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County Council September 28

OJT stays, County-wide election of Council Chairman mulled
Vote on Conservation Bank board members deferred
Warwick Jones The issue of an "on the job training" (OJT) provision in road contracts financed by the half cent sales tax should now be laid to rest. Council member Mc Keown sought to raise the issue again yesterday. He asked that the OJT provision be applied only to those contracts for which there were matching Federal funds and that funds marked to finance OJT should be taken from the Federal match. His motion looked as though it was going to die from lack of a second, but Council member Bostic stepped up and seconded the motion to allow more discussion. But after the discussion, he withdrew his support and the motion really did die.

We don't if the issue was fully understood
As we said in our note on the last Council meeting, the issue seemed to be not fully understood by all Council members. There was no appropriation or estimated cost of $6.5 million as suggested by Council member McKeown. Deputy Chief Administrator Bustraan noted that the $6.5 million figure was an estimate prepared by staff and reflected the wages that might be paid all persons employed under OJT over the life of the sales tax. It seemed to us that the figure had little relevance at all and was certainly not a guide to the cost of the OJT provision.

Possibly there would be no increase in cost to the County
Mr. Bustraan told Council that a County road contract would provide for the creation of an OJT position for every $1 million or $1.5 million in value of the contract. It was impossible to say whether the OJT provision would lead to an increase in the cost to the County. As Chairman Stavrinakis and others said, there indeed may be no increase in the cost at all. Contractors tended to hire for each contract they won and did not keep a full complement of workers permanently on their payroll. Most likely a contractor, on winning a contract would hire persons requiring OJT regardless of a provision in a contract. And again, the level of skill that was required was not high and it should take only a limited amount of time for a worker to reach full proficiency. It was possible that having an OJT provision would make no difference to the price of a contract and the cost to the County.

I suppose the only question one is tempted to ask is whether a provision for OJT in road contracts is truly necessary. It seems that according to the debate last night, contractors will be training folk regardless. Perhaps the required provision is redundant but is just good insurance.

Should the Chairman be elected "at large", and be full time?
The issue of an elected and full time chairman to head County Council is not new. It hasn't surfaced for some time but Council member McKeown raised it last night. He did not seek any action on the issue but to give it some life with possible action down the track.

Unlike that on his OJT motion, the debate was lively with members divided on the issue, but in varying degrees. Council member McKeown said that the election of a Chairman would give voters a louder voice. But he said the Chairman should be one of the elected Council members and no new district should be created. He also thought that by being elected "at large", the Chairman would have a higher standing in dealing with other elected officials within in the County jurisdictions and with the Mayors of the cities and towns within the County.

Chairman position is indeed full time
The discussion thereafter was wide ranging and we won't attempt to make all the attributions. Chairman Stavrinakis, and Council members Scott and Bostic who have served as Chairman at various times, all commented that the Chairman position was full time. It was not designed to be but it was. Council member Scott said when you leave the Council, the problems of a public entity employing 2100 persons and with a budget of $360 million remain with you all the time.

Council member Condon raised the question of regulations relating to the position of Chairman and how they could be changed and what would need to be done. Council member Pryor also questioned the process of voting. Do you have a separate vote (after the November elections) to elect the Chairman from the already elected council members? Or do you vote for the Chairman only from the Council members that are not up for reelection?

Chairman Stavrinakis was not sure that the status of the Chairman would be improved by an "at large" election. He said that in his dealings, the mayors had always been respectful. He also said that the Chairman could benefit from more executive powers to be exercised within "this building but not outside" (the County Admin. offices)

"What is broken?"
Council member Scott clearly enjoyed the discussion and observed that he had never seen Council member Inabinett so animated over an issue. Councilmember Inabinett was the first to speak in response to Council member McKeown and was clearly opposed to what was proposed. Voters already had a voice in the election of the Council members and the Chairman, he said. He didn't want any of his colleagues to have greater authority than he did. What is broken he asked? There has been "no outcry for change".

Party politics could take over
Council member Pryor was concerned that party politics may take over. He noted that the majority of folk in Charleston were Republican and a county-wide vote could make the Chairman position permanently Republican. This was disputed by a number of Council members who argued that personality was more persuasive than political party. Council member Fava stated that party politics really had no relevance in local government and elections should be non partisan.

Chairman Stavrinakis wrapped up the discussion and commented that the ideas of Council member McKeown had merit. But Charleston County does not have a form of government that lends itself to having a Chief Executive. Staff is responsible to all of Council just not the Chairman. He also did not think that the number of Council members should be increased. Overall he thought the discussion on the issue had been worthwhile.

Some issues on Conservation Bank Board election
The County agreed to create a Conservation Bank over a year ago with the idea of helping to finance greenbelt acquisitions and transactions in the County. The Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB) later recommended and the Country agreed that the proposed bank be used as the vehicle to manage much of the application, approval and funding process. Last night, the Council was to vote from the large list of applicants as to who would make up the board. However, a vote was deferred to the next Finance Committee meeting.

The reason for the deferral was two fold. Firstly, unlike the GAB, individual Council members do not get to pick a board member. The board members must be approved by a majority vote of the full Council. Applicants also must choose one of nine categories under which they fall to be entitled to stand - i.e. there is one position for a realtor, one for a lawyer, one for a farmer etc. It was not clear to the County under which categories some of the applicants fell and more time was needed to sort out the applications. Secondly, a number of the applicants were on the GAB. Legal opinion given to the County suggests that a citizen cannot be a member of both the GAB and the Bank boards. Some of these GAB members may want to reconsider their applications.

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