With two new faces set to join Charleston City Council come January, it’s time for Charleston elected officials to double down to make progress on fundamental issues that affect people across the Holy City. It’s time for active leadership that shrugs off political hijinks and stops running in place, just to make it to the end of a meeting.
Here are two ways council can start to regain the trust of local residents:
Readdress equity commission
There’s no way around it: City council screwed up its handling of the report compiled by the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation. A year after it created the commission and asked it to unearth hard truths about how and where city government systematically disadvantages its own residents, council members cried crocodile tears over just how serious the findings and the recommendations were.
In a shameful, inscrutable political move, council members (and the challengers eventually elected) threw up their hands at mentions of critical race theory and reparations. Race-baiting conservative and so-called progressive members of council united with dishonest disavowals of the commission they created, successfully sinking the group’s report and possibly its existence — along with any goodwill that remained.
City council must revisit the special commission report. Take it seriously. Look beyond kneejerk fear of right-wing puppets who will criticize with dog-whistle talking points. Show some guts. Smart, dedicated people who share the city put their time and energy into this report. It deserves your consideration, not unilateral dismissal. Instead of arguing about what you don’t like, grow up and agree on what you do — and start implementing those recommendations in an orderly, sustained manner.
Figure out public meetings
City leaders must figure out a good way to meet in person again. Remote meetings were necessary and did the job for a while, but it’s time to get into one room consistently and address urgent issues that have backed up. Furthermore, council must run its meetings in a more orderly manner, not letting side issues skew discussions for hours on end.
Residents need to have a way to speak face-to-face with the people who represent them. Yes, the historic council chambers at city hall may still be too small for local COVID-19 counts, but there is a way to do it. Find a convention hall, a gym, anywhere so people can comfortably and safely attend public meetings if they desire. Attempts at finding a satellite home for council have sputtered so far, from an outing overrun by anti-maskers at Daniel Island’s new rec center to a poorly lit and miked retreat into Festival Hall downtown. Smaller board and committee meetings should be even easier, yet most are still held via Zoom.
(For what it’s worth, North Charleston City Council never met remotely, and made do with meetings in city-run event space at North Charleston Coliseum.)
Next, improve video archives of meetings. In September, council signed off on spending $54,000 to record and broadcast remote meetings, but the livestreams that many residents rely on still look and sound like home movies. Come on.
All of this shouldn’t be so hard. It has been 18 months, after all. Figure it out. Get to work.