The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The Watch


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City Council, July 21

Sanitation workers pursue a lost cause
Zoning, Carriage Horse ordinance, and more grant applications

Marc Knapp

It was the largest display of a lost cause we have seen on City Council. About 20 members of the public, mostly City workers employed in the sanitation department, spoke during Citizens Participation in support of organizing a union for the workers. They aired their grievances and concerns, and compared their efforts to those of the City hospital workers who struck about 40 years ago.

So why was it a lost cause? It is because state law prohibits municipalities from bargaining with organized employees. We chatted to a member of the City’s legal staff who assured us that a number of opinions supported this view. An article in today’s Post and Courier by David Slade carried a similar view expressed by Mayor Riley in a memo to Council member Alexander. We would add that Mayor Riley is a Democrat and very likely would not oppose the organization of labor in City departments if it were legally possible. That he hasn’t supported it probably reflects his doubt as to the legality.

Interestingly, the sanitation workers asked Council to support a resolution they had written that amongst other things, allowed the workers to organize. The resolution was not part of the City meeting agenda and consequently, no vote was taken on the issue. But one Council member expressed the view privately that if a vote were taken, it would not have been supported by Council. The Council member also said that many of the grievances aired last night by the workers have been aired at meetings this year with the City. Those with substance had been addressed. This view was also expressed by Council member Alexander in the article in the Post and Courtier.

I also spoke in Citizens Participation, the lone speaker against the organization of the workers. I said the City needed to treat the workers fairly but a union was not necessary. I also said that on the issue of safety, the injuries that occurred may often reflect personal negligence or not taking the necessary and proscribed precautions. What I didn’t say was the biggest threat to the health of many of the workers may be their excessive weight, and not related to the job.

Council members have issue with Council support of a private school
The amendment to the sub lease arrangement relating to the Meeting Street Academy drew some heat at yesterday’s meeting. It was not the amendment as such but the seeming ambiguous policy of Council. The amendment was sought to allow more time for the commencement of construction of the new school. The City is providing the land for the school and a citizen is providing the funds for construction. Questioned by Council member Mallard, staff said there were pollution problems on the site that required a clean up. According to the staff, the clean up was not an insuperable obstacle and beside if it were, the City could pull out of the deal

The pollution was not the concern of Council member Alexander; it was a matter of principle. The City was giving up land to the benefit of a private school. He didn’t say the school was a bad thing, it was that some children have the advantage of a private school education and some the advantage of attending a school such as the Meeting Street Academy. But most fell “in between”. And if Council supported the Meeting Street Academy it ought to attempt do something for those “in between”. He moved that sub lease amendment be accompanied by a request to the SC legislature that there be free school choice and the issue of vouchers. His motion was supported by Council member White. The Mayor caught his breath before responding and avoided the issue of vouchers and free school choice by suggested that this was not the place to debate such issues. The issue was purely Meeting Street Academy. Most other Council members and all black members voiced favorable opinions. The new school most likely will have mostly black students. Under pressure from his peers, Council member Alexander withdrew his motion but still voted against the amendment.

Cainhoy tract zoned Rural Residential – at last
And finally the zoning of the 5 acre parcel in Cainhoy was laid to rest. It beats us as to why it took so long to resolve. The parcel has been part of the City for a year or so and without any zoning designation since its annexation. We thought Council member Lewis got it right when he lambasted Council for its dithering. He said we received a decision from the Planning Commission (PC) some months ago to zone it Rural Residential (3.5 dwellings per acre). We were concerned and sent it back to the PC. The PC considered it again and sent it back with the same recommendation. And we are still dithering. Let’s just zone it Rural Residential. This is the nearest classification to that prior to its annexation into the City. And it is line with surrounding properties. What’s the problem?

Council agreed ultimately but it listened again to folk from Cainhoy who opposed the zoning. As Council Member White said, it was not the zoning of the parcel that was the problem, it was a Planned Unit Development that was in the works and which encompassed part of the parcel. This was a separate issue. He warned the developer that when the PUD came before Council he expected that the community to have been consulted and to be on side. If it wasn’t, it could be hard on the developer

Carriage Horse ordinance should be updated in light of City sponsored report
Public Participation brought out two speakers in favor of amending the Carriage Horse ordinance. They cited the study by Dr Amy Hayek who was commissioned by the City to make a study. She found much to criticize in her report. She took issue with stall sizes, care and health of horse, feeding, poor training of operators, and poor maintenance of carriages. The speakers asked that the recommendation of Dr. Hayek be incorporated into the Carriage Horse ordinance. One noted that the Post and Courier had supported a change to the Carriage Horse ordinance

We understand that Council member Alexander has raised the issue with the Mayor and that there are plans to study the report with a view to implementing necessary changes.

And still more grant applications
Finally, we again have to note the prevalence of grant application in the City Agenda. There have been many this year and yesterday there were 8. The largest amount sought yesterday was $8.3 million. It was from FEMA and for the construction of Fire stations. No City match was necessary. Then there was the $1.139 million from the Department of Energy for an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Formula Grant. Again no City match was required. Then followed an application to HUD for $784,000 for the African American Museum, and then an application for $739,000 from NOAA for the Parks Department. No City matches were required.

The Mayor made a special thanks to staff for the hard work it was doing in finding and writing up grant applications. Council member Gregorie, who once worked for HUD echoed the Mayor’s sentiments. My reaction is ambivalent – I welcome the money being spent in Charleston but I ask where is it coming from? Who is ultimately going to pay for the largesse of the Federal Government?

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