A Beginning to a Beginning
James Island Intergovernmental Council wraps up inaugural meeting to sound of applause
By Charlie Morrison
It was an evening unlike any other in the history of James Island. Representatives from the across the uniquely wide spectrum of municipalities and political entities that govern the island and provides its people the essential services they need came together, last Thursday, for the inaugural meeting of the James Island Intergovernmental Council (JIIC). Town Hall provided the backdrop for the meeting, and fittingly the debate was nothing if not honest.
Though one of the last in the room to have the chance to speak, it was James Island Public Service District (JIPSD) Commissioner Inez Brown-Crouch who seemed to put the night’s significance in perspective for everyone in attendance.
“What I’m concerned about is collaboration. I want to see the City the County, and town of James Island working together. If a storm comes on James Island it’s not going to miss just Town residents, it’s going to affect all of us,” said Brown-Crouch. “I want to see us begin a dialogue where we can talk to each other without fighting. I am sick of fighting. This is the beginning of the beginning. James Island has changed, times have changed … we’ve got to change. It’s time for us to come together.”
The political climate that engendered Brown-Crouch’s demand for cooperation began to evolve with the City of Charleston’s June 1, 2012 decision not to appeal a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the Town’s incorporation. Opinions vary on the City’s ultimately motivation for not appealing, an act that established the permanence of the Town it had fought in courtrooms for 20 years, though most agree a City appeal would have been doomed.
Regardless of their motivations, the City’s move served as a catalyst for Thursday’s meeting and a first step in mending 20-40-year-old wounds.
Thursday’s meeting represents the second step in that process. Town of James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey brought the large, diverse group of leaders that now make up the JIIC together in calling the meeting and it was he who spoke first. Woolsey, who was later named the body’s first Chair for the first year, asked everyone in attendance to identify themselves and identify what in their eyes they saw as the predominant issue facing James Island.
Following Woolsey in addressing the group were Town Councilmen Leonard Blank and Troy Mullinax, who both touched on James Island’s increasing traffic problem. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who was making his first-ever public appearance in Town Hall, agreed with his counterparts from the Town.
“Traffic is right up there,” began the Mayor, the symbolism and significance of the moment was not lost anyone in attendance. Riley was specific in identifying an issue the group could collectively affect change upon in the short term. “I actually told the Mayor (Woolsey) I was working on the traffic signal that we need, at Folly and Grimball Road Extension. I’m committed to working with all of you in getting that signal put in place.”
And while Riley’s words were appreciated by many, they didn’t insulate him from his colleagues introducing a number of hot button issues the City was deeply embroiled in.
James Island PSD commissioner Eugene Platt addressed the most divisive of such issues, the proposed County-sponsored project to extend the Interstate 526 Mark Clark Expressway.
“Unequivocally, the key issue facing James Island is the threat of extending I-526 across the western half of the island, further dividing communities and exacerbating, not improving the traffic problem,” said Platt.
South Carolina State Senator Paul Thurmond turned his attention to another contentious topic, that of annexation policy and namely the City’s use of it. “What we’ve talked about has been addressing annexation issues and allowing, especially those areas that were cut off by the latest incorporation, the opportunity to have that option available to them,” said Thurmond, his young son at his side. “I know there’s opposition in the room, so to speak, in that regard, but I think those are important issues especially considering the percentages of people who were still interested in being part of the Town.”
“There also needs to be more connectivity between City, Town, and PSD districts,” began Charleston City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem William Dudley Gregorie. “I also think that we have to be mindful of the development that’s occurring and making sure that the transportation linkages are also a part of any development plan.”
State Senator Chip Campsen agreed with that sentiment, as did former Town Councilman and current JIPSD Vice-Chairman Carter McMillan, who reminded the group that James Island residents’ needs were still paramount.
“We seem to be fractured in some ways between the County, City and Town residents … One example of that would be garbage service. I think it means we need to roll up our sleeves and finding a way to be more efficient,” said McMillan.
A former colleague of McMillan’s on Town Council, current County Councilman Joe Qualey agreed. “We’ve got to figure out a way to dispense with some of the overlap and to save the taxpayers money, to be more efficient. All of these tasks are very difficult, but all of us are in the room who can make these decisions,” said Qualey. “This is great though … this is like a new beginning for problem solving on James Island, I’m certainly all for it.”
Not all was well in the lives of James Island residents, cautioned County Council’s Anna Johnson.
“The communities that have been here for 50 years or so, I’d like to see those communities brought up to a livable level,” said Johnson. “That includes having better roads to these. Some don’t have proper water coming to those communities, some have shallow wells, those are some of the things I’m concerned about going forward.”
Also attending the meeting in an official capacity were Assistant Sheriff Mitch Lucas and Major Tom Honan from the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Lucas shared Sheriff Al Cannon’s stance regarding his organization’s service of James Island, which was unequivocal.
“The Sheriff says, ‘If they live in Charleston County they’re constituents … it makes no difference where they live. That’s the approach he wants us to take,” said Lucas.
The next meeting of the James Island Intergovernmental Council will be held in six months time, on a date in September. Meetings will be held in Town Hall and public comment periods will be offered.
© 2013 Wiser Time Publishing, Inc.