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City Council May 25

Council defies Mayor
Positive report on City Market progress
Marc Knapp

There were few items of substance on yesterday’s Council meeting agenda. But there was no lack of drama. Council continues to assert itself, readily taking issue with the Mayor over matters of principle.

The cause of yesterday’s confrontation was the seemingly innocuous recommendation of the Mayor to reappoint Mr. David Jennings to the Charleston County Aviation Commission. Mr. Jennings presently serves on the board and is Chairman. He was lauded by the Mayor for his service and credited with helping to bring Boeing and South West Air to Charleston. However, before the appointment came up for discussion, the Mayor asked that consideration be deferred. The appointment normally was made jointly with the County. Although the appointment had been discussed with County Chairman Pryor, and viewed favorably, the County had not yet voted on it. The Mayor mistakenly believed that the vote had been taken. He preferred that the City defer voting until the County decided.

Then it got heated! Council member Gregorie proposed the appointment of Council member Gallant to the Commission. The proposal was not a surprise to the Mayor as Council member Gallant had raised the issue with him. The Mayor stated that under State legislation, it was not allowed for a Council member to be a “dual office” holder, and therefore, Council member Gallant could not be nominated.

Council member Seekings immediately took issue with the Mayor and noted that members of the state Legislature and Senate served on the Commission. Ah yes, said the Mayor, they held their positions “ex officio”. In other words, they were on the Commission because the regulations of the Commission required a member of the Senate or House to serve.

Council member Mallard sided with Council member Seekings but expressed irritation that the City should defer its vote on the appointment until that of the County. He said the City should take the lead in the matter.

After some more exchanges it got very heated with Council member Mallard calling for a vote. He accused the Mayor of intimidation, always responding immediately to a Council member when they had an opposing view. There was always too much talk.

The vehemence of Council member Mallard’s response took us, and we suspect the Mayor, aback. Whether the Mayor was lost for words or restraining himself, we don’t know. But the short silence after the outburst was ended when Council member Mitchell declared that he was not voting on the issue when he did not understand it. He called for more information and clarification, and a deferral. Council member White also supported a deferral.

Councilmember Gallant was asked as to his feelings on being appointed to the Commission. We didn’t get much meaning out of the words that followed but he did say that a member of the Legislative Delegation requested him to seek the appointment. Responding to the Mayor’s request, the Council member said it was Representative “Chip” Limehouse.

Council ultimately voted to defer the issue but what comes next is hard to say. Certainly, there will be a well researched legal opinion as to “dual office” holding. But there may also be a change in the method of appointing a member to the Commission to represent both the City and the County. Council member Alexander suggested a joint committee be formed from members of both Councils.

And although the tone of Council member Mallard’s demands was close to offensive, we do think he has a point. And it is a point we have made in these columns before. The Mayor is the chief executive of the City, but he is also the “chairman” of the Council. As the latter, he should not continually “take the floor” during debate. He should take his turn with other members of Council and refrain from speaking at the conclusion of the speech or comment of each member.

Positive report on City Market development
Mr. Barry Newton, manager of the City Market made a positive report to Council last night. He said that renovations were completed on all the buildings except A. He commented on the improved appearance and the better facilities. New lighting and fans had been installed. There was also new restrooms and better protection from the elements.

Rents had been held steady over the 2 year period of renovation but they had now been modified and made uniform across the buildings. Yes there were increases for most of the some 250 vendors but for 30 vendors, there had been reductions.

Mr. Newton drew attention to the need for higher rents considering the expenditure on the markets but added that with the renovation, some vendors had seen revenues increase 3 fold.

The rosy picture painted by Mr. Newton was not shared by one vendor who spoke in Citizens Participation. He claimed that rents were raised unfairly and unevenly. Some vendors had seen their rents raised from $400 a month to near $900 a month. The high level would force some vendors out of business. He said vendor business was seasonal and rates should vary accordingly.

His appeal struck a chord with Council members Gallant and Gregorie who asked for a list of the rates.

Although Mr. Newton agreed to supply a list, we wonder what the Council members hope to achieve. The new market management was put in place by the City and given a job to renovate and resuscitate the markets. This it is clearly doing, and it is not surprising that some vendors are paying higher rents. The City chose to make the market a commercial “for-profit” enterprise. And it was for this purpose that the new management company was formed. It should protest at any interference from Council members. If some vendors cannot afford the new rents, but other vendors are prepared to step in and pay them, there should be no interference from the City. The “marketplace” should determine rentals, not City Council members

Should Council members be allowed to abstain from voting?
And then there was the interesting legal question posed by Council member Gregorie. Could a Council member abstain from voting if there was no conflict of interest?

Counsel said that there was no law that said that there had to be “a straight up and down vote” with no abstentions. But some Councils and governing bodies had inserted resolutions that formally frowned on abstentions when there were no “conflict of interest” issues.

Council thereafter discussed the pros and cons. If a large number of Council members abstained from voting, issues could be decided by just a few members. Yes, a quorum has to be present to vote, but the quorum relates to attendance, not to voting. Some Council members conceded that they abstained from voting when they did not fully understand the issue.

The issue will be revisited at the next Council meeting.

Opportunity denied
Council member Alexander must be scratching his head. He is the Council member chosen to act as Mayor pro tem this year when the Mayor is absent. The Mayor notified Council that he had an important meeting to attend on a scheduled Council meeting date in November. Could the Council meeting date be shifted?

The Mayor said that he rarely missed a meeting of Council and was reluctant to miss the meeting in November. We concede the Mayor has an impeccable record of attendance. But we ask what damage would be done if the Council member played out his designated role? Of course it is impossible to know what will be on the agenda and the importance of items. It would be too early for the budget session. So we wonder at the Mayor’s reluctance to let go the reins, even for one meeting.

We remember the last Council meeting when the Mayor was absent. Then Council member Morinelli was the Mayor pro tem. It was a fun and relaxed meeting with no negative aftermath.

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