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Election forum in Radcliffeborough Neighborhood

Contenders for Council and Mayoral positions speak
Warwick Jones

There was little heat emanating from last night's meeting of the Radcliffeborough Neighborhood Association where candidates for the City Mayoral and District 3 Council representative made presentations. In the 5 minutes allotted to each aspirant, all addressed the 3 major issues, defined by the Neighborhood Association, for Radcliffeborough. But issues beyond these received only modest attention at best. Interestingly there was no discussion about the Sofa Store fire. Indeed, the matter got only a fleeting mention by one candidate.

The neighborhood asked speakers to address:
• The need for Coming Street to be converted to 2 way traffic.(Slowing traffic)
• The problem of absentee property owners.(Not looking after properties)
• Livability issues allied with absentee property owners and the litter and degradation of the community by students.

Mayor Riley was the first to speak. He acknowledged and supported the Neighborhood’s concerns. The conversion of Coming Street to 2 way traffic was on the agenda for the next Council meeting. Other changes were planned for traffic along Rutledge and Ashley Avenues. Absentee owners were a problem as was the litter of students. The Livability Court could and should address these issues. He spent some time extolling the virtues of the Livability Court and the close relationship that he had with the College of Charleston. He also noted the formation of a graffiti hotline to aid the removal of graffiti in the City.

The Mayor was followed by the other mayoral candidates. All spoke very well. We won’t attempt to rank their presentations for merit, but we would opine that all were superior to that of The Mayor. Although his presentation was energetic, it lacked coherence and was full of unfinished sentences. He was clearly trying to pack in as much as he could. He may also have had other things on his mind with the revelation earlier in the day of the OSHA fines over the Sofa Store fire.

William Gregorie spoke next and was sympathetic to the neighborhood issues. He noted his experience in dealing with students and suggested it was largely matter of code enforcement. He insinuated that the City had the power but did not exercise it. Taking advantage of the time available because of limited questioning, he spoke of the need to focus on the City’s massive and long time drainage problems. He also spoke of the need to break the cycle of crime and to better educate young mothers, and children. He said he planned to create a position of Deputy Mayor to address the problem of education. He would focus on children below 3 years of age and their mothers. Reflecting their poor education, he spoke of 27 year olds in the community who were now grandmothers. And as for schools generally, he would seek to change voting for the County School Board to single member districts. He would give parents more say in the running of the schools.

Marc Knapp spent little time dealing with the three issues of the neighborhood. He didn’t dismiss them - he simply agreed they needed to be addressed. The Coming Street conversion had taken far too long to occur; the Livability Court does a good job and should deal with the problems relating to students. It was also a matter of hiring more police. He suggested that the 20 new hires mentioned by the Mayor were simply to fill positions created by departures. He called for the hiring of another 100 new officers. He also noted the drainage problems of the City and the poor maintenance performed by the City’s crews in unblocking drains.

Questioned later about the cost of the 100 police positions, Mr. Knapp stated that he estimated the cost at about $5 million a year. It would take some time to build up the force by 100 members but the funds could be found. He claimed there was lots of fat in the City budget. The Contribution to Outside Agencies (charities) which last year consumed $510,000 could be cut. This practice has just been discontinued by the County. He also said that a reduction in legal fees was possible. The fees are boosted by needless litigation such as that relating to stopping the creation of the Town of James Island.

Mr. Omar Brown the other mayoral candidate, may have made the greatest impression on the audience. He is not well known, but as member of the City Police Department, his comments and criticisms had force. His presentation was polished and for this writer, much was learned from his presentation. Like the other candidates, he supported the Neighborhood Association over the 3 issues. But as far as derelict houses were concerned, hew opined that the City permitting system was difficult and deterred many owners from making improvements. But his criticism of the City was trenchant. It needs to do a much better job of cleaning the streets. There was no reason why they could not be cleaned. It was simply a matter of a request from the Neighborhood. A system could be worked with alternate side parking as in other cities. He also referred to City workers lazing off during shifts.

A citizen complained of crime in Radcliffeborough and Mr. Brown acknowledged the problem. There were not enough police in the City, he said. On any night there may be only 2 police officers on duty and assigned to a particular district. But events occurred that required these officers to attend or help deal with incidents in other districts. Often there was nobody available to patrol or deal with minor crime. He advocated a return to bicycle and foot patrols of neighborhoods.

And as for students, they were treated too leniently. The College will make all efforts to aid students if arrested for drunkenness or a minor drug office. The students will be warned and placed on probation. If arrested again for another offence, they will probably seek admission to some program and escape a harsh penalty. And before it is all over, they have left the College.

Contenders for District 3
Like the Mayoral candidates, the contenders for the District 3 Council position agreed with the neighborhood in relation to the three points. Council member Lewis drew on 12 years of experience and explained some of the problems in dealing with the issues and noted that he was one of 12 council members and not the Mayor who had the ultimate responsibility for City administration.

The conversion of Coming Street to one way was about to occur. But traffic calming was not necessarily easy to bring about. Many roads were County or State owned and approval for changes needed County and/or State approval, a process that took time. This also applied to road surfacing. He supported the Livability Court and noted the role he had played in creating it. He also acknowledged the drainage issue and said it was being addressed. But the project which encompasses Radcliffeborough was not easy. It is large and will cost $100 million, a large amount relative to the City budget. He also noted his constant requests to the Mayor for more police and for foot patrols. But he could not bring about the change. It was the Mayor’s prerogative.

Ms. Erika Harrison did not think the solution to the problem brought by college students was a matter of code enforcement. She said the College was a business and the City should d impose “impact fees” on all students who did not live in student dorms. She did not expand on the concept but we concede it sounds interesting. Presumably the College would collect the impact fee and it would be applied to cleaning up the neighborhoods sullied by students. The opposition could be large to such a fee and we suspect there may be legal problems in implementation.

Ms. Harrison spoke of the need to support senior citizens in paying property taxes and looked to some reduction by the City.

Disclosure Marc Knapp writes for Charlestonwatch and Warwick Jones is a member of the Campaign to re elect Councilmember Lewis