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Shrimp n' Grits

Class-One Damage Control or World-Class Cover-up
Lee Walton

In the recent aftermath of Charleston’s world-class public service tragedy that resulted in the loss of nine firefighters, Charleston’s Mayor and his sycophantic administration have adopted nothing short of full court press tactics to deal with mounting adversarial news releases and the rising level of open criticism from expert, professional firefighters and national safety experts throughout the Country. As typical of Riley’s duplicitous efforts to deflect blame and divert accountability from himself and his loyal band of yellow-dog protectors, he’s now adopted the tactically deceptive cloak of self-righteous hypocrisy in a blatant attempt to regain the moral high ground. Three of his current thrusts to deflect the growing number of critics include: championing statewide legislation to mandate retrofitting sprinkler systems in older buildings; dropping or drastically reducing sprinkler system impact and meter fees and monthly service rates; and audaciously suggesting that “No one should be trying to make political hay out of this tragedy.” The utter mendacity of such actions rises to nothing less than world-class levels of dissembling and misrepresentation.

Where was Riley’s support of intense upstate legislative efforts in 2003 to require that hotels and restaurants, statewide, be retrofitted with sprinkler systems following a Greenville fire that tragically claimed six lives in an older hotel with no sprinkler system? It’s not surprising that the Charleston hospitality and restaurant owners lobbied hard to defeat this legislation; a close scrutiny of Riley’s last mayoral State Ethics Commission campaign filing clearly indicates very strong, broad-based financial support from these same sectors of the local tourism industry. Why are sprinklers a necessity now, but were not in 2003? Apparently, it all depends upon whose political “cookies” are in what fire, particularly, with the mayoral election looming in November.

Where was Riley, as an ex officio, albeit voting member, of the Charleston Water System Commission when it voted in early 2006 to drastically increase sprinkler impact and meter fees and monthly rates? Why didn’t he foresee the tragic consequences of his action then as a further hindrance to the installation of sprinklers in all commercial buildings? Why didn’t he follow the vision of Mount Pleasant Waterworks twelve years ago when that commission eliminated sprinkler impact fees, fire service metering requirements and greatly reduced annual fire service fees to encourage sprinkler installation in all buildings located in Mount Pleasant? Could it be that higher utility fees and their projected revenues were necessary to meet the City’s Development Agreement obligations and provide expanded water and sewer service on Daniel Island and the Cainhoy Peninsula? Where was that water system when the main 48-inch supply line ruptured not so long ago and left Greater Charleston to enjoy a “Lowcounrty Boil” for almost a week? Are the recently announced additional elevated water storage tanks being funded by the 2006 increased impact fees that Riley supported in order to prevent another no-water political embarrassment?

As far as making political hay out of the recent tragedy, why not hold Charleston’s Mayor accountable for his “Best Fire Chief in America” who just happens to be a political appointment? Chief Rusty Thomas is a good old boy and long-standing firefighter, but as "chief" material, he’s lacking and too prone to be one of the guys he loves to lead.

When all the dust settles, and you can bet your best putter it will be long after the next mayoral election, Rusty Thomas will be the Mayor’s spear-catcher, if not fall-guy and suffer the consequences for promoting his current “better dead than look bad” attitude for fighting fires. One has to wonder how much professional continuing education Rusty has had during his tenure as Chief. He apparently missed the class on the well-documented dangers of steel truss roof systems with suspended ceiling tiles.

Riley would be better served by letting Rusty speak less and smile more. Quotes like – “I hire everybody. It doesn’t go through my human resources department…You can’t put out fires by standing outside shooting through the windows,” and “As far as if they knew it was steel truss construction and stuff like that, I don’t know if my guys knew or not…” shouldn’t be the first impressions federal OSHA inspectors have of Charleston’s Fire Chief.

In the final analysis, Mayor Riley should remember that it wasn’t the bungled Watergate break-in that brought Nixon down – it was the botched cover-up conspiracy.

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