A Real Pressure Cooker
Contentious Town Council meeting caps off wild week, Town Administrator abruptly resigns
by Charlie Morrison, Community Editor
Being an elected official on James Island Town Council is nothing if not a prolonged trial by fire. And the heat got really turned up at last Thursday’s meeting of James Island Town Council. The group plodded their way through the nearly three-hour marathon of a meeting. Ultimately, the public record will reflect that the meeting was very productive, with the group ultimately navigating a challenging agenda chockfull of difficult issues, and even bringing closure to a couple of them. However, what was achieved at the contentious meeting seemed to come at a cost —the Mayor’s right hand man, Hal Mason, immediately resigned from his post as Town Administrator, effective in two months’ time.
Long before the doors to Town Council chambers were cast open for the public on Thursday, June 20, tension were already riding high around Town Hall. The agenda for the evening featured a number of politically charged issues.
Though the agenda for the meeting was full of controversial issues, one stood out simply for the buzz that it generated leading up to the meeting. The motion to amend the Town’s Zoning and Land Development Regulations ordinance, specifically, the Town’s definition of what constitutes a “Grand Tree” has been a hotly debated one among James Island residents and within Town Council.
The topic even overshadowed the Town’s vote to give the Charleston County Road Wise program consent to widen and improve Harbor View Road, not to mention the revelation that the Town was again being sued, this time for improper annexation and by both the City of Charleston and the State Attorney General Alan Wilson.
According to Woolsey, that a request to amend the Town’s Land Use ordinance was even on Thursday’s busy agenda begged questions of transparency as it was only introduced a day before the meeting by Councilman Sam Kernodle.
Last week a number of preservation groups stepped up their efforts pressuring Council to stiffen the existing ordinance, which defines “Grand Trees” as those exceeding 24 inches in diameter breast height (DBH).
It must have worked, as Council voted by a 3-2 margin to change the definition of grand trees with Woolsey and Councilman Leonard Blank casting dissenting votes. The size requirement for a tree to be termed a
“grand tree” was reduced from 24 to 18 inches in diameter, and the covered trees expanded fro
“This is what happens when a bunch of people that don’t know anything about tree ordinances vote at the last minute to make major changes to ours,” said Blank, who along with the Mayor did not want to make the change, at least not at this time.m all oak species to all trees other than pines, sweet gums, and Chinese Tallow.
And though Kernodle’s motion to amend the Town’s Zoning and Land Use Regulations did ultimately pass, the first-time councilman took umbrage with how Town Administrator Hal Mason handled the proceedings.
After the public portion of the meeting wrapped up the group slowly meandered back to the Town Hall’s anterooms where executive sessions are held in private. It was at that time, according to two individuals who have asked to remain anonymous, say they saw Kernodle confront Mason angrily in the hallway. With his voice raised, Kernodle allegedly raged over a point of procedure question he felt Mason misled him on and began questioning Mason harshly.
The confrontation was apparently so heated that Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputies Josh Thompson and Justin Mallard stepped in to diffuse the situation. It was shortly thereafter that the 66-year-old Mason reportedly submitted his letter of resignation.
Mason later stated to JIM that his official reasons for leaving were health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family in North Carolina and Virginia. “I reached this decision over the past few months and my employment agreement required me to give a notice of two months,” said Mason. “I have enjoyed my time with the Town and working for Mayor Woolsey. James Island is a special place and the Town is fortunate to have excellent employees.
The next meeting of James Island Town Council will be held on July 18, at what point a Second and final reading of the
Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance will be heard on July 18th.
© 2013 Wiser Time Publishing