By Gregg Bragg for The Island Connection
The monthly town council meeting for the Town of Kiawah Island (TOKI) started promptly on June 2 which wasn’t the interesting part. It was unusual to see Juan Martin of TOKI security attending a town council meeting, let alone be joined by a Charleston County deputy sheriff. The two occupied the back corner of the room before the meeting started. Neither had weapons displayed and the sheriff was dressed casually. A third heavy, well-heeled, fully uniformed sheriff joined them [with a fourth in the parking lot, as it turns out].
Mayor Lipuma had previously responded to questions about the county presence at town hall on May 21. Lipuma responded on May 22 saying, “The Deputy sheriff was at Town Hall to monitor the Ways and Means Committee meeting. We now plan to have this DS coverage at all Town meetings to control unruly participants, e.g., those who refuse to return to their seats after their three minutes of comments. They will be escorted to their seat or the parking lot.”
The gavel fell at 2 p.m. for the June council meeting. The meeting was quickly on its way to an all-time record for brevity under the stewardship of Mayor Pro Tem John Labriola, who was acting on behalf of the vacationing Mayor. The minutes from the previous month’s meetings were approved without a fuss. The. Kiawah resident and retiree Dennis McGill strode forward for the first installment of citizens comments.
“I will guarantee, if not interrupted, the following inquiries will take less [time] than your three minute rule, even though that rule does not comply with your own code section, 2-308, especially sub-section (b), which was recently modified by ordinance 2015-02 [and] adopted on March 10, 2015.
“In addition you will note I originally drafted these questions before being aware of your special council meeting of May 22 and the Post and Courier article of May 27 relating to your financial probe. Nevertheless, to begin with the issue of replacing Ms. Rucker and Mr. Gunnels:
Many people had approached me after the first Post and Courier article saying they believed the town council was composed mainly of retired former corporate executives:
1. If so, why can’t they save the town money by searching for, interviewing and selecting a town administrator and treasurer themselves?
“My next question I had to revise after the May 22 Post and Courier article, since it originally asked what the anticipated costs would be for hiring alleged professional search firms?
2. However, since a firm or firms have already been selected
a. Name them? (Mercer Group was the reply)
b. State their proposed and/or estimated fees? (45k was the reply)
3. Will members of town staff be considered for both positions?
4. What does council and/or the selected search firm believe the offered starting salary ranges should be for each position?” concluded McGill.
Old Business brought the budget center stage but with something of a twist. Minor updates, which had been agreed to, had coincided with the departure of the town treasurer. Therefore, the changes were not made in the expected time/fashion. This had the potential to derail the budget process and would have, but for some parliamentary pirouettes necessary to keep the process moving forward.
Council Member Labriola was quick to characterize the changes as minor, while he invited and encouraged scrutiny from interested residents. The entire budget is available at the town’s website (www. kiawahisland.org). Several budget changes were detailed for the sake of transparency including:
1. $90,000 for the “Motoring Retreat” remains intact (despite some protests made at last month’s council meeting).
2. $45,000 to Mercer Group to replace staff.
3. $35,000 to conduct a Forensic Audit of the town’s books.
4. $50,000 for the St. Johns Fire District training program was intact.
5. Adjustments necessary to lease vehicles (currently 7 in the TOKI fleet) for 3-4 years instead of purchasing them.
6. The car proposed for the [now-eliminated] position of Public Safety Director was eliminated.
7. Money for TOKI’s part in the Kiawah Island Community Association [e.g. roads] “signage” project
8. Hire a part-time graphic designer to help with the website.
The result was unanimous passage of the budget. New Business was next and passed quickly.
1. Although there was some discussion and some adjustments necessary before a second reading, Ordinance 2015-07 passed unanimously. Fred Peterson, Chair of the Planning Commission, nodded approval from the back of the room. He, Andy Capelli, and the rest of the Planning Commission had been fighting hard to reduce license/permit fees on Kiawah residents.
2. LS3P was officially selected to design the proposed municipal complex
3. A new roof for the town hall was approved
4. The contract for removal of storm debris with Atkins North American was renewed. There was a bit of discussion for this item as the renewal had not gone through the normal Request For Proposal process. “There was no time since we are already in hurricane season,” said the town clerk. The town attorney said it was “OK” with him and the measure passed unanimously.
5. $9,000 was approved for business continuity in the event of a disaster. Atlantic Business Continuity Services won the contingency based contract.
6. An emergency services memorandum of understanding was signed with the Kiawah Island Community Association.
7. An emergency services memorandum of understanding was signed with the Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
8. A measure to work with the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to provide TOKI with victims assistance was approved.
9. Finally, in a last-minute addition to the agenda, Julie Beier, a representative of Freshfields, was added as a member of the Public Safety Committee.
Council Member Johnson gave the only committee report saying arts council is looking forward to a great year.
The mayor’s report was equally brief. Mayor Pro Tem Labriola said the mayor was on vacation.
Wendy Kulick led off the second round of citizens comments. She described her enthusiasm for the Municipal Center design process she and other residents had participated in [on May 21]. Kulick went on to ask what had become of the proposed “log” of all questions/comments from residents. The idea to post both questions and answers seemed like a good idea but seems to have fallen through the cracks.
Former Council Member Fran Wermuth asked why the Alpha Omega Construction Group had been the only firm to respond to the town’s need for a new roof. She had done some research and cautioned council to look at the company with a more critical eye.
Kiawah resident Dennis McGill opened his second round of remarks by citing from the TOKI human resources handbook. He wanted to know if Ms. Rucker should be allowed to take leave, when the handbook specifically says leave is not available while an employee of TOKI was working for another firm.
Kiawah Resident Roger Warren closed out citizens comments with an offer of support for council in the wake of recent events.
Council Member John Wilson acknowledged business continuation as a problem and asked for some slack in light staff shortages. “Please be patient,” he said as council member comments closed out. There was no executive session and the meeting was adjourned.