By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
Plenty of staff attended the Town of Kiawah Island Jan. 7 meeting, a bevy of contractors and a handful of diehard constituents. The packet of materials was particularly thick for the first meeting after the holidays, despite a relatively thin agenda. Mayor Craig Weaver addressed parliamentary obligations and set to framing discussion items for the day’s meeting.
Weaver announced the town’s annual retreat is scheduled for two half-day sessions: the afternoon of the Jan. 29 and the morning of the Jan. 30. He then said costs associated with Hurricane Dorian came to $675,000, a figure which has apparently given him pause. Weaver recapped the areas of responsibility. The town is responsible for everything outside the gate, and the Kiawah Island Community Association has everything inside.
“No hard feelings,” Weaver said as he highlighted the town’s intent to revisit the cost-sharing memorandum of understanding with KICA. He left the topic by saying most of the costs were to deal with damage and debris inside the gate.
Weaver then turned to the single biggest topic of the day, which was also the reason for the large meeting packet and heavy attendance by contractors and staff. TOKI intends to repave the road from the traffic circle to the first gate, and bids have already gone out. Although the town does not intend to install curbing, they will employ a new product designed to prevent rutting along the road’s edge. The project will start in the spring, take about two weeks and should be finished prior to Memorial Day.
A question about repaving the roadbed from the traffic circle to Town Hall received a non-committal answer from consultants/project managers of Outdoor Spatial Design. The issue may be a larger factor for Seabrook than for Kiawah; their Council weighs the benefits of raising the roadbed on their side of the traffic circle (for example, why bother if you can’t get past Haulover Creek on the other side?). That’s about as exciting as a paving project can get, smoothing the way for the first item of new business.
Representatives of Outdoor Spatial Design took the reins and spent the bulk of their presentation time – approximately an hour – on a series of 50 some odd pictures illustrating three possible solutions designed to improve the 2.4-mile entrance to Kiawah. The full presentation is available by visiting kiawahisland.org/ wp-content/uploads/2019/12/reduced20191212_presentation_boards_kiawah_ eblast.pdf.
Buzzwords like “wildlife corridor” and “pollinator pathway” were thrown into the presentation by the fistful, industry terms for thinning and pruning areas like Haulover Creek, located on the Parkway between Freshfields and Town Hall. All of the three solutions presented made the same promise: eliminate shagginess and fill bald spots while leveraging and opening natural views. The solutions can also be mixed and matched, for maximum effect, to dovetail with the landscaping in places TOKI doesn’t control. More lawn type areas or less lawn – it’s all up to the town, the consultants concluded.
Council had scheduled a vote on the topic. However, the Council couldn’t really decide on a direction without an understanding of the costs, and the consultants couldn’t provide estimates without a sense of direction. Gamesmanship consumed the next half hour, as Council members attempted to leave themselves an out if the proposal blows their budget. Council remained determined to move forward, however, and unanimously approved an abstract of the plan(s).
Town attorney Joe Wilson narrated the second item of new business, explaining that the town has reached a settlement in the negligence suit against auditing firm Webster Rogers. The firm had the tiller when former Town Administrator Tumiko Rucker and former Town Treasurer Harrison Kenneth Gunnells collaborated to steal nearly $250,000 from the town and overpay four other employees by nearly $100,000. It took a forensic audit by a different firm to uncover the mess, which included rampant credit card abuse for a four-year period. Neither Rucker nor Gunnells received jail time, and the four other employees agreed to reimburse the town. Between insurance and payback agreements and court-ordered paybacks, the $15,000 settlement from Webster Rogers represents the bulk of TOKI’s losses, Wilson explained. He concluded by saying he felt comfortable sharing the settlement amount designated in the confidential report, because it was subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
There was a sudden shock in the air as Council seemed to realize how much time had elapsed, and they hurried through remaining new business: Membership of the Arts Council, Public Safety and Public Works will remain intact; Alexander Fernandez and John Ross will be added to the town’s Audit Committee; Wendy Kulick and Frank Cassidy were reappointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals; Mo Mangan was appointed to the Construction Board of Appeals; John Leffler was reappointed to and Doug Walter added to the roster of the Environmental Committee; while John Moffitt and Brit Stenson were reappointed to the Planning Commission. All appointments and reappointments won the unanimous support of Town Council.