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City Council, January 23

State of the City, the Smoking Ban, and Palm Rose peddlers
Our views
Marc Knapp

There were three stories arising out of yesterday’s City Council meeting. The Post & Courier reported on them and we won’t attempt to duplicate its effort. But, not surprisingly we hope, we have our own views.

Firstly, the State of the City address by the Mayor. There were no surprises. He opened his address with reference to crime and plans to deal with it which included the formation of a Citizens Committee. He noted the hiring of the new Police Chief Mullen and complimented him on his he excellent job and then went on to note the low taxes in the City, parks, greenspace, planning etc. But there were two things that caught our eye, and an omission.

Monuments to Dr. King and the Irish
The Mayor stated that the City planned to erect a statue of Martin Luther King and a Committee would be formed to implement the plan. We have no issue with the plan. Dr. King is one of the most important entities on the historic stage of the United States and his role in civil rights is paramount. But why has it taken so long for the City to move, and why now? OK, better late than never, but could it be that this is an election year?

And the P&C did not report that the Mayor said a monument will be erected in Charlotte Street park downtown to the efforts of the Irish in shaping Charleston’s history. We never noticed the clamor for such a monument and we don’t know who particularly the Mayor had in mind. Of course, we can’t help noticing the Mayor’s ancestry and that of some of his supporters.

OK, we are unkind but we bet y’all were thinking along these lines!

Nothing on preservation code
But the omission from the address may also be telling. Police Chief Mullen, Fire Chief “Rusty” and others received accolades. Even Arthur Lawrence who received the Harold Koon award last night, an award given for volunteer public service public, was given prime coverage. But there was no reference to Josh Martin, hired to oversee the City’s planning, preservation and zoning. Nor was there any mention of the efforts underway to critically look as these ordinances, nor mention of the effort, sponsored jointly by the Historic Charleston Foundation to look at the City’s preservation code.

Probably no single subject is more important to Charleston than preservation. It is the foundation of the City’s major industry, tourism. And preservation didn’t get a mention. Unintentional oversight or something more? Mr. Martin’s efforts so far have drawn applause, including our own. But his independence and dedication may be putting him on a collision course with the Mayor who probably does not want to see any further impediments to developments in the City. We will see.

And then there was the passing reference to CPAD - Citizens Patrols Against Drugs. This effort has been very successful in curbing drug dealing on the East side. Patrols are planned for the Westside and are underway in parts of North Charleston. The initiative for this effort lies mainly with County Council members Darby and Pryor who were encouraged by Council member Mitchell to begin a program for the Eastside. With success so loudly proclaimed, why didn't the Mayor make more of it?

Smoking ban tightened
Considering the line up of speakers, we thought the smoking ban ordinance before Council would be watered down. It wasn’t and indeed, in the opinion of Council member Shirley, it was tightened.

We covered the planned ordinance in our last note on January 10. At the Council meeting earlier this month, there were a host of speakers for the ordinance and few against. The position was reversed last night with the majority of the 20 plus speakers opposed to the ban. But as Council member Shirley ruefully and correctly predicted as he rose to speak against the ordinance, it would make no difference to the outcome.

Two amendments discussed
Much of Council’s discussion was about two amendments made to the proposed ordinance. One related to the minimum distance between smokers and the entrance to an establishment. The original ordinance said “smoking is prohibited within a distance of 15 feet outside an indoor area where smoking is prohibited”. The “15 feet” was changed to “a reasonable distance”. The other related to the allowance of smoking at “cigar bars” and the definition of a “cigar bar”.

“Cigar Bar” means any establishment in existence as of the date of the adoption of this ordinance which a) serves alcohol for consumption by patrons on the premises; b) either itself or in conjunction with an affiliated entity operating within the same premises derives 30% or more of its gross revenues from the sale of tobacco products or related paraphernalia; c) shall permit the smoking of cigars and other tobacco products by patrons on the premises”….

Smoking bars “dead”
Council member Shirley pointed to how restrictive this was in combination with another section of the ordinance and which meant that establishments had very limited ability to adjust to the proposed ordinance and set up a “Cigar Bar”. In others words, bars that allowed smoking were “dead”!

Council member Lewis noted that the police would be enforcing the smoking ban. What a waste of manpower when their efforts were sorely need to fight crime! And what was a “reasonable distance”?

Council member Gilliard also noted the seeming harsh penalties for infringement – up to fines of $500 and 30 days imprisonment. City legal counsel said that these were the maximum and proscribed by SC Law. However, penalties were unlikely to be so harsh.

Challenge to ordinance possible
We confess to having sympathy with those that looked to some relaxation of the ordinance. Smoking to me is offensive, but if folk wish to smoke they should be allowed to do so in bars or establishments which particularly cater to smokers. We also note that the proposed ordinance may be challenged. This is the opinion of City legal staff. Staff also noted that the Supreme Court is looking at an ordinance proposed by Sullivans Island. The Court could strike down what was proposed on the basis that only the State is allowed to introduce such an ordinance. But such a decision was unlikely in staff’s opinion. Some Council members thought it prudent to wait for the Supreme Court decision before proceeding. However, it could be 18 months or so before the case was heard and a decision made.

Mayor Riley was the final speaker on the issue and declared solid support for the ban and the proposed amendments. He was opposed to any deferment, for 2 weeks to allow the study of Greenville and other municipal ordinances, or indefinitely for the Supreme Court verdict. All but Council members Shirley, Morinelli, Lewis and Mitchell agreed with him.

Palm rose peddler ordinance passed
And finally, the palm rose peddlers. The ordinance dealing with these young vendors of palm roses was the last item on the agenda. Considering the Council meeting started at 4.30 pm and had stretched to 9.30 pm, Council members and the rest of us were keen to go home. Consequently there was little discussion and the 14 page ordinance was passed without any dissent. Council member Gilliard noted that the language relating to criminal investigation was still in the draft but was assured that it would be removed.

Although we support the ordinance, or at least what it sets out to do, we can’t help feeling that the effort is overkill. However, the new ordinance also relates to the sale of food and drink from stationary vehicles. It came about because of complaints by retailers and others of the offensive behavior of some youth, and the impact on businesses. As a result, we have a long ordinance which proscribes behavior, training, permitting, fees, times for vending, and areas allowed for vending.

Council members listened to a presentation by Jimmy Bailey, (yes, the same man that ran against the Mayor at the last election) on the virtues of encouraging entrepreneurship in youth, something the City is doing by holding classes to potential vendors in the St Julian Devine establishment on the Eastside. Mr. Bailey got a strong ovation when he closed his speech from the podium that it “felt good up here”!

Source of palm fronds could be a problem
Council member Evans and the Mayor obliquely referred to concerns by some citizens on the Peninsula – kids climbing trees and injuring themselves and the City providing palm fronds for classes at St Julian Devine. We have only heard it expressed by friends, and seen it in letters to the Editor of the Post and Courier, but it seems the major source of palm fronds is trees on private properties over which youth trespass with impunity. As importantly, the wholesale stripping of young palms leaves (they have to be young) from trees leads to their demise, we understand.

So it is well and good to have the new ordinance and to teach youth how to make roses from palm fronds, and to vend legally and with courtesy. But we hope the City can provide this likely larger group of entrepreneurs with a source of palm fronds, for we fear what might happen if doesn’t.

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