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Failure of College of Building Arts could leave HCF holding the bag!
Lee Walton

Sometimes noble ideas should remain just that; such may be true of the fledgling, albeit financially struggling, American College of the Building Arts. Initially proposed as the first liberal arts college of its kind in the nation to offer an accredited baccalaureate degree in applied building arts, ACOBA now appears to be on terminal life support with little hope of long-term survival. By its own admission, ACOBA has quickly blown through four presidents and over $14 million in private donations and public grants during its first three years of existence. At best, ACOBA now has just a few dozen full and part-time students including only seven of its original Class of 2009. In an act of shameless desperation, its latest new president and board of trustees have turned to the City of Charleston in a last gasping attempt to secure critically needed operating funds to pay day-to-day expenses and salaries with a loan from waning City tax revenues.

The college’s only apparent chance for survival and repayment of the City loan now rests with achieving accreditation in half the time normally required by similar fledgling colleges. Even this path appears cloaked in shadows and controversy due to the dubious value of its only remaining hope of accreditation through the American Association of Liberal Education. Several schools accredited only by AALE are, at best, nothing more than storefront diploma mills. For all the high praise, lofty ideals, and backing from its trustees and financial supporters, ACOBA has been, when viewed in the harsh light of both financial and academic requirements, a dismal failure. It’s time to pull the plug and let it pass into memory without further investment of public funds.

Not to be denied another notch on his belt of would-be world-class achievements, Mayor Riley and his current stable of hand-picked City Council cronies just won’t let this patient die, even if it means giving a dubious $734,500 loan to ACOBA from the City’s two-month operating reserve account. Charleston City taxpayers must wonder in startled amazement how Riley and Council could even consider such an imprudent fiscal action when the City faces the certainty of a sizable tax increase next year to cover current and projected tax revenue losses and higher than budgeted energy expenses.

Bolstered by a scripted dissertation from want-to-be mayor, Councilman Notsolily White, a.k.a. favorite nephew of Riley’s former Chief Pettifogger, Bill Regan, last Tuesday night, Riley again snookered the few members of council who questioned the wisdom of such an unprecedented and poorly secured loan. With all his wisdom as a VP of Wachovia Bank, coincidently that same institution that recently wrote-off $8.9 Billion in 2nd Quarter ’08 loan losses, Notsolily White demonstrated his astute financial wisdom by announcing that the ACOBA financial statements and collateral were sufficient to secure the City’s loan. One must wonder if Notsolily White missed the footnotes about the three senior liens already filed against the Old Jail property and the McLeod Plantation deed restriction prohibiting its use as collateral to secure loans.

Not to be overshadowed by his possible protégé, Riley quickly informed Council that, in the unlikely event of default by ASOBA, the Historic Charleston Foundation would make the City whole. Strangely, the proposed agreement made no mention of HCF as a guarantor of the loan. Maybe HCF Director, Miss Kitty, will just take it out of her six-figure salary when the college finally folds its tent and scurries quietly away in the night.

With recent announcements that home mortgage borrowers must now satisfy both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with detailed bank statements, big cash reserves, and second appraisals before lenders will approve new or refinancing home loans, it’s hard for the average taxpayer to swallow the City’s tossing a $734,500 unsecured loan to a failing endeavor like the ASOBA. Especially, when many of us are still mumbling about the wasted $1.8 million in hard earned tax revenue that Riley recently paid the owner of the Sofa Super Store for a site of very dubious value.

November’s not that far away; one can only imagine the soft-shoe, song-and-dance budget that Riley is choreographing for his staff of stooges and crony Council members. One thing’s for sure; a few of us will be primed and ready when the first mention of a tax increase comes whining out of the Riley Administration this fall.

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