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County Council, July 24

Salad days for Clerk of Council
Issues on Procurement Policy and Accommodation Fee funds
Warwick Jones

There would probably be little disagreement with the opinion that the highlight of yesterday’s Council Meetings was the short video at the beginning. Chairman Scott gave no inkling of the video contents. But the reaction, predictably, was surprise. The video was a commercial for Duke Mayonnaise which featured no less than Ms. Beverly Craven, Clerk of Council. Ms. Craven has served Council for many years, sitting figuratively and literally at the right hand side of the Council Chairmen. Amiable and permanently in good humor, she is a sort of den mother for Council members. She would have been our first choice for "mom” in an “American apple pie” commercial. Seems Duke Mayonnaise sort of agrees. Ms. Craven received a strong ovation and gave us the broadest of smiles.

There were a lot of items on the agendas yesterday. A host of appointments were made to various boards and commission, the internal auditor made his quarterly report, and the Planning and Public Works Committee considered some projects. One project, changes along Hutchison Road, drew some comments from the public. Council member McKeown who represents the district, moved that the project be disapproved. The cost was too high (near $2 million) and the number of people served along the road too few. Council agreed with him.

CARTA budget up 21%
In the Finance Committee meeting, members first considered the CARTA budget. It was passed by Charleston City Council last week and was passed last night by the County. Suffice to say that the Budget at $21.5 million is up 21% on fiscal 2008. The increase in costs reflects higher projected fuel costs, up 85%, and higher costs for expanding express services. CARTA also plans to raise fares by about 20%.

Confusion about proposed change in Procurement Policy
A planned change in the County’s Procurement Policy drew some questions and not enough answers. The change related to an attempt to help small businesses. Under the existing ordinance, companies providing services and products to the County had an option to form a joint venture in bidding for contracts over $1 million. The proposed change in the ordinance would eliminate this threshold.

Council member Thurmond suggested that before a vote was take, a public hearing should be held. He had many calls from constituents who were very unhappy about the proposal. Other Council members agreed and confessed to confusion to the meaning of the ordinance. A public hearing will be held.

Attempts to improve on allocation of Accommodation Fee funds
The final items on the agenda related to Accommodation Fees and the allocation for fiscal 2009. Also for consideration was the request by the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for an increase in its allotment from 10 to 15% of all Accommodation Fees in the County.

Looking at the material submitted to Council by staff, the discussion over discretionary allocations could have been long and unfruitful. Staff was tasked to attempt some cost/ benefit analysis of the applications and to assess applications in relation to guidelines formed over the last year of so - relating to auditing, the nature of the organization etc.

Council member McKeown suggested that it would be best if Council agreed to form a committee of experts drawn for the hospitality industries to asses the applications. Some Council members thought this was a slap in the face of staff but others thought staff would welcome such a proposal. The issue will be discussed at a later meeting.

Viewers can see the list of applicants for Accommodation Fee funds by pressing Download file. No attempt has yet been made by Council to cull this list and indeed, Council has not yet decided on the amount to be distributed. Staff separated out the amounts that would qualify under the guide lines recently determined by Council. Council member Condon also spoke of confining the allocations to only those organizations that truly contributed to the tourist flow to Charleston.

As in the past, we have been critical of some allocations and wonder really what benefit some grants would be to the tourist or accommodation industries. Again, viewers can make up their own minds by looking at the list.