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Charleston County Consolidated Government – only in a perfect world

Lee Walton

Last Wednesday’s Palter And Chatter lead editorial, “New consolidation review”, was the most recent in a series of news reports and articles about the upcoming county-wide referendum question to create a broad-based committee of local governmental appointees to study the possibilities of consolidated public and governmental services. Regrettably, subsequent editorial reference to this “merger commission” and its appointee composition raises crucial questions as to the underlying motivations of its covert sponsors and at least two of its County Council proponents.

If free of political influence from special interests and allowed to function independently, a well-balanced, representative committee could conceivably formulate several worthwhile proposals to consolidate needlessly expensive, often competitive public services and currently uneconomical, duplicated government functions. Nonetheless, the covert, shadow governmental workings of Lowcountry politics will likely doom this latest effort to the same fate of that suffered by the previous attempt to consolidate county government 36-years ago. Without first gaining the public’s trust for those behind the current effort, public support will remain an elusive will-o-the-wisp.

County Councilman Not-the-Victor Rawl, who recommended the latest idea of countywide consolidation to his fellow Council members, unwittingly drove the first nail into the coffin lid of the proposed “merger commission”. For most local, limited government conservatives and small business owners in the County, placing consolidated government into the hands of Councilman Not-the-Victor Rawl is synonymous with the innocent citizens of Troy gleefully greeting the proverbial gift-bearing Greeks. Likewise, the early involvement of Council member The Machine’s Colleen Condon is the harbinger of covert political mischief from her loyal benefactor and handler, Mayor J. Pericles Riley. Her sponsorship pounds the second nail into the coffin lid of this likely political charade. One need only follow the money, or current lack thereof, to flush out the underlying motivations of this potential political power and tax grab.

The editorial’s last sentence may have reveled the true motivation behind the upcoming referendum question – “The financial strain of providing public services says that functional consolidation is worth the community’s review.” A likely interpretation is that Pericles is $6 million in the hole even before 2011 budget deliberations begin and covets the rapidly expanding industrial and business tax base of North Charleston and the bastions of real property tax base held closely by the incorporated resort islands. Riley’s unwavering plans to spend hundreds of millions on the Gaillard Renovation, the African-America Museum, his black-hole for taxes at the east end of Calhoun Street and additional millions to rebuild his Fire Department have left the City staring at potential deficits for years to come. Simply put, Pericles needs to tap other sources of revenue beyond the boundaries of his city in order to fund his endless list of extravagant, self-serving monuments to his ego. Follow the money; it works every time.

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