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The Watch


Individual Articles

City Council, September 13

Greater Hurricane protection will be costly
City moves ahead on investment in East Side and Affordable Housing
Warwick Jones

Understandably, Hurricane Irma was the subject first discussed at last night’s City Council meeting. The Mayor led off and predictably went some length to praise the efforts of the staff and Council members in dealing with the storm and its aftermath. A number of Council members also sang the praises of staff but also of the Mayor and his leadership.

The Mayor noted that the appraisal of damage was still underway. It was the intention of the City to seek a grant from FEMA, to help finance the cleanup and rebuilding. At this stage it was unclear whether the City would qualify for assistance. But as Council member Seekings noted, a lot needs to be done and it will be very costly. He specifically noted the building of a higher seawall at the Battery to protect an important part of the Historic District and the completion of stormwater drainage projects on the Peninsula, West Ashley and James Island.

Much already has been written about the impact of Irma on Charleston and there were no surprises in the discussion last night. The storm urge coincided with an unusually high tide. The combination led to extensive flooding on the Peninsula and elsewhere. And it was the flooding that did most of the damage. In a sense, rainfall and winds were modest, at least compared to that suffered in southern Florida. The Peninsula received over 4 inches of rain but some other parts of the County recorded about 9 inches. The maximum wind speed was 68 mph. Although perhaps relatively modest, the winds were generally stronger than most folk expected.

The major items last night were on the Ways and Means Agenda. And they all related to preparation for financing or of bond issues. The potentially largest- about $50 million- was for Charleston Water Systems. The proceeds of the issue will be used to redeem existing bonds, the interest on which is at a higher rate than on the new bonds. The other two large issues related to the Cooper River Bridge TIF district ($12 million) and for Affordable Housing ($20 million).

The Cooper River Bridge TIF district has been in the works for some years and Council member Mitchell was visibly agitated that some Council members had reservations about approving the bond issue. Actually, it was not the bond issue itself caused concern. It was the potential projects that the raised money would fund. Council members Moody and Waring were not happy with the list of projects – such as $1 million for improvements on Huger Street, and $1 million for pedestrian improvements. The specific items had never been discussed by Council. The Mayor said there was no commitment of the City to the specific projects and each had to be approved by Council. The list of projects was essentially a draft. We are not sure the Council members were convinced. There were also some issues over the Affordable Housing ordinance and the exclusion of home ownership as opposed to home rentals.

The Affordable Housing Bond Issue is subject to a referendum at the end of this year. We are sure the City will strongly promote the issue but we wonder if there is strong public support.

We thought we had seen the end of the acrimony over the alleged racial discrimination by the City’s police. The matter came to a head some months ago when Council discussed the issue and voted to retain Novak Consulting to undertake an audit but with the promise to retain a subcontractor. The acrimony surfaced again last night when Council member Waring took issue with the proposal to appoint RPI as the subcontractor to the audit of the Police Department. Similar to his criticism of Novak, he thought RPI lacked experience. He again questioned the process by which the City chose Novak, and also RPI. It seemed to make no difference that the Committee on Public Safety had made the decision and Council member Lewis, who is black supported the decision. His speech was hostile and we give kudos to Mayor Tecklenberg for maintaining his composure. But some Council members were irritated and frustrated, and “called for the question”. Council voted in favor of the appointment with Council members Waring and Moody opposed. The latter Council member did not speak to the issue and we do not know why he opposed the appointment.