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City Council transparency and trust– LOST

Lee Walton

For an unheralded two weeks in a row, a suddenly brave Palter and Chatter editor with reckless abandon, a death wish, or both has dared to tweak the nose of Charleston’s self-styled Banana RepublicMayor, J. Pericles Riley. This latest hard-hitting editorial rightly questions Riley’s near closed-door dictatorial control over the goings on within City Council Chambers. This past Sunday’s editorial, “Put City Council on the air,” again raised the long lingering question why Charleston’s too-long serving mayor continues to stubbornly oppose televising Charleston City Council meetings while other area municipalities have done so for years at little or no public expense. Several key issues raised in Sunday’s editorial are worthy of further in-depth discussion.

“Historic Charleston City Hall is a more challenging place …to telecast…” It need not have been so, but for the premeditated foot-dragging, lame excuses, and surprising lack of vision by Riley during the recent $10 million renovation of City Hall. As exemplified by the 21st Century accommodations for televised meetings incorporated into the new North Charleston City Hall, “…advanced audiovisual technology…” could have been installed in Charleston City Hall to allow discrete, historically sensitive lighting, camera mounting locations, and a state-of-the art wireless audio system to accommodate televised meetings. Why didn’t Riley insist that his recent world-class, once-in-a-century City Hall renovation bring Council Chambers up to current audiovisual technological standards? Was this a premeditated act of omission on Riley’s part calculated to bolster his self-serving excuses that televised meetings in Council Chambers would be too technically difficult and costly? Nonetheless, to greatly simplify the process even now, only one camera would be necessary. The real dog-and-pony show has always focused on the mayor’s podium. Riley’s always been the quintessential ringmaster of his circus.

As for lighting in City Council Chambers, that’s never been an issue and may even be a hazard because of the delicate nature of the potted mushrooms that makeup the majority of Riley’s handpicked and covertly planted members. For nearly four decades they’ve thrived on a stable environment of near total darkness and nurturing bovine excrement provided in copious quantity by Riley. The ringmaster has always been Riley as he continues to lead his emasculated puppet-like staff through one self-serving song-and-dance routine after another or, more often, performs a solo soft-shoe act complete with imaginary sawdust, cane and top hat.

On a more serious note, what the citizen viewer could see of Council, or not, pales in importance to what one could hear. Theatrics on the podium notwithstanding, it’s not what would be seen, but what would be said, or more often, not said by Council Members that would be of interest to citizens of Charleston. Viewers would be able to judge firsthand for themselves the relative effectiveness of City Council as a whole and the individual contributions of their own district members. Viewers could also observe and hear the often-condescending manner in which Riley exerts control over Council meetings as he dominates discussion, ridicules dissention, and intimidates uncooperative members. Council minutes, however detailed, can never capture the emotions and dynamics of the human interactions, or absence thereof, during a Riley-ran council meeting, but a real-time audio feed would capture every uttered nuance. This is what Riley fears most; the dark side of his governing style would be exposed for all to see and hear.

For the past several decades, and especially since the tragic, questionable, and inexcusable loss of nine city firefighters, there has been an incredibly high level of distrust for Charleston City governance. Light and sound on the manner in which the City of Charleston is governed is essential to rebuilding the bonds of mutual trust between those who are governed and those chosen to govern.

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