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County Council, Jan 21

We think the conduct of meetings can be improved
County to consider new software for Public Safety departments
Warwick Jones

We were less than impressed by the performance of the Committees at last night’s meeting. It is not that we had any issues with the decisions of the Committees. Indeed, we would have concurred with most of them. It was the lengthy deliberations and slack adherence to the proper conduct of meetings. Some members had strong feelings about their causes and obviously felt that by repeating their views, the cause would advance. Firmer action from the Chairs would have made for quicker decisions and with little expense of meaningful rhetoric.

The first item was a Zoning issue before the Planning/Public Works Committee. The owners sought to add 3.3 acres to a previously approved Planned Unit Development on Highway 17 in East Cooper. A number of other amendments were sought as well. The Planning Commission recommended the rezoning in a 6 to 2 decision. (There was one abstention) A number of Committee members expressed concern about the rezoning and the plans of a developer to build large self-storage units. They thought the scale and height of the units was too great and as Committee member Schweers said, area residents may not notice the action of Council tonight be he was sure there would be hostility as soon as they were built.

The Chair of the Committee recognized a citizen in attendance who lived in a nearby community. She was allowed to speak, and she did! And she continued to speak and participate in the discussion with Committee members. We did not count the minutes but there were many. We thought it normal in such circumstances that a citizen makes a short presentation and then answers question posed by Committee members. A citizen does not stand before the Committee and participate in the discussion. We are surprised at the inaction of the Chair and also the acquiescence of Committee members.

And then there is the issue of the partisan position taken by the Committee Chair. He was clearly in favor of the rezoning and spoke several times in its favor. Below is a quotation from Roberts Rules which is applicable to Committee and Council meetings,

The chairman sometimes calls a member to the chair and takes part in the debate. This should rarely be done, and nothing can justify it in a case where much feeling is shown and there is a liability to difficulty in preserving order. If the chairman has even the appearance of being a partisan, he loses much of his ability to control those who are on the opposite side of the question. There is nothing to justify the unfortunate habit some chairmen have of constantly speaking on questions before the assembly, even interrupting the member who has the floor. One who expects to take an active part in debate should never accept the chair, or at least should not resume the chair, after having made his speech, until after the pending question is disposed of.1 The presiding officer of a large assembly should never be chosen for any reason except his ability to preside..

We would opine that Council and Committee Chairs have frequently ignored the opinion/ rule of Roberts Rules, at least in recent years. Its observance was strictly adhered to by Senator Tim Scott, during his tenure as County Chair some 10 years or so ago. We can recall many times his silence during debate but a logical and powerful summary at the conclusion that probably made a difference to the voting. He set a good example.

For the record, the Planning/Public Works Committee directed staff to work with the developer and come back with a plan for the Council meeting on Tuesday that reflected a reduction in scale and density.
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We were also surprised at the tardiness of some Council members in supporting the Sheriff’s Department in its quest to upgrade the Public Safety System software to manage all records. Those in opposition did so not because the request lacked merit, but because it was not done strictly according to Council rules. They argued that the project should have been put out for bidding in the usual way, and not awarded without a competitive process.

We’d normally agree with these dissident Council members but the issue was not so straightforward. An upgrade/or new software was put out for bidding some years ago. The lowest bid was accepted but after some years of negotiation, the bidder walked away. No agreement was reached with the County as the asked price was too high. As “Mitch” Lucas, Chief Deputy Sheriff/Jail Administrator said last night, if new bids were called, it may not be until November that a potential provider was chosen. But that did not mean that a new system would be installed straight way. It could take years to work out a process to transfer all the existing data into a new system. And it would be expensive.

He went on to say that the present vendor did not win the bid when bids were last called, but in the meantime, it had stuck with the County and upgraded the system when and where it could. However, the present system was installed 20 years ago and despite some improvements, was very much out of date and the public safety departments were suffering from its limitations. The present vendor has devised a new system that is compatible with the old and it is possible to transfer existing data to it.

This new system would be much cheaper than that from another vendor and which would not be immediately compatible with the County’s existing system. No cost estimate was given for the new system in the public documents but we thought we heard mention of a figure above $2 million in the discussion,

Chief Deputy Sheriff Lucas offered to “go down on his hands and knees” to beg for the Committee’s
approval. The County was in desperate need of an upgrade and without it, the performance of the public safety department was threatened. He said all of this was a smile on his face, but it might have been a grimace. It seemed to conceal an anger when some Committee members continued to push for rebidding.

Whether it was common sense or the pleading of the Chief Deputy Sheriff Lucas, the Committee agreed for staff to begin negotiations with the present vendor.

  • Remember the old incinerator in North Charleston? It was closed a few years ago and the County decided to put the property up for sale. There was one bid - $800,000. This compared with an appraised value of $4.135 million. Last night, the County decided to retain the 17.8 acre property, presumably in the hope of a much better offer in the future.
  • The Committee approved the purchase of the 630 acre lot in East Edisto from Mead Westvaco. The property will be bought largely with Greenbelt funds and administered by the County Parks and Recreation Department. Ducks Unlimited contributed $476,000 to the purchase. The purchase has been under consideration for some time and awaited the signing by the Spring Grove Development principals and the County, of a Development Agreement.
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