The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council, January 20

Issues over appointment procedures
Valuations, and tension in executive session

Warwick Jones

The debate was civil but there was tension underneath. And this was strange because it was not an important issue, at least in the mind of this writer. The issue was appointments to County boards and commissions.

Following elections, it is normal that when new and re-elected Council members take their seats, they make appointments to boards and commissions. Ordinances state that each Council member is to make an appointment of his or her choosing to each of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB), the Greenbelt Advisory Board, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Zoning Appeals. Council as a body must ultimately approve each appointment.

Council member Schweers and Chairman Pryor made their choices and they were read out. The new Council members Qualey and Johnson had not yet made their choices but indicated they would before the Council meeting on Tuesday next.

Council member Schweers took up the cudgel and said that he was expected to vote on Tuesday for people he had no knowledge of. Weren’t all potential appointees supposed to fill in application forms? Council member Condon supported Council member Schweers and Councilmember Rawl sought a deferral of the vote until the Council meeting on Tuesday.

Chairman Pryor was not happy about any deferral and noted that generally there never had been an issue about the appointments by members. Staff also noted that often it did not get names of the appointed until the Finance Committee meeting with the inference that application forms could not be completed before the vote.

Council member Summey supported the assertion by Chairman Pryor but probably summarized the position correctly by saying that there was a difference between past practice and what should happen. He also noted that if he did not agree on an appointment, he would abstain from voting rather than vote against. And he added that he would not support Council member Schweer’s proposed appointment to the TAB (Council member Schweers recommended John Knott, previously a member of the TAB, and a principle of the now defunct Noisette development in North Charleston)

And then staff took the wind out of the sails of the critics. Staff held completed application forms for all of the appointees of Council members Schweers and Pryor, and the others that had been named. All that remained were the appointments of the new Council members. And these were promised by Tuesday night.

Council member Rawl's call for a deferral of the vote until Tuesday failed. But it was supported by Council members Condon and Schweers. Coincidentally, these three Council members did not support Council member Pryor’s election to the position of Chair this year.

We also note that making any appointment to the TAB was debated last night. It was suggested that with all of the half-cent sales tax money committed, the TAB had no role. There had not been a meeting of the body for over a year. But staff said the body needed to make a review this year so appointments were necessary. So the issue died.

Problems of determining market value

Property markets presently can be described in many ways. And viewing the valuations and bids for properties that the County plans to sell, you could add the word confused.

There were three properties for sale. The appraised values and bid prices are as follows. The differences in our view are extraordinarily high.

9986-9988 Randall Road = Appraised value $100,000. Bid price $76,000.
164 Maple Street - Appraised value $355,000. Bid price $101,101.
Fickling Hill Road - Appraised value $9,000. Bid price $30,000.

According to the accompanying documents, the Maple Street property had been put up for sale earlier. The bid at that time was $420,000 and the appraised value $789,000. Council last night decided to retain the Maple Street property until markets improved but to sell the others.

We make note of these items not to criticize the County or appraisers but to highlight the difficulty in determining market values in these uncertain times. A valuation is supposed to ignore distressed sales but when nearly all sales are because of distress, what is the market?

Executive Session tensions
Executive sessions are common place during Finance Committee meetings. The Chairman stated when Council broke for last night’s session that items to be discussed were the sale of the incinerator property, the closing of the incinerator contract with Montenay, and the I-526 extension. As is also usual, the Chair stated on completion of the session and on returning to the Committee chamber that no decisions were made or vote taken. And then Council adjourned. From an outsider’s perspective, the only unusual feature of the executive session was the departure of Council member Summey before its completion with a stern face and in front of a heavily slammed door.

Yes we are wondering too!

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