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County Council - "In flux" or doing its job?

We take issue with the P&C, again!
Warwick Jones

Today's front-page headline in the Post and Courier was "County Council in flux". The tenor of the critical story that followed was that Council is divided on many issues, some of these have racial overtones, staff is particularly sensitive to criticism, and some are thinking of leaving. And all of this followed the introduction of single member district voting.

"The leadership of the County is divided, bruised by racial tensions and lacking someone able to unify its sparring factions… Some veteran council members have hoped that the situation would heal itself as new members learned the nature of their jobs but several now fear that things are getting worse."

What does the P&C want?
We ask what does the Post and Courier want? Does it want a Council where there are no differences of opinion, that opinion be withheld if it offends staff, and that a leader stifles all differences? Does it want a council like that of the City of Charleston where there are few differences of opinion, little debate, and decisions are made by the mayor and rubber stamped by Council?

We could have lived with the headline of "Council in flux" but not with what followed. The word "flux" has a number of meanings but presumably "change" is that intended. Yes, there has been change compared with the previous Council but it has been for the better in the opinion of this writer. There is greater transparency, and in some respects greater sensitivity for the view of citizens. And if some of the new members are zealous in attempting to increase diversity in hiring and procurement, it was because too little effort was made in the past.

Council is functioning properly
Council is functioning properly. Issues are brought before it and discussed and debated. So there are divisions, but isn't this normal in any properly functioning elected body? So staff is upset by the attitude of Council? I dare say that dissatisfaction with some aspects of policy occurs in all big organizations. It certainly is true in all the organizations in which this author has worked. And I know it is also true in the Post and Courier. So why should County Council be so different?

How important were differences with Council in administrator's departure?
Mr. Roland Windham, the County Administrator planned to leave the County and announced his decision some months ago. He indicated that a number of factors played a role in his decision, and some unhappiness in his dealing with Council members was one of the factors. He recently announced that he wanted to leave earlier than planned. We think Mr. Windham is a very competent and respected administrator He has served the County well. He is leaving in a dignified and respectful manner. How large a part the differences with some Council members played, I don't know. But has every government administrator, or chief executive always been in agreement with the collective view of council or board respectively on every issue? That would be nice but it is not real life. There will always be differences, but the Council or Board dictates policy and the administrator or chief executive respectively must swallow it, even if they choke. Alternatively they can resign. We know Mr. Windham suffered criticism from some of the new Council members but as far as we are aware, he always had the support of full Council. We would hope that differences with one or two council members would not have been enough to prompt his departure.

Greater transparency with new Chairman
Robert Behre is his article states that Council is "lacking someone to unify its sparring factions" Has the paper noted the form of government of the Council? Members are elected to Council by single member districts and they in turn elect a Chairman for a year. There is no mayor or similarly elected person. The Chairman, in a sense, is the leader of the Council but is it necessary that he "unify" Council on all issues? Personally we like the fact that there are "sparring factions" and the airing of differences. We also note the fact that Chairman Stavrinakis consistently has allowed Council members to fully vent their differences and concerns, and without losing control of the meeting. This has led to discomfit on occasion for staff, other council members and very frequently, for him. But he has suffered with dignity and grace. Under his chairmanship, there has been a far greater degree of transparency in business compared to the previous Council whose Chairman was far more authoritarian.

Issues over attorney and reporting line
Much comment is related to the position of Mr. Joe Dawson, the County Attorney. It pointed to the differences amongst Council members as to whether he should report to the Council - as it is presently - or to the administrator. It also highlighted his high pay and the method of its determination. We agree these are issues, but their existence does not threaten the viability of Council,

New members hold heads high
And finally the new members themselves. They are accused of being the instigators of the change. We are sure they would agree and we are equally sure that they would hold their heads high in pride. They came to wreak change and they have wrought. And if the electorate is happy with what they have wrought and we suspect it is, it will support them at the next election.

Obviously not everybody appreciates the change. There was an effort to dislodge Council member Pryor in the Democratic Party primary and replace him with a more pliant representative. This went nowhere when the community came solidly to the member's support and the proposed candidate fully reflected on the purpose of his sponsors.

The new Council members, particularly Council members Darby and Pryor, have asked for, and on various occasions, pleaded and demanded, answers to questions. Sometimes their manner was offensive, sometimes naíve, sometimes unreasonable. But it was never lacking in good intent. Yes, they have bruised egos and brushed aside conventions. But they are fulfilling voters' hopes. We hope that wailing by the Post and Courier will make no difference.

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