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City Council, April 26

Clock ticking as Council seeks agreement for new district boundaries
Commercial Corridor Design Review, Tow trucks, and Time Shares
Marc Knapp

It was a marathon meeting yesterday. It started around 3pm with a workshop on the up-coming redistricting. The Ways and Means which followed was quickly dispatched, but not so the number of presentations and proclamations at the start of the Council meeting. Then there was the public hearing on the proposed changes for Commercial Corridor Design Review District regulations, followed by Citizens Participation where speakers vented on regulations proposed by the Committee on Public Safety. Council members, and others, were feeling the hardness of their seats when these regulations came up for discussion and by 8 pm, the remaining business of Council had been hurriedly but understandably dispatched.

At the redistricting workshop, Staff presented Plan C as it sought to shape a plan that would gain approval from Council members. Plan C followed Plans A and B which were presented to Council at a meeting 2 weeks ago. Like Plans A and B, the new Plan combined District 3 and 5 into a single district to be called District 3. There were also other changes in suburban areas. Staff noted that Plan C had the smallest deviation, 0.37%, of any of the plans presented. Deviations of the other plans exceeded 2%. (Deviation is a measure of the equality in numbers of population in each district. The smaller the deviation, the greater the equality) To see details of all the Plans, press Download file
.

However, some Council members were still unhappy and thought that boundaries could be defined to better protect the majorities of African Americans. Interestingly, Council; member Gregorie thought that population of minorities should be used in the calculation. He was told that the law proscribed only African Americans. Staff also noted that the inclusion of other minorities would make little difference to any outcome.

Staff is to hold workshops for Council members at 75 Calhoun Street to enable them to define boundaries themselves. But they were warned that if they add to a District they must also take away and add elsewhere. This was not static analysis.

Council must sign off on the new districts by June 1 if they are to be used in the election in November. Staff warns of legal risks if they are not. The US Department of Justice requires a 60 day period for review after Council agrees to the new districts.

More work needed on Commercial Corridor Design Review
Staff told Council that the proposed changes to the Commercial Corridor Design Review District regulation were designed to make the process more efficient. Staff was to take on a wider role in the review process displacing the Review Board in some decision making. Staff noted the cost of compliance with the regulations and particularly when members of the Review Board fail to turn up for meetings (mmm, I wonder who appoints these people?)

A number of citizens voiced concern about the changes and the inability of the public under the new regulations to express their views. They also had some good suggestions about possible improvements. Council member Mallard spoke vehemently about the need to streamline the process, to reduce costs for developers, and to pass the proposed amendments. A spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce agreed with him that the cost of compliance exceeded that for the County and surrounding municipalities.

Council seemed to agree that what was proposed was good but thought it could be bettered with more input from business, others, and from suggestions made by citizens in the public hearing. The amended regulations are to be brought back within 2 months

Contracts needed for towing companies
There was no documentation in the information packages relating to proposed changes for City “contracted” towing companies. There was a one-line entry Wrecker Rotation Policy under Committee on Public Safety but it meant nothing to us We were alerted by the number of speakers in Citizens Participation who spoke in favor of the present system.

Police Chief Mullen ultimately gave us the explanation. State Law relating to procurement defines how contracts are made and the obligation of the municipalities. We presume that a number of tow truck companies had sought to share in the City’s business which in turn prompted the Chief to look at the existing contract. Surprise! There was no contract. The last was signed in 1996 and was for only a year.

Cognizant of State Law, the Chief took steps to create a contract and acted through the Committee of Public Safety. We have not seen the document but it seems to have suggested that contracts for towing would be issued on a rotational basis rather than on a zoning basis.

Presently there are two companies that serve the city – Turky’s and Jennings. They operate in different zones. They do not charge the City anything, all their charges being borne by the owner of the towed vehicle.

Council seemed sympathetic to the argument that defined zones were better than rotation for tow truck operations. Legal staff is to review the nature of the contract to enable the defining of zones. But despite the apparent good job the companies do, and despite the pleas of employees and others, the contracts will have to be put out for bidding and Turky’s and Jennings will have to bid to retain the business..

Council unanimous in need to tighten time share regulations
The recommendation by the Committee on Public Safety relating to tighter regulations on vendors of time shares for vacations, Club memberships etc was wholly endorsed by Council. Presumably, the amendments to the existing code will come to Council for a first reading at the next Council meeting,

The Post and Courier has fully covered the issue. Suffice to say here is that the new regulations define more strictly what vendors cannot do – they cannot make deceptive or misleading statements, they cannot sell in an aggressive manner such as causing any physical contact with persons on public streets, blocking or interfering with the free passage of any person, use profane or offensive language, or persist in solicitation if the person has indicated no interest

The amendments also more strictly define the nature of signs. The words “vacation time share seller” or “vacation club membership seller” must be printed on a sign and clearly readable by the public. The words “this business is not affiliated with the City of Charleston or the Charleston Visitor Reception and Transportation Center or Charleston Area Convention and Visitor Bureau must also be printed and clearly visible.


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