By Charlie Morrison
The Commissioners of the James Island Public Service District (JIPSD) met last Monday evening for what was supposed to be a typically innocuous meeting of the organization’s elected body. But a sizable, vocal group of Battery Island Drive and Ashburn Lane-area residents changed all that. More than three dozen residents from the neighborhood packed Commission quarters, the majority of which having shown up to voice their displeasure with the PSD’s handling of the Battery Island/Ashburn Lane sanitary sewer project.
The nearly $1 million project, designed to install a low-pressure sanitary sewer system is time-sensitive in that a number of septic tanks in the area are aging. Of the 36 single family residences, however, only four homes have hooked up to the system, begging the question of has the PSD has done enough in way of communicating with the very body they were elected to serve?
Community residents opened the public comment portion of the meeting. Their comments ranged from questions to complaints to condemnations of the Commission for their alleged lack of communication and oversight relating to the sewer project, which according to a letter sent to area residents stating “the system was placed in operation on November, 19 2012.” That the question of why, two months since the system was placed in operation, only four of the potential 36 area residents have hooked up to the system seems to serve as evidence communication broke down at some point.
“The problem is that we don’t know where we stand, we don’t know where we stand as far as when we are going to be tied-in or whether we need to present more information, or complete our properties were left,” commented Battery Island Drive resident Lillian Martin, who led off the public comments portion of the meeting. “We want to know when this stuff is going to be repaired. I was under the belief that whatever was disrupted would be repaired, and right now it’s not. Our neighborhood … it’s not the best neighborhood, but it’s ours, you know … It’s where we live.”
“The paperwork is cumbersome and I understand that, but the specifics of damages and such like that I was not aware of it. I assure you all I will find out and correct it if necessary,” said JIPSD District Manager Robert Wise in response Martin and the many others who’d lined up to lambast the Commission. Wise later assured that the names and contact information for everyone in attendance who had a complaint had been collected.
After attending a Monday, Jan. 21 Battery Island Neighborhood Association meeting he’d been invited to, McMillan requested Council Chair David Engelmen place “Battery Island update” on the agenda item for last Monday’s meeting., McMillan, a first-term Commissioner, was shocked by his colleagues reaction’s to the revelation he’d attended a homeowners’ association meeting as a member of the Commission. That he’d encouraged attendees of that meeting to attend last Monday’s JIPSD meeting “put District Manager Wise in a very difficult position,” according to Chair Engelman. Strangely enough, it was the Chair’s spouse, James Island resident Sandi Engelman who, with the public commentary period preceding Committee comments, was the first to take McMillan to task for his actions.
“This body better start working like a body of seven not a renegade of one, because this whole thing tonight was a blind side,” began Sandi Engelman. “The first time you (addressing McMillan) had a complaint, you’re supposed to go to Mr. Wise (District Manager Robert Wise). That’s his job He can’t fix your problem if he doesn’t know about it, if he’s blindsided by it. He goes into shock mode.”
“I’m the one who asked for this to be on the agenda tonight, I just wanted everybody to know,” said McMillan. “I’ve asked in the past to be updated on when there was going to be a neighborhood meeting but was never told about any of any, but was asked to come out and see some of the issues in that area. I was horrified to still see the stuff out there, and I apologize to all of y’all for this. I understand why you all have a lot of questions, it doesn’t seem like we have a lot of answers for y’all.”
“This is the first time that I’ve heard of any problems with this project. We have received progressive reports on this, and this is the first time I’ve heard about it,” commented long-time Commissioner Donald Hollingsworth, who then turned his rancor to fellow Councilman, McMillan. “I’ve been on this Commission for 20-plus years, and it really bothers me when a fellow commissioner tells me that he’s talked to the County, he’s talked to the City, and he’s attended a meeting that nobody else in this commission was made aware of how can we go and listen to these people’s problems if he takes it on him self,” said Hollingsworth.
“All I was told is, ‘can I put some Battery Island stuff on the agenda,’ and it was kind of like, to me, a set-up. I work very closely with the District Manager and we work through the Department heads to get things done,” said David Engelman, in a later interview with JIM.
It should be noted that while the JIPSD’s bylaws do mandate that Commissioners contact the Commission Chair or the District Manager directly, as written, it applies to cases in which PSD staff assistance would be required. According to the body’s most recent, 1993 bylaws, there is no mention of how Commissioners should interact with their constituents.
McMillan makes his opinion of the matter clear, for his part. “I’m an elected official … if I’m asked to attend a meeting, I go to the meeting,” he said in a later interview with JIM. “Chairman Engelman and District Manager Wise owe everybody a lot of answers, to the residents for the hardship we’ve caused that neighborhood, to the Commissioners for why they’re so out of touch with our customers, and to the taxpayers for the $1 million being spent on this project … they need to be able to answer to how it’s been spent. Something that was supposed to be such a good thing has turned out to be really bad.”
© 2013, Wiser Time Publishing Inc.