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County Council, January 9

Two contentious issues buried
Assigns completion of I-526 to state, and elects a chairman

Warwick Jones

Did we hear a large collective sigh of relief at the conclusion of yesterday’s Council meeting? Council members must have felt something kin to relief when they buried two contentious issues – the completion of I-526 and the election of Council Chairman.

The resolution, perhaps not quite the right word, of the I-526 issue was predictable. Late last week, the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) indicated that it would ask the state through the Department of Transportation to take over the completion of the project. This move would effectively take the initiative away from the County and absolve it of any liability, either in repaying the $11 million that it had already spent on the project, or finding the $50 million or so beyond the SIB funding that would be needed to fund the completion.

We thought it would be an easy decision and that all members would embrace the motion of Council member Summey to assign the project to the state. But Councilmember Schweers wanted language amended that related to the alternatives or lack of alternatives available to the County. There was protracted questioning of County Attorney Dawson about the language and events, which in our mind seemed arcane and not very material to the final outcome.

And the final outcome was a vote 7 to 2 to assign the project to the State. Council members Darby and Qualey were the two Council members who voted against the proposal. Council member Darby spoke of the hope of compromise and achieving some middle ground in moving ahead with the project and Council member Qualey thought the state should not be involved and that the County resolve the issue.

Council member Rawl spoke sense when he suggested that there really was no alternative. The County did not want to repay $11 million it would owe if it didn’t go forward and if the County didn’t go forward, the state in all likelihood would still assume the project. And if the County did pursue the project, where would it get the funds needed beyond the $420 million promised by the SIB?

The issue over the completion of I-526 may still live on. But if it dies, it will be at the hands of the state while the hands of the County remain clean.

Decisive vote for Chairman
While we thought the issue of electing a Chairman of Council for 2012 would come before Council again, we did not expect it last night. Perhaps smarting under the charges of “chairman by default” after indecisive voting at the previous Council meeting, Chairman Pryor sought to place the issue on the agenda at the end of the Council meeting. He spoke of the need to resolve the issue as soon as possible. And probably few Council members disagreed.

Council member Rawl was not happy about voting immediately and opined that it took a unanimous vote by Council members to place the item on the night’s agenda: normally, notice was necessary. County attorney Dawson indicated that Council member Rawl was correct in his opinion. Council member Rawl then objected to placing the election of the Chair on the agenda.

Chairman Pryor then suggested that the item be discussed as soon as possible and suggested a time a week hence. This was followed by general discussion, which involved the need for fast resolution and legalities relating to Council being able to call for another vote. Council member Darby asked as to whether another vote was going to lead yet to another stalemate with no real resolution.

The picture changed when unexpectedly, Council member Rawl said that he would withdraw his opposition to an immediate vote. Consequently, nominations were called for the position of Chairman of Council. Council member Pryor was nominated by Council member Johnson and Council member Rawl was nominated by Councilmember Condon.

There was nothing indecisive about the vote. Seven Council members voted for Councilmember Pryor and two Council members, Rawl and Condon voted for Council member Rawl.

We can only conjecture why Council member Rawl backed down from his position of seeking notice for the election. We think he wanted to be Chairman. But even with the extra time to organize, he may have assessed his chance of election as poor. And why wasn’t Council member Scheers nominated again? Contrary to the situation last week, there seemed no hesitation by him or the Republican members in voting for Council member Pryor.

Council member Schweers publicly congratulated Chairman Pryor on his re election but was a tad patronizing when he commented that the Chairman’s performance had improved greatly in the last 6 months of office. Council member Rawl had no comment to make after the election of the Chairman. Councilmember Condon, smarting it seemed after references made by Council member Darby to partisanship, stated that she wished that Council elections were non-partisan and vowed to continue to assess issues on their merit and not party politics.

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