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Riley’s Beer Bust hypocrisy

Lee Walton

Charlestonians can always tell when Mayor J. Pericles Riley has had his nose tweaked to the breaking point over an embarrassing municipal incident. Invariably, Riley has to have the last word as he rationalizes city blunders or covers up for the inappropriate actions of his city employees. Such was the case when Riley cajoled the editors of the Palter and Chatter for their recent chastising “Heavy-handed enforcement” editorial. Riley then condescendingly whined in a two full column rebuttal and rationalization for his defense of a city police officer’s recent arrest, cuffing, and jailing of a retired tourist caught with an open can of beer on a city street. Sometimes the less said in such circumstances is best, but not for Riley. True to his thin-skinned character, he just has to have the last word on such issues to demonstrate his superior knowledge and intellect to all who will listen, even at the expense of confirming his own self-serving hypocrisy.

Giving credit where due, the June 26th Palter and Chatter editorial, “Heavy-handed enforcement”, correctly questioned the city police department’s open container “overkill” by arresting and jailing a retired tourist for over nine hours who wasn’t abusive, drunk or disorderly. The editorial also correctly raised the more serious question of the city police department’s appropriateness of response by concluding, “The inflexibility demonstrated by the police in this incident is far more worrisome than the offence itself.” One must wonder if an open container violation is a mandatory arresting offence, or if in this case where the alleged offender was neither disorderly nor uncooperative, a citation and fine would have been an appropriate, measured response.

Why is it legal to sit at or stand by a sidewalk café table on King, East Bay or numerous other city sidewalks and drink alcoholic beverages without being subject to arrest? Could it be that these city-sanctioned and permitted activities create special permit fees, sales and hospitality tax for city coffers? Why is the consumption of alcohol no longer allowed in stadium parking lots at Citadel home games, but one can buy all the beer they can drink at a baseball game at the “Joe” a few hundred yards away? Could it be that beer sales at the “Joe” also increase sales and hospitality tax revenues?

Why doesn’t the city police department give a Breathalyzer test to every patron leaving the Francis Marion Parking Garage after hours of sipping wine at the Charleston Food and Wine Festival in the public Marion Square? Why not do the same for patrons leaving the Spoleto Opening Gala held in a huge tent on the grounds of the Gaillard? Why not? Because all these city-sanctioned events create special permit fees, sales taxes and hospitality taxes. As for “neighborhood quietude” that Riley so often espouses, why can city permitted, loud and often obnoxious functions with unrestricted consumption of alcoholic beverages be held on the public boardwalk at the Maritime Center cheek-to-jowl with some of the most expensive waterfront condominiums in the Peninsula?

Why is it, when increased taxes, fees and special revenues are involved, Riley always finds a way to justify his “winks and nods?

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