[image-1] Tourism transparency activist Skip Hoagland was escorted out of the Charleston City Council chamber by police Thursday night after saying that the head of the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau “lies.”
Hoagland, a Hilton Head resident and former domain investor, has spent years battling designated marking organizations (DMOs) like the CVB calling for increased transparency in how they spend millions in public dollars.
On Wednesday, the State Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision in favor of Hoagland and found that DMOs are not subject to FOIA disclosures despite the money the receive.
In a City Paper cover story this month, it was revealed that the city allocated more than $2.1 million, along with another $36,307 in hospitality funds for security, to the CVB in 2017.
“If you have no CVB DMO you’d still get the same amount of tourism with smartphones and local search, it’s in a lot of ways an old, failed business model,” Hoagland argued.
[content-1] Charleston’s chief financial officer Amy Wharton delivered a presentation on how the city and state’s tourism fees are collected and spent earlier during Thursday’s meeting.
“I don’t care about any of the last tourism presentation,” Hoagland said. “It’s all smoke and mirrors. What I care about is seeing all receipts on where every penny goes that is spent and [Charleston CVB CEO] Helen Hill agrees to a forensic audit. If she has nothing to hide to me, and everybody in this room, and all the taxpayers, she will shows us everything.”
It was at this point that Hoagland uttered: “Numbers don’t lie, Helen Hill lies.”
[embed-1] Mayor John Tecklenburg immediately called Hoagland out of order.
“No, you do not have the floor!” Tecklenburg yelled after Hoagland refused to cede his time.
“Please do not put your hands on me,” Hoagland asked an officer who, accompanied by police chief Luther Reynolds, eventually escorted him out of the room.
“Sir, I’ve called you out of order for personally attacking someone,” Tecklenburg later explained. “Officer, I’m going to ask you to remove this gentleman.”
“You cannot dictate how somebody speaks under the First Amendment,” Hoagland argued.
“Go outside on Broad Street, you can say anything you’d like,” Tecklenburg said.
Before Hoagland took to the microphone, Mohammed Idris brought up a recent court filing removing Tecklenburg from handling a family friend’s finances after a judge found “apparent self-dealing,” saying that the mayor ought to be “locked up.” [content-2] City spokesman Jack O’Toole says that while the mayor typically allows speech criticizing him or former Mayor Joe Riley, Hill is not an elected official nor a public figure subject to the same scrutiny.
“Personal attacks on everyday citizens are a violation of rules of decorum and should be called down,” O’Toole said.
Read the relevant section of the Council’s rules of decorum below:
Any person who speaks at a city council meeting shall conduct himself or herself in a manner appropriate to the decorum of the meeting and shall not use any profane, abusive or obscene language nor any fighting words or otherwise engage in disorderly conduct. Any person who makes such remarks or otherwise engages in disorderly conduct which disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of a city council meeting shall, at the discretion of the mayor, or in his absence, the mayor pro tempore, be barred from further audience before city council during that meeting and may be removed from the building.
“I have all I need for a major lawsuit against the city now,” Hoagland told CP outside of the Council chamber. “I was sharing facts and truth and they didn’t wanna hear me, and they removed me. I hoped they would hear my whole speech on the corruption of Helen Hill and the CVB.”
Hoagland was also removed from a Bluffton Town Council meeting in December 2015, according to the Island Packet.