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City Council, February 14

Giving thanks for the SIB grant
Hotels and King Street doing well
Marc Knapp

There were some contentious issues before Council last night, but none of much importance, at least in our view.

The Mayor opened the session to speak of the City's success in obtaining a grant of $88 million from the State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) to finance the Septima Clark drainage project. The decision of the SIB was announced a week or so ago but the Mayor took the opportunity last night to talk of the large amount of work that went into preparing the application and indeed planning for the project generally. He also thanked members of the staff, in particular Transportation Director Hernan Pena, State Representatives and Senators and others for the roles they played.

Clerk of Council Turner Maybank also read a letter from the SIB complimenting the Mayor and the City on the quality of the application, the work that had been performed, and the size and importance of the project.

The cost of the project is projected at about $150 million. The SIB grant combined with City funds and other grants should ensure the completion of the project

Hotels and King Street doing well
We would like to have heard more from Mr. Tim Keane, Director of Planning Preservation and Sustainability when he gave a “ Business Services “ update.

He spoke of the services offered by the small group within his department, but of particular interest were the comments on the City’s hotels and King Street. Despite the slack national economy, City hotels enjoyed an occupancy rate of 80% last year, up 4% on the previous year. At the same time, room rates were up 4.2% leading to an 8.2% increase in room revenues. Mr. Keene also spoke of King Street and its stature as a shopping destination in South Carolina, the high occupancy rate of 94% and the success of closing the street to traffic every second Sunday.

Council member Alexander also commented on the success of the Sunday street closing and pressed for more details. Not much more was forthcoming but Mr. Keene said that generally merchants were very pleased by the success. For many, the second Sunday was best day of the month for sales. Some retailers that had previously remained closed on Sundays, now opened every Sunday.

I-Pads and Electronic communication
And then there were the issues of I-pads, and electronic communication by Council members while Council was in session

Council member Gregorie sought a discussion about issuing I - Pads to Council members and key staff. This would cut out much paper work and lead to great efficiency, he argued. He also said the cost would be small measured against the annual budget of the City. Nobody argued with his observation though there were difference is regards to costs. The saving on paper would not be great CEO Bedard told Council and the cost of the I- Pads for Council members and the yearly servicing cost be as much as $13,600 and $6,000 respectively.

There did not seem to be much enthusiasm for Council member Gregorie’s suggestion. Nobody questioned the utility of I-Pads but some members including the Mayor said that in these tight times, the expenditure was not appropriate. The issue should be further studied and perhaps raised when discussions on the 2013 budget begin.

Interestingly, some Council members have their own I-pads. And as Council member Gregorie observed, some other municipalities have gone the paperless route. He could have mentioned Charleston County where all members have I- Pads for use during Council sessions.

Council member Hallman took up the issue of electronic communication during Council meetings. He sought an amendment to the ordinance up for second reading that defined conduct during Council meetings. He sought a total ban on using electronic devices during meetings. He was joined by Council members White and Alexander. They argued that the public and other Council members deserved total transparency in discussion and communication when Council meets. Council members and the public also deserved respect, something that was lacking if members texted or communicated on phones or other devices when attending a Council meeting.

The other Council members were leery, as they were in the Council session last month. What if, what if, they asked?

Council member Lewis got it right. These might not have been his words but the idea was - Guys, we are adults and we know what is right and wrong, and what is respectful. We also have common sense, why don’t we use it?

Council member Hallman’s motion to amend went nowhere.

Only one bidder meets condition for Towing contracts
We raised our eyebrows over the award of a towing contract to Jennings Towing. The City had called for bids for contracts on City Zones 1 to 4. Apparently there were a number of bids but only Jennings met all the requirements and in particular, had staff available on a 24-hour basis. The availability of staff was important to enable the retrieval at any time of vehicles that had been towed. Jennings bid only for Zones 1 and 4. It was awarded the contract for these zones and those for Zones 2 and 3 would be rebid, staff told Council.

Any bets that Turkys Towing will be the successful bidder of Zones 2 and 3?

Cigar store gets nod to relocate
Finally, Council gave the nod to a cigar store to relocate to a premise near the City market. The store had been allowed to continue operating on Meeting Street after the City introduced its non-smoking ordinance. Council members noted that the exception given to the store reflected the desire to not close down a successful business. That sentiment still prevailed. The ordinance before Council allows for a one-time relocation. As noted by Council member White, this limitation gives the landlord an unreasonable hold over the retailer. The retailer must pay whatever rent the landlord requires, or effectively close its business. This aspect of the ordinance is to be reviewed and possibly amended in the second reading.
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