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County Council, January 18

Chairman Rawl secures a second term
But the voting was strange
Warwick Jones

As usual at the first meeting of the year, members decide on the Chair of Council. We thought that Chairman Rawl would easily retain the title. We were right that he would be re-elected but it was not an easy passage.

Council member Sass nominated Council member Rawl and then Council member Darby nominated Council member Pryor. A vote was taken but was split 4-4. Council members Sass, Qualey, Moody and Rawl voted for Rawl, Council members Darby, Johnson, Summey and Pryor voted for Pryor. Council member Schweers abstained.

An impasse followed. There were nominations of others – Qualey and Summey, and of Rawl. Council member Qualey declined the nomination and that of the others went nowhere. There was an uncomfortable discussion as to what happens next and County Attorney opined that the failure to come to a decision meant that Chairman Rawl continued in office. But the Council could in future if it chose, to elect another.

Council member Summey called for a 5-minute session break. Most if not all Council members stayed in the chamber and there was discussion between members. At the completion of the break, Council member Darby indicated a willingness to vote for Chairman Rawl. There was a minor altercation about procedure but then Council member Summey nominated Rawl for Chairman. There was no other nomination. As he was unopposed, there was no need for a vote, but it was held anyhow. All Council members voted for his re-lection with the exception of Council member Schweers. The Clerk noted that the Council member was out of the chamber.

Council member Schweers precipitated discussion about the election of the Chair. He said the election of the Chair is difficult and it never gets better. The Chair’s duties and responsibilities are many and time consuming. Those Council members with full time jobs have difficulty in serving. He thought that the Chair should be an elected- at- large position similar to the election of Mayors in the cities of the County.

Council member Summey was also in favor of an at-large vote but if we understood him correctly, the choice of the Chair was from the elected Council members. He also thought that the term should be for 2 years. Council member Darby wanted none of this. He was in favor of the present system.

Most of the balance of the meetings was taken up by presentations. The first was by Executive Director Mitchum of CARTA who spoke at length about progress of the Authority. We will make no attempt to cover all that he said. But he highlighted the efforts to upgrade buses and equipment, and to improve the efficiency of the system. He also noted efforts to provide park and ride facilities and particularly to hospitality workers on the Peninsula. He noted that the installation of shelters and benches at bus stops was likely to accelerate this year.

Council member Darby thought that light rail was a solution to Charleston’s public transit issues and wondered why it was not being considered. Mr. Mitchum replied that it was just too expensive. The Authority has certainly studied the possibility. CSX and Norfolk Southern had lines that could have been converted but these companies desired to retain their properties. The cost of purchasing properties and equipment was prohibitive.

Council member Moody asked how do you get members of a society so used to the automobiles, to patronize public transit. Mr. Mitchum replied by making it reliable and comfortable. He also said that patronage should rise as parking gets more challenging which is of course, why CARTA is focusing on Park and Ride facilities

Council member Schweers asked the final questions but failed to get a definite answer. Who were the national leaders in providing transit services? Mr. Mitchum said there really wasn’t a leading City comparable to Charleston. CARTA drew on the experience of many. What about overseas, Council member Schweers asked? Mr. Mitchum said it was difficult to make comparisons as public transit had been longtime features of many cities, different from Charleston.

Council member Schweers wondered out loud as to the nature of the CARTA board and the political appointments. Considering the large sums to be spent in future, shouldn’t the board contain professionals, and paid professionals if necessary? Council member Summey, who is on the board of CARTA stated that the issue was raised some years ago, but the State legislature took no action. The state, through the Enabling Act, sets the framework of the Board

There were two other presentations. The first was an update of the Greenbelt program by Director Ruff. She noted that of the 14 members of the Greenbelt Advisory Board (GAB), 8 had been members only since May last. The first meetings during the year had been largely educational and “catch up”. Substantive decisions on the Greenbelt program were likely beginning with the meeting next week. She indicated that the Mayors of the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, and the Town of Mount Pleasant had addressed the GAB. They sought a reversal of the 70% funding for Rural projects and 30% Urban. This was an issue to be taken up by the GAB.

The second presentation related to the Materials Recovery Facility. Essentially staff told Council that the issues relating to the construction of the facility had been resolved and the completion date remained February 25, 2019. Council member Qualey questioned as to whether the resolution would cost the County. He was told that completion would be within the original budget, not really the answer he sought.