Source: Google Street View

Advocate Wanted

 News flash: It is actually possible to pull off a major local project without wasting millions of dollars. But in Charleston County, the concepts of transparency and common sense generally are nowhere to be found. At every turn in recent years, it seems like whatever Charleston County leaders touch winds up being more expensive than budgeted and clouded in controversy.

It’s time for the culture of rot to become a memory. Citizens must demand an end to the county’s business-as-usual attitude that steers piles of cash to insiders.

Just look at the county’s stellar track record of waste.
Of course, there’s the naval hospital, which the county was forced to buy after a clumsy real estate deal, and then sold for millions less. Then came the long-awaited county recycling center. Then, a shady land sale downtown (connected to the naval hospital) and another head-scratcher on Remount Road. There’s also the new North Charleston library, approved in 2014. In 2021? It’s still unbuilt. And, don’t forget Interstate 526, still in design after years of government ineptitude.

Those are just the infrastructure projects that have come in late, unbuilt or over budget.

Do not forget a former county administrator’s $221,000 severance pay that’s still unaccounted for. Or the $200,000-per-year airport administrator job handed from one elected official to another. Or the North Charleston City councilman paid $81,000 by the county for an airport consulting contract. And just this week, we learned about a previously undisclosed separation agreement that paid $216,000 to former county attorney Joseph Dawson just before U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (an ex-county council member) and former President Trump nominated him to be federal judge — despite little experience in federal court.

(We could keep going, but space constraints limit us to potential conflicts from the past two years.)

At its highest levels, Charleston County government seems to enable a culture of financial waste and personal enrichment that does not do us any favors. It’s a symptom of priorities perverted by the convenient ethics of a handful of run-government-like-a-business conservatives who decry waste except when it helps them and their buddies.
Dawson was the highest-paid county employee, earning a whopping $432,000 a year before his departure. So, we can’t blame the 17 lawyers who applied for the cushy job to replace him. Perhaps not surprisingly, the four finalists are local, according to The Post and Courier.

But if we want county government’s culture to change, we must look beyond the Lowcountry. Conduct a search. Hire an independent attorney who won’t be swayed by internal allegiances. Pay someone full-time and don’t allow him or her to have other legal clients on the side.

Then, go a step further: Hire a public advocate to serve as a watchdog for local residents within county government.

The extent of the dysfunction within county government calls for extraordinary steps beyond periodic elections to ensure local residents’ voices are heard. A county public advocate, like the ombudsman that the city of Charleston has, would ensure the disclosure of sweetheart deals, increase public notice ahead of consequential votes and field complaints from local residents who’ve been wronged.

Let the two newest county council members from each party lead the hiring process out in the open. Let them be accountable to council, and not be afraid to elect new leadership if they continue to fail us.
Remember, Charleston County Council works for us, not just the insiders.

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