The term "awe-inspiring" is certainly not used to describe Charleston County Council. Better words: Dysfunctional, opaque, non-strategic, lethargic, deaf, insular, and irresponsible.
Just look at one recent shining moment: agreeing to sell the long-vacant Naval Hospital for $10 million to $12 million — we still don't know how much the real figure is — to a group of developers in what seemed to be a no-bid sweetheart deal that may allow them to build a new social services building nearby. But again, there are no real details on that deal, either.
The whole Naval Hospital imbroglio follows a shady series of transactions through the years that saw North Charleston purchase the hospital from the federal government for $2 million and turn it around to sell it to a different developer for $5 million, which went bankrupt and led to the county buying it for $33 million. Advantage: Developers. Losers? Taxpayers, who funded the buyout.
So now comes the latest deal cloaked in secrecy. Taxpayers may recoup some of the brain-addled deal reached earlier. But so far, we don't know details. And that's the point: County council members are elected to do the people's business in public, not in private. Instead of masking what they're doing to build personal power bases and feed big egos, members need to be inspiring, socially responsible public servants committed to good stewardship of public dollars.
Council, however, remains challenged to do the public's work in an above-board manner, as highlighted by three continuing headaches:
Interstate 526: Regardless of whether you are for or against lengthening this connector, council members flail around arguing with everyone and their sister, but making little headway. If you're looking for a textbook example of a public body that lacks leadership, council's continued mishandling of this project — and long-term fixes for congestion — is mind-numbing.
Recycling: At one point, it looked like the county was going to build a new recycling center near the Bees Ferry landfill. Then insider, political deal-making moved it to another location that has been rife with problems. As the project moved forward, tons of recycling material was shipped to Horry County for processing, but then stopped when the price went sky high. Now? A lot of what you put in the blue bins is piling up … at Bees Ferry. Einstein would be mortified.
Half-cent sales tax: When council was looking for a way to figure out how to pay its share of lengthening I-526, it decided to try to tap $300 million from a second half-cent sales tax originally targeted in 2016 for other road projects, green space, and more. The result: A lawsuit that's still working its way through the courts.
No more turf battles. No more broken promises. No more back-room politicking and smoke-and-mirrors deals. No more secrecy.
Charleston County Council needs to buck up and start working in a more transparent way. If members can't figure it out, we'll find a way to pay for them to take a leadership training refresher class that won't cost taxpayers a dime.