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City Council, October 9, 2007

Annual Police Department Report- too many words dilute the substance!
Council member Morinelli gets feisty
Marc Knapp

Judging from the TV cameras, the presentation by Police Chief Mullen was to be the highlight of the evening. He was to give the first of the planned Annual Police Department reports. Despite the standing ovation from many of the attendees, we were disappointed. The chief spoke well. But there were too many words, and they diluted the substance. He spoke of broad plans and objectives but mostly in conceptual form rather than in facts. There was the expected hype and praise. The words “world class” crept also into the presentation suggesting the Mayor or his speech writer had a hand in the preparation. .

Don’t get me wrong. Faint praise for the Chief’s speech cannot be construed as criticism of his performance. We think, as do many others, the Chief is doing a good job. He certainly enjoys a wider range of support than his predecessor. And Mayor Riley deserves a compliment for choosing him.

Technology was mentioned a number of times in the Chief’s presentation and its ability to make the Police department more efficient. He spoke of specialized vehicles to combat terrorism and deal with disasters, and of a data bank to allow citizens to tap into crime statistics broken down into neighborhoods. Other points were:
• The partnership with the Federal, state and municipal law enforcement agencies has improved with his tenure
• The bi-monthly Citizen Advisory Group meetings recently initiated have been very successful
• The PD had played a leading role in the formation of Camp Hope, an annual camp for 50 children over the summer.
• SC had only one Police Academy and its capacity was insufficient to train the number of police officers needed in the state, and in particular Charleston.
• Retention of police officers was becoming increasingly difficult because of competition from Federal agencies, and the private sector.
• Security cameras were being considered for installation in the City.

The Chief stated in conclusion that he intended to turn the Police Department from one which is “good” to one that is “great”. Hang on, didn’t we hear a few years ago that the department was “world class”?

No extra funds for the SPCA
Uncharacteristically, Council member Morinelli was the most voluble on Council last night. She was first heard in the Way and Means hearing and when Council was to address a $50,000 payment to the John Ancrum SPCA. It was ready to be voted up when she suggested that the amount be more. She then spoke of the good the SPCA was doing and the high cost of running operations. Her comments looked as though they were going nowhere but she persisted and moved that the amount be raised to $250,000. This got the attention of the Mayor and Steve Bedard, the City CFO.

They noted that the $50,000 was to help defray the cost of construction of the new SPCA facility in North Charleston and was the first of 5 annual payments of $50,000. So the payment was a capital item, not for the running of the SPCA. From the way the Mayor and Mr. Bedard spoke, the financing of the construction was not an issue and the SPCA would be happy just with the $50,000. The cost of running the SPCA and an increased contribution from the City could be discussed at another time.

Council member Morinelli acquiesced but maybe she cannot be blamed for missing the issue. The packet for the public had no mention of what the $50,000 was specifically for. Maybe the Council member’s package was the same.

No deferral for a PUD in West Ashley
Council Morinelli pulled no punches when it came to the public hearing on an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance from Single Family residential to a Planned Unit Development (PUD) classification. The property in question represented 44.81 acres in West Ashley at the corner of Savannah Highway and Bonanza Road. The change in zoning had been approved by the Planning Commission.

Council Morinelli objected to the commercial development that was included in the PUD. She said it was inappropriate and that some attention should be given to the already vacant commercial buildings in the area. She also had questions about a traffic light and was concerned about the volume of traffic, swollen already by developments in the area. She repeatedly asked staff for clarification about the traffic light and traffic studies, and repeatedly, the information seemed insufficient. Ultimately she asked for a deferral of the issue but she had support only from two other Council members. The PUD was ultimately approved.

Why a discussion at a public hearing
As the issue arose in a public hearing, we are puzzled why there was discussion on Council and with staff, and with the developer’s representative. We thought that public hearings were that – for the public only to speak but the Mayor did not seem to be bothered and made little effort to restrain Council.

A deferral should have been allowed
We had difficulty following the wide ranging discussion. We do think that Council member Morinelli had a point and that the commercial part of the development was inappropriate for the area. We thought the commercial part was poorly placed within the PUD. But at the very least, we thought Council should allow a deferral when a Council member for a district seeks it. The PUD was in Council Morinelli’s district and she sought a deferral of only 2 weeks, hardly likely to make a difference to the project if it were ultimately approved.

This is not the first time a Council member has asked for a deferral and been shot down by the Mayor and his pliant Council members. There seems a pattern of refusing some Council members what we believe should be a common courtesy. I find this pattern very alarming and wonder at its implication.