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City Council, July 20

Too much posturing by some Council members
Bicycle ordinance approved though parking paragraphs to be amended
Marc Knapp

Is it the fact that meetings are now televised? Are some Council members planning bigger things like running for Mayor and seeking greater visibility? Or is it something else? Whatever, we have noticed conspicuous posturing by some Council members in recent meetings.

Council member Gallant is a prime offender. Last night he made much ado about nothing in a series of speeches that stretched to an indecent length. He spoke with passion and gravity, saying he had great concern over an incident at the Rhodia plant on the Neck. We were waiting for a description which told of a massive and dangerous fire or chemical release. It turned out to be a very minor incident, simply and ably handled by Rhodia who called the fire departments of the City and North Charleston as part of the process. For someone who works with the Police Department on a day to day basis he appeared less than knowledgeable on emergency protocol or procedures. In our view, the Council member was trying to feed the flames but could only generate hot air.

Then there was Council member Mallard. We think the Council member has contributed much to Council meetings. He has never shrunk from standing up to the Mayor but baiting the Mayor seems to have become a sport. His manner radiates belligerence. And last night, it spilled over. Early in the meeting, he asked that the acceptance of the minutes of the last Council meeting be deferred. He said that some comments he had made were not included, He demanded that they be included. We don’t know why they were omitted or indeed whether they were. But at the conclusion of the meeting, some of us witnessed a fiery confrontation by the Council member of the Mayor and the Clerk of Council. It was all very unnecessary!

Like Council member Mallard, Council member Gregorie has made a significant and positive contribution to Council meetings since his election last year. He too has been a frequent critic of the Mayor but unlike Council member Mallard, he is always respectful. We have no criticism of his conduct last night but he has a habit of dwelling too long on subjects while the rest of Council would like to move on. Repeating your views over and over does not win over Council members, it antagonizes them. His insistence some weeks ago over the need for a City Fair Housing Ordinance was an arch example. It was a lost cause. Council was not uncaring; it thought that it was redundant in the light of state law and the existing City Ordinance. The new ordinance would also have required a significant amount of money to implement. It was also late at night and most of us were worn out by a long meeting that was being unnecessarily prolonged.

Was Council member Gregorie posturing in anticipation of making another run for Mayor? We don’t know but a number of people have suggested he will run again.

And finally a note on Fire Chief Carr. He spoke after the Mayor finally succeeded in interrupting Council member Gallant, to comment on the Rhodia incident. The words he spoke were positive and reassuring about the action and responsibilities of the Fire Department. But they were the words of a feeble man. The Chief has Parkinson’s disease and it seems that the disease is taking a toll. This was not lost on those present. It must also have been obvious to the Mayor. The leadership of the Fire Department is a touchy subject in the City but the Mayor will have to address it again, and shortly.

And so to the agenda of last night.

Bicycle Ordinance approved but parking section to be revised
Perhaps the most interesting was the new Bicycle Ordinance that has been in the making for some months now with Council member Seekings leading the effort. The City has sought input from citizens and cycle groups. Those who rose in Citizens Participation - some 30 persons – generally spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance. However there was dissention when it came to the parking of bicycles. Many felt the ordinance was too onerous as there were few facilities in the City for parking bikes. Where else to park bikes except on parking meters, poles etc?

Council member Seekings was the first to speak of this dissention when the proposed ordinance came up for discussion. He asked that the appropriate paragraphs in the ordinance be removed to allow for further consideration. He said that he would come back with an amendment for inclusion in the ordinance within 60 days. Presumably he will endeavor to work out some way the City can provide facilities or racks for parking bikes on the Peninsula.

In the meantime, the rest of the ordinance that will require cyclists to stay on the road and not to ride on footpaths will go to a second reading. Riders will have to obey traffic laws and not travel the wrong direction on one-way streets, or ignore traffic signals.

There are some exceptions. Children may ride their small bikes on sidewalks, except in the commercial or school over lay zones on the Peninsula. If the sidewalk is next to a road where the speed limit is 35 mph or above, the adjacent sidewalk can be used by all cyclists, though again, not if the road is in a commercial or school overlay district. For the record, most of the roads on the Peninsula have 25mph restrictions. And of course, cyclists can use sidewalks if there is a dedicated shared-use path at least 8 feet wide such as that across the Ravenel Bridge.

Council member Lewis was skeptical of the new ordinance, solely because he did not think it would be enforced. Police have better things to do and there is not the necessary manpower, he said. He thought an education program would d be better. Police Chief Mullen addressed that issue and said that an education program would be mounted. There would be advertising, and pamphlets would be distributed to bike shops and bike rental shops.

Cost cuts necessary to balance 2011 budget
A budget session was held before the Ways and Means meeting. CFO Bedard indicated that things were still tough out there and that the City was looking at a potential $2 million deficit in fiscal 2011 on projected revenue for the year. He indicated that no tax increase was contemplated and that the City would look to further cuts to costs to balance the budget. And this would be difficult given the cuts already made and the “rolling hiring freeze”.

Mr. Bedard expressed hope that there would be some improvement in 2012. But he noted that City is obliged to maintain certain hiring levels as a condition of accepting grants in years prior to 2012.and which will no longer be available. We too hope for some economic recovery by 2012 but as I observed in Citizens Participation, the only construction plans at the Association of General Contractors Plan Room out for bid presently are those of government projects. There are few if any private sector projects, and this is not propitious for recovery.

But as my associate, Warwick Jones, noted, the projected deficit of $2 million for 2011 is between 1 and 2% of projected revenue. Many states and cities would wish that their potential deficits were so small.

More Grant applications
And the grants continue. Council approved the application for a number of Federal grants last night. The largest was for $2.2 million from the US Justice Department under the Community Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program. The two others, for $312,000 and $330,000 from the Department of Homeland Security, were for Port Security. No matching City funds were necessary for the three grants.
A $19 million bond issue
Council also approved a $19 million bond issue, the proceeds of which will be used for a number of City projects – the Arthur Christopher Gym, a new fire station, construction at Governors Park North, West Ashley Green way improvements, Maybank Tennis Center renovation, and land purchased at the West Ashley Circle, and others
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