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County Council, August 17

What is going on?
Thumbs down to bike lane on Legare Bridge
Warwick Jones

What is going on? There were things said at last night’s Council meeting that raise some important questions.

Firstly, when the Finance Committee rose to go into executive session, Council member Summey exclaimed that he would not vote on the Chicora Life issue. Secondly, at the conclusion of the Council meeting, Council member Darby gave an impassioned speech and apologized for what he said to staff members Dawson and Smalls during the executive session. He also apologized to Council member Moody. Council member Moody accepted the apology and expressed sadness that he would no longer be working with Council member Darby.

Let’s speculate what is happening. We understand that the legal suit brought by the owners of the Chicora Life Center against the County has been successful but damages have yet to be assessed. We have no idea what the damages will be but one legal source suggests millions of dollars. The decision by the County to walk away from its lease agreement with the owners of the old naval hospital a.k.a. the Chicora Life Center, split Council a year or so ago. The County claimed that the owner had not fulfilled its obligations in renovating the building and was way behind schedule. We cannot recall the vote but Council member Darby was strongly opposed and warned of the consequences of terminating the lease. Council member Summey, amongst others, was in favor of termination. County attorney Dawson and Deputy Administrator Smalls played large roles in the process – providing legal advice and administration.

We have heard comments that Council member Summey had a financial interest in the building that would be used as an alternative to house those services planned for the Chicora Center. The utterance last night - that he would not vote on any issue related to it - suggests some conflict that precludes him voting. Could it be such a financial interest?

And finally, is Council member Darby resigning or signaling that he will not run again? We don’t know but we do know two things. Council member Darby became the Principal of North Charleston High School some months ago. The position is demanding, and fulfilling the role of Council member and Principal has taken a toll. The resolution of this personal conflict may be the only reason that the Council member could be calling it a day. But there may be more. The Council member was upset at Council and staff over the termination of the lease relating to the Chicora Life Center. He questioned judgment and intent. His confession, of indiscretion in the executive session, may reflect the intensity of his feelings, and perhaps bitterness.

More will be said on these issues, I am sure. But we’ll conclude with the closing remark last night of Chairman Rawl. The public probably “wishes you had a clue as to what is happening. You don’t”!
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The issue of a bike lane on the Legare Bridge across the Ashley River took up much of the last night’s meeting. The supporters of the lane were manifold but their comments in the citizens’ participation came well after the Finance Committee voted it down. The actual motion voted upon was to send a letter to the SC DOT withdrawing the County's support for the conversion of a traffic lane to a bike and pedestrian lane. Council member Summey proposed an addition - that staff engage the City of Charleston, the SCDOT and Charleston Moves for a solution for bikers and pedestrians coming from James and Johns Islands and using the James Island Expressway. The $600,000 budgeted for the bike lane over the Legare Bridge was to be held over, and used in any solution relating to the Expressway.

There was a lot of confusion on the Committee as to what it was voting on and seemingly, it was only the Chair that was clear and who reminded the Committee of what it was voting on.

Only Council member Schweers and Darby voted against the motion. From what he said, Council member Darby was clearly for the creation of a bike lane. Council member Schweers was not really in favor of the bike lane but he believed in “home rule” and it was therefore up to the City to make the decision, not the County.

There was much said by Council members and the public about the lane closure. Most of that said was not new and we make no effort to repeat it. However, we will note Council member Moody’s comment. He is relatively new to Council and was not on Council when the study on the bike lane was made last year. He expressed skepticism over the data that was offered by proponents of the traffic lane closure, accusing them of presenting selective data. He also queried the level of support, noting the strong organization of the proponents. Mayor Tecklenberg also spoke in favor of the closure and suggested that the County had an obligation as a partner of the County in many projects, to support the closure.

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