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P&C criticizes County’s contribution to charities again

But why is it ignoring the same practice of the City?
Warwick Jones

Everybody can express an opinion including the Post and Courier. Since the budget session last year, it has been very critical of the County’s practice of distributing funds to charities. The practice has existed for some years but last year was the first the newspaper questioned it. It questioned it again in an editorial last Sunday.

We concede some questions needed to be asked. And since the issue was first raised by the newspaper last year, the County has made changes and tightened up the criteria for distributions. But what surprises us, is that the City of Charleston has a similar program and the newspaper never mentions it. We wonder why?

County budgeted about $315,000 in fiscal 2007
To recapitulate, the County budgeted to distribute $315,000 to charities (Outside Agencies) this fiscal year. The amounts in previous years were of a similar magnitude. Council members nominated the charities of their choice and the whole package of distributions was agreed to by full Council. It is true that prior to this fiscal year, Council members had wide discretion in their choices. But at last year’s discussion, largely driven by Council member Condon, conditions were imposed - the recipient must be a registered charity, it must meet reporting and auditing requirements, the purpose of the funds must be clearly defined etc.

The new conditions imposed by the Council were not enough for the two new members Thurmond and Schweers who at the last meeting of the Finance Committee expressed displeasure with the whole process and asked that it be terminated. (See County Council, March 1, 2007) Council member Bostic, who spoke against the process last year, joined them. But their effort to terminate it failed. Council member Condon asked that criteria for allocation be more fully determined and Council agreed.

City budgeted over $500,000 in fiscal 2007
We first learned of the City’s practices when we attended a budget session late last year. The City had allocated $500,000 for Assistance Programs (distribution to charities) from the General Fund. We asked in Citizen’s Participation why there was no scrutiny of these amounts and reminded the Council that the County had received considerable criticism about its distributions. In what was a very rare occurrence for us, the Mayor and CFO rose immediately to rebut our remarks. The application for funds was a formal process. The applications were scrutinized by a committee, and ranked according to defined criteria. What’s more, the County had approached the City and had modeled its new process on the City’s, they said.

As we have been attending City Council meetings for some year and never heard any discussion about these distributions, we confess to surprise. But on reflection, we ask who picks the Committee and what are the criteria? I am sure that the City would tell us if we asked but the purpose of this note is not address the issue of whether the practice of both the County and City is right or wrong. It is whether the Post and Courier is even handed in its criticism? And a perusal of the list of recipients of City funds would suggest there is plenty of scope and justification for the P&C to ask the same questions it is asking the County.

No discussion by City Council
We would also make theses observations. The distributions by the County were discussed and agreed to in Council meetings – and last year at great length. We don’t recall any issues over a single recipient of funding, but the final list was of those remaining after a culling by staff. In the case of the City, the distributions were just part of the overall budget. There was no discussion at all over the distributions. Indeed, the item could have been easily missed as it was just a part of the budget papers. We are not suggesting that any recipient was undeserving but there was more opportunity for public scrutiny of the County list than there was of the City’s list. So why was the City ignored by the P&C?

To see the Editorial in last Sunday’s edition of the Post and Courtier, press Download file
To see the County’s budgeted 2007 distributions to Outside Agencies, press Download file
To see the City’s budgeted distribution to charities in the last 3 years, press Download file

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