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City Council, June 16

Error in collection of environment impact fees on Daniel Island?
Citizens’ abuse of Citizens Participation and Public Hearings
Marc Knapp

With outside temperatures near the century mark (and it is still June) it was a slow moving day. The Ways and Means session was scheduled to begin at 4.30pm but when the Mayor looked in a few minutes before, there were only two people in the chamber. Undoubtedly, the extreme weather affected attendance. Four members of Council were also absent for most of last evening’s session though as the Mayor explained, this had nothing to do with the weather.

There were no items on the agenda of Council or Ways and Means that we thought would be major issues. But one item got our attention and we were looking forward to an explanation. Maybe Council members were exhausted from the heat for no questions were asked and the item was passed without discussion. The item related to the cessation to the collection of “environmental impact fees” from Daniel Island, Cainhoy and Thomas Island. The fees had been collected since 2005 but collection was to be terminated May 19, 2015. We understand that both the City and Berkeley County were collecting fees, and judging from the termination, the City should not have collected the fees. The question now seems to be the extent of the reimbursement. It could be a lot! But we understand the reimbursement will not affect the General Fund.

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Citizens Participation and public hearings afford citizens the ability to speak their minds. But sometimes, like yesterday evening, you wonder how free should speech be? To his credit, the Mayor has been very tolerant and allowed citizens to express some extreme views without censure. On occasion, the criticism has been too much for some Council members. Some walked out of the chamber when one citizen made racial and other slurs. Other times, Council members were provoked to respond to offensive and unwarranted taunts.

Last night, we suspect attendees, the Mayor and Council members had a common feeling that something needed to be done. A citizen should be allowed to speak at the public hearing for each item, but not on a topic of his or her choice. One citizen rose to speak at about 4 of the hearings and as far as we could tell, there was no relevance to the specific item. He also rose at the Citizens Participation with the same lack of clarity. Another citizen rose to excoriate the Mayor over the placement of a statue of Philip Simmons. The comments were based on misinformation and were highly offensive, though possibly less so than comments he made in many meetings earlier this year.

As a frequent speaker in Citizens Participation, I need to tread carefully in judging comments of other folks. We should try to remain respectful and have our facts straight. We should also be mindful that we are taking up time. We estimate the comments made last night by two speakers took up about 20 minutes. What they had to say was either unintelligible or so offensive, their comments achieved no purpose.

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As reported in the media earlier this month, Tim Keane, Director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability is leaving the City to take up a similar position in Atlanta. Last night was Mr. Keane’s last attendance at a Council meeting and the Mayor gave him a “fond farewell”. The Mayor recognized Mr. Keane’s “extraordinary” efforts over the years, his willingness to take on tasks, and the pleasure of working with him. The City was sad to see him go but the new position was a great opportunity. In a short speech, Mr. Keane gratefully acknowledged the Mayor’s comments and confessed that when he recently visited Atlanta and encountered the traffic, he nearly changed his mind. He was given a standing ovation.

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