and cities, examples of which had been distributed to Council members. This document would provide the basis for discussion amongst Council members for further refining and additions. The final definition of the Policy would await the Disparity Study which still could be some months away. Council member Darby stated he was tired of waiting. But again, Staff indicated that something would be before Council by its next meeting. It may not be to all of the Council members liking, but it represented some progress.

Some opposition to Infrastructure Bank submission
The lines drawn on the next issue were far easier to determine. At the Finance meeting on Thursday last, some Council members protested at the limited amount of time they had been given to consider the proposed submission to the State Infrastructure Bank for funds to complete I- 526, and the road linking the proposed container port in North Charleston to I-26. They called for a special meeting to again consider it.

Savings of about $80 million
Essentially, the argument for the proposal is that if accepted by the State Bank, the County will save about $80 million, an amount estimated by Council member Scott and Chairman Stavrinakis. The saving arises with the Bank paying for all of the cost of extending I- 526 with no commitment necessary by the County. This saving becomes possible by the County committing to expenditure on other State Roads. The State has no intention of spending on these roads and the County has to pick up the burden and would do so regardless of the success of the State Bank application. So nothing has been lost by the commitment in the submission. (So you have problems understanding this? So did some of the Council members. Refer to our coverage of the Thursday Finance meeting for more details though don't expect full enlightenment)

Speed of the essence
Council member Stavrinakis declared that it was urgent to move fast on the submission as all submissions before the Bank were dealt with on a first-come first-serve basis. He also opined that the submission would have more chance of acceptance if both I-526 and the Port access road were included. It is possible that the input of the Mayors of North Charleston and Charleston had something to do with it.

Three members opposed
When it came to a voting, only three members of Council were against the submission. Council member Condon expressed concern about the extension of I-526. There were a lot of people against this extension. It may relieve pressure on some roads but it would add to congestion of some of the smaller roads that will tie into the extension. She also stated that the Greenbelt (GAB) and Transportation Advisory Boards (TAB) should be consulted on the application. Public hearings had recently been conducted and it was possible that the public had things to say about the extension of I-526. Chairman Stavrinakis had previously stated that sales-tax funds would not be used for either I-526 or the access road. The spending on other roads would be funded from the sales tax but the commitment was very general. The specific roads have yet to be determined and they would be chosen with the input of the GAB and TAB.

African American communites could be hurt
Council members Pryor and Darby were more concerned about the port access road. As Council member Darby pointed out to Chairman Stavrinakis, the votes from folk in the areas impacted by the access road were those that put Council members Pryor and himself in office and thereby ultimately, gave Mr. Stavrinakis the Chair of Council. Council member Darby noted that too often had roads been built at the expense of the poorest members of the community. He noted that previously the container port was planned for Daniel Island but this affluent and relatively recently developed part of the County was able to get the port location moved. The communities now in the path of the possible access road were long standing African American. He could not support a new road that would unfavorably impact them. Indeed, he would look to means of stopping it.

State makes the decisions
Chairman Stavrinakis was in sympathy with the Council member. But he claimed what had transpired was out of the control of County Council. These decisions were made by the State and if the County wanted any say in these sort of decisions, it would be best to join the State by making an application to the Infrastructure Bank. He did say that the siting of the access road had been largely determined and in his view would have little adverse impact on the communities mentioned by Council member Darby. But he also said that a number of things had to happen such as impact studies before the siting was final.

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