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City Council Lackeys Revolt – another Riley charade!
Lee Walton

Last Tuesday evening’s May 27th meeting of Charleston City Council was more entertaining than most Spoleto events. From all accounts, it was better scripted and rehearsed than many competing festival performances and provided “world-class” entertainment for all in attendance. It coincidently provided orchestrated fodder for the lapdog Palter and Chatter that Charlestonians suffer as a local daily newspaper. As in other recent local tragedies, Mayor J. Pericles Riley stole the show with his superb acting skills. In recognition of such well-honed talent, Pericles is hereby awarded the first ever “Rusty (Ruthless, Unscrupulous, Subversive, Tyrannical Yeasayer) Award” for his outstanding performance as a world-class, self-righteous demagogue.

His foot-stomping temper tantrums, frequent squeaky diatribes, red-ear flapping struts before Council, and huffy, indignant departure after last Tuesday’s meeting stole the show from his well rehearsed and scripted Council members who perpetrated and participated in this little charade of political drama.

Weighed down by unrelenting criticism following the Phase II Routley Report’s scathing indictment of his leadership of the CFD and his side-kick Chief Rusty Thomas’s hastily, albeit ill-planned, resignation, Riley’s dictatorial control over his council was suddenly viewed as bad public form by even many of his loyal supporters. Pericles needed a quick way to demonstrate his mortality and vulnerability to the electorate of the City. He needed to deliver a performance, a public drama, to show to all that he didn’t always win before his handpicked, bought-by-the-pound council of emasculated lackeys.

Pericles and his gay little band of covert political henchmen quickly scripted the perfect little soap opera to publicly demonstrate his unappreciated genius while risking nothing in return – they would stage a Council revolt in which he would lose the vote, but nothing else. This would be the Mayor’s award-winning morality play, a theatrical “perfect storm”, to convince growing critics, emboldened talk-radio gadflies, and mean-spirited bloggers that even he, Mayor J. Pericles Riley, Jr., didn’t always control his Council - at least this once in over three decades.

The stage was set in Council Chambers, and his faithful administrative bit-players were all rehearsed. Pericles now only needed his loyal cast of council characters to perform when queued from their designated marks. Cast in his first significant speaking role was Councilman Gary White. Not-So-Lily White just happens to be the nephew of former Corporate Council and life-long Riley crony Bill Regan (this little embarrassing family relationship never got much press coverage in the recent council election – need one wonder why?).

How convenient! Not only is Not-So-Lily White a blood relative to a faithful Riley confidant and spear-catcher, he also just happens to be a good, loyal Irish Catholic and a rumored successor to Pericles! Another Council newcomer and confidant, Aubry Alexander, assisted with a minor speaking role, either willingly as a part of the charade or duped into complicity by his freshman stable mate. Their performance, although not notable enough for a “Rusty” nomination, was sufficient to direct the audience’s attention to center stage.

With the spot light on Pericles as the suffering, unappreciated genius of municipal governance, he could now deliver a pleading aria as the wounded savior of Charleston about to be stripped of all rightful powers by his own handpicked, albeit suddenly ungrateful, Council. By a wonder of circumstance and coincidence, Pericles just happened to stumble over a copy of the exact City Ordinance and relevant State Code sections (conveniently left on the podium) that confirmed his absolute executive power to make a unilateral choice of the next fire chief. By some miracle of legal insight and brilliance, his loyal pettifogger and Regan successor, Charming Charlton, just happened to provide the perfect legal stage props in the form of these two documents.

As in all great stage plays, Pericles’ loyal lackey and praise-maker, Councilwoman Be Gone Evans, stood faithfully by Riley’s side. Be Gone Evans staunchly defended her protector and benefactor to the end, clinging to his wounded body with her wild hair and shrill voice rising to the wind of his exhalations. The deed was done; the brilliant performance was flawlessly delivered by Charleston’s renowned, ‘World-class Charlatan”, Mayor J. Pericles Riley, Jr.

As with all successful first-run plays, there is often the possibility of a sequel. However, this next one could take an ironic twist with an ending unflattering and possibly fatal to Pericles’ absolute grip on the administrative power to govern the City of Charleston. According to an article in last Friday’s Palter and Chatter, Riley’s chief pettifogger, Charming Charlton, provided each member of Council with a three-page legal brief cautioning them “…that any attempt to dilute Riley’s power…would be against the law.” and “…any dilution of the process employed by the mayor in discharging the appointive power placed in that office is not permitted under state law.” As intended, the meat of Charming Charlton’s brief was quickly snapped-up by the Palter and Chatter and convincingly quoted to remind the citizens of Charleston that Pericles was indeed all-powerful and unstoppable by City Council.

Notwithstanding his convincing argument, pettifogger deSaussure is only half-right in this instance. There is a perfectly legal action that a majority of council could take that would possibly strip Pericles of his absolute power to unilaterally govern the City of Charleston. Neither Charming Charlton, nor Pericles and his odorous stable of cronies, lackeys, and fairies could stop a majority of Council from putting a halt to this political madness.

Under State Code Section 5-5-20, a majority of Council could pass an ordinance to call for a special election to change the form of Charleston’s city government from its current strong mayor-weak council form as provided under Code Section 5-9 to either the Council Form under Section 5-11 or the more likely Council-Manager Form provided in Section 5-13. Such an action by Council would give the electorate of Charleston the choice to choose another form of municipal government, hopefully one that would place the power to govern closer to the governed through a much more responsive and powerful Council. It would also be a referendum on Riley’s despicable performance following in the wake of the Sofa Super Store tragedy that caused the needless deaths of nine Charleston firefighters.

A similar change in the form of municipal government happened not too long ago when the electorate of the City of Isle of Palms pitched strong Mayor Carmen Bunch “out on her rear” as retribution for the omnipotent power and dictatorial control she exerted over that municipality in the wake of Hurricane Hugo. Mayor J. Pericles Riley, Jr. could very well be the next “too strong mayor” in the Lowcountry to suffer the wrath of a too often maligned Council and electorate.