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County Council, May 14

Sheriff’s Department to get body cameras
Issues over funding for senior centers and non-profits
Warwick Jones

The most important item discussed and approved last night was the provision of body cameras for the Sheriff’s office. But more time was spent on discussing how to deal with requests for funding for senior centers, and non-profit organizations.

Before the Public Safety Committee was a request from the Sheriff’s Department for the financing of 270 body cameras. The anticipated maximum cost was $250,000. Predictably, there was no opposition on the Committee and the request was approved unanimously.

Sheriff Cannon and County Solicitor Wilson made brief presentations before the vote. They spoke of the benefit of the cameras. The cameras provided reliable evidence that was an aid to both the officers of the Sheriff’s Department, and the protection of the public. The provision of evidence was also an aid to successful prosecution. Both speakers noted the recent shootings in the County and the creation of a “climate” dictating the use body cameras. The funding would be included in the 2016 budget, deliberations on which would begin shortly.

The requests for funding by the Town of Mount Pleasant – for its Senior Center- and by the Palmetto Community Action Partnership - for its community activities – generated more discussion and heat than we anticipated. Both request were ultimately approved but the voting was split.

Town Council member Stokes Marshall spoke for the Town of Mount Pleasant. She asked for a contribution by the County of $40,000 a year for 3 years. In return, citizens could join the Senior Center for only $100 a year, the same charge for residents of Mount Pleasant. The contribution would be similar to that in the last 3 years. Council member Condon, the leading advocate for a senior center at West Ashley moved for approval. But it was not immediately forth coming.

Council member Schweers was sympathetic to senior centers but questioned why the County was contributing to municipal projects which could be financed from their own sources. Council member Qualey supported him. He commented that the municipalities were probably better positioned to fund than the County which would be financially stretched this year and possibly need to raise taxes. A general discussion on funding of senior centers followed and on the contributions made or promised for centers on James Island, North Charleston, West Ashley and Mount Pleasant. We did not follow all that subsequently followed but there seemed a lot of confusion or misinformation. But in the end, Mount Pleasant’s request was approved with Council members Rawl, Schweers and Qualey opposed. Council member Sass was absent.

The request for funding of the Palmetto Community Action Partnership was more heated. No Council member disputed the good that the entity did, but some Council members took issue with the ad hoc methods of dealing with these sort of requests.

The Partnership is a “non-profit serving the economically disadvantaged by increasing self-sufficiency and developing strategies to promote economic independence through partnerships”. It sought funding of $50,000.

Council member Schweers was again the first to question the request and again joined by Council member Qualey. Entities could not “just walk in and ask for money”. Some process should be devised whereby all the request by non-profits could be ranked and assessed, and at a specific time. Council member Schweers noted that there was a formal process for the distribution of HUD monies and Council member Rawl noted the system put in place for allocation of funding from the Accommodation Tax. Chairman Summey mockingly suggested that Council member Rawl should head a committee to devise such a system. He suggested Council member Johnson join the committee when she too made a similar comment.

Council member Pryor, a strong advocate for the Partnership, took issue with Council member Schweers when he called it a charity. It is not a charity but a non-profit, Council Pryor declared. It would cost the County multiples of $50,000 to do the work that the Partnership does in the community.

Nobody debated the distinction between a non-profit and a charity. Council members may have all agreed that a better system was needed. But 5 of the 8 present voted to give the Partnership what it requested. It was to come out of the 2015 Budget contingency fund. Council members Schweers, Qualey and Rawl voted against the grant. Council member Sass was absent.

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