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City Council, March 14

Council turns hostile
Mayor's proposal for Municipal Court has little support

Marc Knapp

Mayor Tecklenburg sustained severe bruising last night. Council members took issue with a number of items that he supported. But the most resolute opposition was to a proposal to appoint Ms. Kelsey Willey to the Municipal Court. Whether it was because of this or other issues, in our opinion the atmosphere over last night meeting was acrid with a level of hostility to the Mayor above anything we have seen previously. And in our opinion, the action of the Mayor in attempting to appoint Ms. Willey to the Court was egregious.

Two of the four judges on the Municipal Court were up for reappointment and without any prior discussion with Council, the Mayor planned to appoint Ms. Willey to the Court, reappoint Judge Malony but not reappoint Judge Morrison who had served for some 30 years. There was a political and judicial outcry. Why was Judge Morrison who had served well and faithfully for years being replaced with somebody who had questionable experience? It was also noted Ms. Willey’s husband had been a contributor and participant in the Mayor’s last election campaign.

The Mayor must have felt the heat for he apologized to Council last night and confessed to a mistake. He had taken a second look at Judge Morrison’s credentials and would recommend reappointment. But he went on.

Both Judges Morrison and Malony planned to serve only one more term so both would need to be replaced in two years. The Mayor opined that a judge on the Municipal Court needed special skills and he proposed that Ms. Willey be appointed to the Court staff and be mentored by the judges to assume one of the positions that became vacant in two years.

Not a deal Mr. Mayor! As Council member Griffin said, Council is being asked to create a new position, fund a new position, and fill that position. It was unreasonable and besides, the matter was never on the agenda. And we would add that Charleston could have a new Mayor with a different view in two years.

The Mayor noted that he had the authority to appoint judges though as Council pointed out, it had to approve the budget for the remuneration of judges.

Council member Moody rose to speak on the issue and his initial words were hostile, provoking Council member Gregorie to move that the issue be discussed in executive session. Not all members were in favor of an executive session but the motion prevailed. The conclusion – the appointment of Ms. Willey as a successor to one of the judges would be taken up as a budgetary item sometime in the future. It will be a lively discussion!
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The bruising over the Municipal Court issue, was deserved, that in relation to the municipal golf course, not so much.

Without an explanation, the situation seemed unbelievable. The Municipal Golf Course was to be rented to the US Golf Association for about a week, to be used as a parking lot for about 2,700 cars during the Women’s Tournament at the end of May. The City would receive a fee of $5,000. Citizens could not use the course over this period, and there was also the issue of likely damage to the fairways, the cost of restoration and the time it would take for restoration. On the face of it, this was a bad deal. And that generally is what Council thought. The $5,000 fee was ridiculously low and Council refused to approve it. The USGA needed to find somewhere else to park cars.

Mayor Tecklenberg explained that the City had sought to bring the tournament to Charleston, to be hosted at the County Club. Parking for about 2,700 cars was needed just for the staff, organizers and VIPs associated with the tournament. The City offered the Municipal Course as a parking lot and as the Mayor explained, a complete multi-million dollar renovation of the course had already been planned during which time it could not be used. This renovation was to occur immediately after the tournament. Adding a week or so to the length of the closure to accommodate the tournament was not significant in relation to the economic benefit of drawing some 20,000 people to Charleston to attend the tournament.

The best laid plans etc…… As the Mayor explained, the plans went awry. For some reason, the renovation of the course had to be delayed and the true cost of allowing parking was apparent - $50,000 a week of missed revenue during closure.

Council members were not only incensed by the low parking fee but also by the absence of information over the deal.

The issue of parking and traffic will be major in our view. Council member Wagner noted the traffic problems on Maybank and Folly in normal times. What will it be like when the tournament is held and 20,000 visitors attend the tournament? Some folk have similar fears for we know of some small businesses in the area that plan to close over the tournament time.

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The issue of freeboard, moving it from one to two feet above the FEMA requirement was up for second and third reading. It didn’t make it, at least without modification.

Council member Waring led the charge for modification. He noted that the ordinance that exists mandates that a damaged structure requiring restoration spending of more than 50% of the value and which needs to meet new building codes, would represent considerable hardship to most citizens. He noted that many buildings were constructed on slabs and to raise them to a level to meet the proposed freeboard requirement would be prohibitively expensive.

Council Member Waring proposed that the freeboard requirement be levied on new construction and for buildings damaged by flood. If damaged by any other catastrophe – fire, earthquake etc.- there would be no freeboard requirement. This was passed with only four nays

We noted that Council member Seekings supported Council member Waring. He was concerned for the Historic District with its older and masonry buildings, not amenable to elevating.
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Council member Griffin was very hostile over the request to approve appointments to boards and commissions. He said that he had requested a number of times that the Mayor provide attendance records of those seeking reappointment. He and others had also sought the names of those who had applied for the positions presently vacant. Council supported him.
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I was incensed to see that the City was paying rent of $54,000 a month for a lot on St Phillips Street for “construction laydown” adjacent to a possible shaft for the Calhoun West Drainage project. The lot is essentially a parking lot and the rent seems excessive, to me. I plan a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain more details of the lease agreement