The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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County Council, November 9

High noon at the Lonnie Hamilton
Contention over public works projects and Solid Waste progress

Warwick Jones

It could have been a Hollywood western. Bristling with bravado, Big Ma Mosley marches up to the bar, orders a double whiskey. She downs it and glares at her adversaries. With a hand on her holster she flintily flings out a challenge. “ What’s ye’r beef boys? Y' gotta problem?”

OK, it was not exactly like that. But the appearance of County Auditor Moseley before the Finance Committee was more theatre than enlightening.

Ms. Moseley was asked to appear before the Committee to give an explanation as to why there has been a long delay in sending out the 2011 tax bills. They were due to be sent out some weeks ago and Council was concerned. As Council member Summey said at the last Finance Committee meeting, the delay could have an adverse impact, especially on municipalities and agencies that were relying on the tax revenue. They may be forced to borrow to fill any financing gap.

Most members asked questions and sometimes it was the same question - when were the bills going to be sent out? And some reiterated that the purpose of the request for her presence was to get information, not to attack her or her staff.

Most of Ms. Moseley’s replies sounded as though they traveled along a barrel of a Colt 45 but none of the verbal projectiles seem to hit the mark that Committee members had set before her. It seemed that all of the tax notices would get out when she could be sure there were no errors. She hoped that that would be tomorrow for some but she would not know until tomorrow if there were errors. So if there were another error, it would have to be eliminated before posting. Cutting through the verbiage, there was no commitment to timing; it all depended on the elimination of errors.

The source of the errors still seems unclear. Ms. Mosley blamed it on the new Manitron system that the County put in place. Other seems to place the blame on errors in the data that was loaded into the system. And then there was the unspoken alternative that the Auditor’s office had not been up to the task.

Ms. Mosley scoffed at the idea that notices could be sent out that could be identified as having no errors. This was like trying to drink warm tea only from the side of a cup. All the notices had to be printed together she said. She did say that notices to the top 20 taxpayers in the County had been sent out, but this was hardly a satisfactory sop to Committee members.

After about 20 minutes, Ma Moseley dismounted from her high horse and to their applause, joined the sidekicks and cow pokes from the Auditor’s office who had ridden to the meeting in her support. Committee members were still wondering.

Contention over public works projects and Solid Waste progress
Contention was the flavor of yesterday’s Committee meetings. It may have ended with the altercations between members and Ms. Moseley. But it began in the Planning/Public Committee meeting and reached a crescendo in the Recycling/Solid Waste Committee.

Three of the four items on the Planning/Public Works agenda drew a lot of discussion and there were differences amongst members. But the differences got testy on the last item relating to the allocation of 2012 Sales tax revenues and the prioritization of projects. Council member Condon said there had been insufficient time to scrutinize the list and sought a deferral. Council members Qualey and Summey had similar thoughts and the latter noting that not much was being spent on his district.

Council member Schweers reminded members that Council had adopted an evaluation process three years ago to take politics out of the allocations and to make sure that projects were listed on the basis of merit. A scoring system was devised and this had worked well, he said. We don’t want to go back to the system we had before. There was a lot more discussion but finally the list was approved, seven to two.

The heat really was turned up in the Recycling/Solid Waste Committee meeting. There were two items – A recycling agreement to provide services to some parts of Daniel Island and a briefing by County Attorney on the Solid Waste program.

Members of the Committee seemed a little puzzled about the request for services on Daniel Island and whether the proposed charge of $30 per household was sufficient to cover costs. Who was presently providing the service and who made the request, it was asked? The request came for the City of Charleston (Daniel Island although in Berkeley County is part of the City) and the present vendor of the service charges $100 per household. The incentive for the change was clearly a reduction in costs. The vendor was at the meeting and stated that until recently he was unaware of the planned change. There was more, but finally, the Committee voted in favor as long as the collection of the charges was undertaken by a single entity and not the responsibility of the County.

And then the heat really was turned on. It followed on the presentation by Attorney Dawson about the progress of the County’s Solid Waste Program. The debate was long and the acrimony began when Council member Schweers complained about the tardiness that information was given to the Committee of which he is a member. He later asked when a Director of Solid Waste would be hired, and pressed Attorney for details of his remuneration as both the interim head of Solid Waste and as County Attorney. Council member Qualey also questioned the need for continuing to hire a consultant and when was a full time head of the department going to be hired?

Attorney Dawson was apologetic and said he thought he had fulfilled the request of the Committee. He had been set a 9-point program of which only two points remained to be addressed. He opined that it would take another 12 to 18 months to complete the program He would strive to meet the requests made by Council member Schweers. He also responded that he was paid $90,000 over the last 2 years. Whether he would have revealed more details of his remuneration is unknown for the Chair of the Committee, Council member Darby told Council member Schweers that such as question was not proper in the context of the Committee meeting. He said a lot more and it was not friendly.

Chairman Darby spoke aggressively about the merits of the County Attorney. His comments were repeated and embellished by Committee members Summey and Pryor. Attorney Dawson had not sought but had been asked by Council to take the command of the Solid Waste program, they said. He had done a great job and achieved savings amounting to about $18 million. The $90,000 was a small amount in the context of the achievement. The retention of the consultant was necessary because there was none on staff that had the experience to understand the complexity and changes in the industry. As well, the scope of services for the consultant had been changed frequently. The expense of the consultant may have exceeded $500,000 in each of the last 2 years but this included the cost of retaining other staff beyond the principal Mr. Kessler.

Discussion also ranged back to the closure of the incinerator in North Charleston, the use of the Bees Ferry Landfill, the economics, and the reasons why some trash was carted to Dorchester County.

In finality, the Committee voted unanimously to complete the present program within 12 to 18 months and to find a full time director of the Solid Waste group in a national search.

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