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City Council, September 28

Council has second thoughts on “nuisance” ordinance
Passes resolution to end homelessness in the City

Marc Knapp

In our report on the last City Council meeting, we noted surprise at the absence of discussion on the proposed “nuisance” Ordinance. The Ordinance passed the first reading without dissent, a reflection presumably on the weariness of Council members after a long meeting, dominated by discussion of the Union Pier Plan.

Some Council members had second thoughts last night and a decision on the second reading was deferred. It was not that these members were all opposed to the new Ordinance. They wanted it reviewed after consideration of views of opponents.

The Ordinance, which can be seen by pressing Download file makes landlords and property managers also responsible for the trash/noise generated by tenants. The Ordinance, according to comments by some Council members has been years in the making. It was also championed by the Radcliffborough Neighborhood Association. The Association was particularly vexed by the trash and litter of students who represent a large percentage of residents.

As at the previous meeting, representatives of the Association spoke last night in support. But differing from the previous meeting, there were speakers who were opposed. They represented realtor and landlord groups. The latter claimed that they were being made liable for actions by people over which they had no control. As well, other regulations and laws limited the ability of managers and owners to take effective action such as moving to eviction.

Mayor Riley spoke in favor of the Ordinance and suggested that the views of the realtors and landlords were too extreme. They would become liable to prosecution only if the were aware of the transgressions and did nothing to stop them.

We got the impression that most Council members were broadly in favor of the Ordinance though Council member Reigel thought it was unnecessary and that present laws were adequate. Some felt that the new Ordinance had been formed and presented without input from some of the groups – such as realtors and landlords- that would be affected. But as Council member Hallman said, if the ordinance had been 10 years in the making what did a deferral of two weeks matter for it to be reviewed. The majority of Council members agreed with him.

We expect the ordinance will be on the Agenda of the next Council meeting. It will be changed but only in a minor way. And we expect it will be approved.

Resolution to end homelessness in City passed – but some members skeptical
Also on last night’s agenda was a resolution to end homelessness in the City. It was proposed by Council member Gregorie.

We wonder about such resolutions. Maybe they make people feel good. But do they do any good? It is like resolutions to abolish crime or punish sex offenders. It makes no difference to the perpetrators. Of course it is different with the homeless. Most would prefer to not be. But a resolution by the City with no increase in spending or manpower commitment seems pointless.

Council member Gregorie introduced the Resolution (press Download file) and suggested that the City should make a 10 year plan to address the problem. He said 10 year plans had been adopted by other cities and had been successful. They had also reduced the cost burden on the providers of shelter for the homeless. Mayor Riley followed and endorsed the resolution. But he noted that the Crisis Ministries and the Mayors’ Council for the Homeless provided shelters in Charleston and had long range plans.

Discussion thereafter was divided and in the case of members who were opposed, restrained. After all, who wanted to be branded as insensitive to the plight of the homeless? Council members Reigel, Alexander, White and Wilson question the funding of such a plan and the definition of goals. There was also the question of duplication of efforts made by the State and Federal Agencies. Council member Alexander also warned of making Charleston a destination point for the homeless as had happened to San Francisco with its generous provisions.

Council member Seekings suggested that Council was getting ahead of itself in committing to a Resolution. He wanted numbers and financial figures to make an assessment.

The final vote according to the Clerk of Council was 7 to 5 for the Resolution. We thought the vote was 6 to 5 with Council member Mallard abstaining. Perhaps we were looking the wrong way. We also wonder if Council member Mallard doesn't want to look insensitive to anything should he decide to run for Mayor.

We also confess to an irritation relating to the discussion of the Resolution. And looking at the faces of some of the Council members, it was a shared irritation. It related to the Mayor allowing Council member Gregorie to respond at the end of a Council member’s comment. He spoke about 5 times before all Council members had given their view. The Mayor has a habit of doing the same thing – rebutting a view of a Council Member before all have had an opportunity to speak. It shouldn’t be this way.

Council member Gregorie, or the Mayor, should wait until all members had made their comments before responding. By having the opportunity to comment so frequently is an unfair advantage in a debate on any issue.

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