The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, May 10

Issues with a Planning Commission member
Long deliberation on nature of West Ashley Revitalization Commission
Marc Knapp

It was a long evening. The Council meeting did not conclude until well after 7 pm. I was the only member of the public in the gallery that endured the whole meeting, and I wonder why. There were two issues that took up most of the two hour meeting. I won’t say that they were trivial, but they were not deserving of the time spent, to say the least.

The first issue related to an appointment to the Planning Commission. Before Council was the recommendation of the Mayor to appoint Ms. Terry Seabrook to the Commission to fill a vacancy. Everybody was in favor of the appointment. But Council member Moody made an observation and a recommendation that precipitated endless discussion. The observation was that Ms. Val Perry was a Commissioner but also employed by the Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF). HCF was often a party to issues before the Commission but Ms. Perry never recused herself from a hearing or voting. This was wrong and unethical in Council member Moody’s view. He moved that the new appointment replace Ms. Perry.

There was immediate support for the motion by the Council member though some Council members were hesitant. The replacement of Ms. Perry was too hasty and harsh. After all she had served for 5 years or so and nobody had complained about the seeming ethics issue, they said.

In a sense, the immediate replacement of Ms. Perry may seem harsh. But her term on the Commission was up and she was due for either reappointment or replacement, at the Council’s pleasure. We saw nothing wrong with Council member Moody’s suggestion. However he ultimately withdrew his motion, not that he changed his mind but rather in deference to the request of the Mayor and others. The Mayor is to shortly implement a process whereby members of the public can register their interest in serving on the Planning Commission or other City bodies. From this list, the Mayor and Council can choose those most qualified to serve.

The certain thing about the issue is that Ms. Perry is out, if not now, but shortly!

The ordinance relating to the creation of a West Ashley Revitalization Commission was up for second reading. Probably most Council members would have approved it but for Council member Wilson’s request. We thought the request was reasonable but it led to a very long discussion about appointments and representation.

Council member Wilson requested that the Chair of the Commission should be decided by the Commission members and not by the Mayor. However, City Council should still vote to confirm the Chair. After a debate that went just about everywhere, Council member Wilson, with tongue in cheek, apologized for seeking the change.

We will make no attempt to describe the convolutions. In finality, the Commission will consist of 19 members – the Mayor, three City Council members who represent parts of West Ashley, a member of County Council, a member of the St.Andrews PSD, and 13 members of the public. The members of the public will be appointed by Council with each Council member making one appointment.

So what is different from the approved in the first reading? The Mayor does not get to choose the 13 members from the public and these members can be drawn from areas outside West Ashley. There was no provision for a County Council member in the first reading. And Council member Wilson’s request was approved.

So did I get the summary right? I hope so. But echoing the frustration of Lou Costello at the conclusion of the popular “Who’s on First Base” dialogue, I don’t give a damn! I suspect that Mayor Tecklenberg had similar thoughts as the discussion ground on. He acquiesced to most requests made by Council members and listened patiently to the debate. But there were signs of frustration. And with a 19-member Commission and possibly as many views on issues, there will be more times of frustration.

We think some Council members were also frustrated over the length of discussion. The pain was not shared with Council member Riegel who arrived at the chamber towards the conclusion of the meeting and left the Chamber just before the conclusion to take a phone call.

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