The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
City Council, January 10
Issue over award of Consultant contract
Zoning change proposed to boost affordable housingMarc Knapp
Council member Waring had a point. He made it and Mayor Tecklenberg lost his cool, well almost. The Council member questioned the role that “Josh” Martin, the Mayor's assistant, played in choosing the consultant to the West Ashley Revitalization Commission (WARC). And the Mayor reacted with hostility that anyone should question the integrity or ability of Mr. Martin.
The confrontation arose during the discussion relating to the award of a contract to Dover, Kohl and Partners. The item was on the agenda of the previous Council meeting. Council did not approve the contract at that time and directed staff to negotiate with the firm, and for a lower cost than the $500,000 submitted. Staff did as it was told and the cost was lowered by about $5,000. But there were no other changes. The Mayor told Council that the cost could be reduced but only by reducing services. But in the opinion of the Mayor, and presumably staff, these services were necessary and related largely to the number of public meetings.
Council members Moody and Waring were still unhappy about the award and spoke at length against it. The reasons were the same as those they gave in last month’s meeting – the price was too high, the cost was $150,000 more than the original budget, more information was needed about the other contenders for the contract, presentations from the other contenders should be given to the WARC. But this time, Council member Waring had another issue. In the presentation that Dover, Kohl gave to the selection committee that consisted of staff and 3 Council members, there was no mention of Affordable Housing. In the final presentation where WARC members were in attendance, there was. Coincidence or did someone point out the deficiency? Council member Waring clearly thought it was the latter. And that Dover, Kohl effectively had been aided in gaining the contract by a member of the selection Committee who ought to have been impartial.
Council member Shahid and the Mayor were the main speakers supporting Dover, Kohl. Both wanted to move on with the work of revitalizing West Ashley and the appointment of a consultant. They defended the work and integrity of the selection committee and procurement. The Mayor also acknowledged that the Historic Charleston Foundation agreed to contribute $50,000 to funding the hire of a consultant.
Most other members of Council were silent on the issue though Council member Wagner confessed to confusion after Council member Waring’s speech. Notwithstanding he voted to award the contract to Dover, Kohl, as did other Council members bar Waring and Moody.
After the vote, Council member Waring sought to change the selection /procurement process of the City. He wanted to exclude members of the selection process from the final procurement process. In the Dover Kohl award, Mr. Martin was a member of both groups – selection and procurement. City legal counsel indicated that unless there was a 75% in favor vote by Council, Council member Waring could not bring the issue to Council at this time. We presume he will seek to place it on an agenda of a future meeting.
And a final side note. The patience of the Mayor was stretched by the speeches of both Council members Waring and Shahid. The contents of Councilmember Waring’s inflamed him but its length and that of Council members Shahid’s must have been irritating. Both were unnecessarily long and repetitive. After Council member Shahid’s speech, the Mayor exclaimed he had to work on rules for filibusters.
The other interesting item before Council last night was an amendment to the Ordinance relating to Work Force Housing (WFH) zonings. The ordinance raises the threshold for the number of WFH units in a development from 15% to 20%. It also introduces a penalty for those developers in a WFH zoning who fail to build the proscribed number of units. There were other proposed changes.
There was little discussion on Council about the proposed changes but a large number of citizens were drawn to speak in its favor. The amendments would lead to an increase in the stock of affordable housing units in the City and they were badly needed, they said. But there were a few speakers who were not sure. They warned the City to tread carefully as the proposed changes may have adverse effects. Efforts to increase affordable housing stock by similar measures had failed in other cities. The result had often been a boost to the cost of market rate housing. They also noted that the threshold had been increased but there was no increase in incentives for developers.
It is probable that most Council members thought any discussion was premature. The proposed amendments had to go before the City’s Community Development Committee, the Planning Commission and public hearings. So what might be before Council tonight might be very different to that which comes before it in future.
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