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City Council, October 13

Dr McGinley erases fears over Fraser Elementary
Initial plans for the Market area, and a FHAP over a FHIP!

Marc Knapp

It was another long one. Most of the time was taken up by a progress report by Dr McGinley, Superintendent of Schools, a presentation on initial plans for the Market area, and an incredibly long discussion on the City’s Fair Housing ordinance.

As far as we could tell, there was nothing new in Dr. McGinley’s report. The Superintendent has made presentations before about the City’s schools and as usual she was optimistic. But yesterday’s presentation followed a number of complaints from citizens and Council members about the closure of the Fraser Elementary School and its possible utilization by the Police Department for an Academy. Speakers were particularly upset because they claimed they were told by the City that the police would not be taking over the closed school. They felt that they were misled and perhaps purposely. Two Council members stated that their credibility had been questioned.

No plans to takeover Fraser Elementary
Mayor denies The Mayor denied any sinister intent or action and this was subsequently repeated by Dr McGinley. She said that the school would be used to provide swing space while other schools on the Peninsula were being renovated over the next few years. The school would house children who were temporarily displaced during renovations, namely from Buist , Memminger and another.

Tax or bond issue to finance building plan?
Dr. McGinley talked about plans of the School Board to divide the County into three zones and to allow school choice within these zones by 2015. She also mentioned a building program, the financing of which still had to be decided. She did not give a dollar figure but noted that the School Board was deliberating on either a 1 cent sales tax or a bond issue.

The building plan also required seismic retrofitting for a number of schools. We wonder about this. How many buildings or structures are earthquake-proof in Charleston, or South Carolina for that matter? At a guess, and endorsed by an architect - not many, perhaps less than 1%. The reason is that we do not have many earthquakes, or at least significant ones. The risk of a building collapse is small. If it were large, why aren’t other cities and counties moving to reinforce buildings?

No surprises in initial plan for Market Area
There was nothing surprising arising from the presentation made by a representative of Glen Keyes Architects. The firm is retained by the group contracted by the City to restore and manage the Market Street City market area. Council was told that the first stage of renovation would be the repair and replacement of the roofs (with clay tiles similar to those existing), re-pointing the brickwork, removal of all Portland cement pointing, bolting down roofs, and installation of improved lighting. In regard to the latter, no wires would be exposed.

Bond issue to cover costs
The cost of the first phase was estimated at $4 to $5 million and most likely the City would make a revenue bond issue to cover the cost. The interest and amortization of the bond would come from the City’s share of profits but the Mayor noted that if there were a shortfall, the managing group would dip into its profits to make up the shortfall.

Staff opposes the plan of the City’s Community Development Committee
Council members had a lot of difficulty understanding what was asked of them when it came to deciding on action over the City’s Fair Housing Ordinance. The Community Development (CD) Committee of the City had met on a number of occasions and subsequently requested the City to seek the designation of “Substantially Equivalent to the Fair Housing Act” or pursue a Fair Housing Assistance Program (FHAP) with HUD. To confuse matters, staff opposed this and recommended that the City support the Charleston Trident Urban League with implementing a Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP), also with HUD.

Confusion over differences
What’s the difference asked Council members? Over an hour later, some Council members were still confused. Council member Evans suggested the whole thing was too complicated and that it be deferred for discussion when members were not worn out after a lengthy session. This stirred Council member Gregorie, a strong proponent of the action requested by the CD Committee. If the CD was tasked by the City to deal with these matters, shouldn’t Council rely on its opinion?

Council member Gregorie, when he opened the discussion on the issue, said that the present Fair Housing Ordinance of the City had no teeth and that citizens were being “raped by predatory lenders”. He wanted to give the ordinance teeth and the application for a FHAP would do this. Presently the City referred infringements to the SC Human Affairs Commission but this was not proving satisfactory – actually he used much harsher words. We should note that Council member Gregorie held a senior position in HUD and is knowledgeable in these matters.

Mayor supports staff view
Mayor Riley supported the staff position and stated that he was largely opposed to the request by the CD because of budgetary issues. Compliance with what was proposed would add to costs and with a very tough budget coming up, he was not inclined to do so.

But Council supports the CD Committee
Ultimately the issue came down to enforcement and disciplinary powers. All we can say is that there are some differences. Certainly the Trident Urban League does not /would not have the power to issue subpoenas or impose penalties but the City would. Council member Gregorie zealously pursued his cause and Council supported the proposal of the CD Committee with only Council members Evans, Shirley and the Mayor voting against. Council members Mallard, Morinelli and Alexander were absent last night and Council member Wilson had to leave before the vote on the issue.