County Council voted July 27 to name a new county building after Chairman Teddie Pryor | Screenshot

‘Self-serving and unseemly’

Charleston County Council voted Tuesday night to name a new county services building for its chairman, finalizing a committee recommendation last week where Chairman Teddie Pryor cast the tiebreaking vote.

The proposal to name the new social services building under construction at the corner of Rivers and McMillan avenues in North Charleston came from Councilman Henry Darby. Arguing the proposal was an equity issue, Darby said plenty of public projects have been named for sitting elected officials, but few for African-American men and women.

Pryor during a 2020 press conference | File photo

Pryor has served on County Council since 2004 and works as the ombudsman for the City of North Charleston, where he lives — less than a mile from the new building in question. He was elected to his second stint as chairman this year.

At a July 22 committee meeting, four members of council voted against the proposal: Jenny Costa Honeycutt, Herb Sass, Dickie Schweers and Brantley Moody. The remaining four — Darby, Anna Johnson, Kylon Middleton and Rob Wehrman — voted in support. With the vote split along party lines, Darby cast the final, tiebreaking vote. Honeycutt was absent Tuesday, leaving enough support for the proposal to carry without a deciding vote.

The move does not appear to have violated any rules or statutes, but one longtime South Carolina media attorney said Pryor’s initial tiebreaking vote didn’t pass the smell test.

“The vote might not have a violation of law, but it was certainly self-serving and unseemly,” said Jay Bender, a Columbia-based attorney for the South Carolina Press Association. “I don’t know the chairman, but his vote is an indication that he, like too many other elected officials, believes he is a ruler and not a representative.”

Pryor told the City Paper the criticism was a nonissue.

“Every four years, I go into the booth and I vote for myself to be reelected to office, so why wouldn’t I vote for myself if I feel that I’m worthy or somebody else feels that I’m worthy?” he asked.

Most of the proposal’s detractors said they opposed it in principle, but one member mentioned the bungled multi-million dollar redevelopment of the former naval hospital across Rivers Avenue from the social services complex. The new building itself is part of a 2020 deal with private developers to sell the 23-acre plot and cut the county’s losses.

“I think that it’s not right for one of us on council to have a building named after us — we’re here to serve,” said Sass. “And it’s certainly not right that one of us who was here with the problems that went [on] across the street — that this should happen. This is a great tragedy to me.”

Charleston County Council members naming buildings after their own is not a recent or uncommon phenomenon.

Darby and Pryor pointed out the county building where council meets is named for Lonnie Hamilton III, a 24-year councilman who also served as chair. Pryor said that recommendation, made just before Hamilton lost reelection in 1994, was nearly unanimous. Newspaper reports from the time do not mention any opposition.

In 2010 as chairman, Pryor also supported council’s decision to name the new county jail after its longtime elected sheriff, Al Cannon.

Last week and Tuesday, members also invoked council’s 2017 naming of the forthcoming Keith Summey library branch to be built next door to the social services building, named in honor of the longtime North Charleston mayor while his son, Elliott Summey, was serving on council.

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