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$1.85 million for sofa store site - a high price for the Mayor’s absolution

Lee Walton

Although the idea was rumored to be floating about City Hall after the tragic events of last June 18th, Mayor Riley finally announced last week that he would recommend to City Council on Tuesday, April 22nd that the City purchase the former Sofa Super Store site for $1.85 million. As reported in last Saturday’s Palter and Chatter, Mayor Riley has no firm plan but only the intent to “…come up with the best way to design an appropriate memorial.” His personal guilt and that of his handpicked lackey, Chief Rusty Thomas, have now taken yet another twisted turn to deflect accountability while seeking atonement for the totally unnecessary deaths of nine City Fire Department (CFD) firefighters. Following on the heels of sweeping procedural changes within the CFD and the expenditure of millions of dollars for new equipment, training and increased manpower, the purchase of the sofa store site raises many legitimate questions regarding the Mayor’s true motives and his hidden agenda crafted to protect his own public image.

Should there be an appropriate memorial for these nine brave soles that died so tragically on the evening of June 18, 2007? Absolutely, but it should be a memorial that celebrates the lives of these brave men while chronicling their sacrifice and the burden their families and fellow firefighters will bear for generations to come. They died from lack of proper equipment, training and leadership. Why not make their legacy the necessary actions that must be taken to insure that their tragic loss is never repeated?

Should there be a memorial on the former sofa store site? Yes, but it should not be a grandiose monument to the leadership failings of those who precipitated the loss of these nine brave men – only the names of those who sacrificed their lives should embellish this memorial. A smaller, albeit prominent, memorial, not unlike the “Hobson Memorial” at White Point Gardens, could be located at a corner of the site on a small portion of land generously given by the owner of the former sofa store for the memorial. If the Mayor and City Council wish to honor the memory of the nine brave firefighters that gave their full measure, they should spend the effort and resources to insure that such a tragedy can never reoccur.

Lastly, are there more sinister, covert motivations behind Mayor Riley’s actions because his four-decade legacy is threatened? Realistically, the site is currently not worth the $1.85 million value stated by the City’s hired appraiser because of its recent history and the probable lack of a willing buyer (other than the City). It’s also not coincidental that Mayor Riley, Rusty Thomas and City Council have yet to be named as parties to any of the several legal actions filed thus far, but the owner of the sofa store is prominent in all.

There’s a cruel irony in the probability that the taxpayers of Charleston will underwrite much of the $ 1.85 million purchase price as legal defense and settlement costs payable by the owner of the sofa store. Is there more to the City’s purchase of this property than the magnanimous actions of a guilt-ridden Mayor now seeking absolution for his sin?

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