By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
The handout for the Kiawah town council’s January meeting was thin, spawning pre-meeting hopes of new records for brevity. Listed on the agenda were approvals of four sets of minutes, three items of seemingly routine new business and an executive session.
Parliamentary obligations and approval of minutes were quickly completed, opening the door to the first round of citizen’s comments.
Citizen’s Comments (first round)
Wendy Kulick was first to the plate. She had plenty to say this month but started out pleasantly enough with “Happy New Year” wishes to everyone. Kulick then began in earnest, reading comments from Marilyn Larach into the record as well.
“While the October storms are beginning to recede from our immediate memories, the storms’ impact on Kiawah’s most important asset, its beach, persists. [Consequently], I have several questions for the Town Council and the Town Administrator.
1. What is the Town’s schedule for completing the repair and replacement of the damaged and unsightly wooden trashcan holders and dog waste bag holders?
2. When does the Town plan on removing dangerous plywood and other debris from the over wash area by the new Kiawah River channel?
3. When will the Town replace the sign near Captain Sam’s channel that demarcates the critical habitat zone and informs individuals that dogs are not permitted?
4. Will the Town oversee the repair or removal of the damaged Kiawah Island Club boardwalk located near Beachwalker County Park? Due to dune erosion, this dangerous structure is located in an area of Town responsibility. Visitors to the beach are climbing on this unstable structure so that it constitutes a public safety hazard.” Kulick then launched into a presentation:
“There was an article in the Post & Courier recently referencing the arrest of a Charleston County Magistrate’s clerk who allegedly stole $4,500. Given how much greater the amount of money the [previous] Town Administrator and Town Treasurer are alleged to have misappropriated, why have they not been arrested? Since not all of the allegations against these two former employees are federal violations, why not simultaneously turn over the forensic accountant’s reports to both the US Attorney and the 9th Circuit Solicitor?
“What is the legal justification for the Audit Committee and the Town Council to discuss the forensic accountant’s report regarding 2012 in Executive Session? Why not make the report public, with any [needed] redactions such as those in the original forensic accountant’s report, and then discuss any personnel issues relating to the report in Executive Session?
“Will the Town be holding a retreat this year, as it has done in past years? If so, when and where?” [The answer was Jan. 20 at the Ocean Course].
“Given the potential proliferation of drones on the island … and the Town’s responsibility for public safety, has the Town initiated any action to begin developing an ordinance relating to drones? If not, are there any plans to draft an ordinance relating to the ownership and operation of drones on Kiawah?
“Why is the Town so opposed to posting all openings on Town Committees and Boards before making appointments? Why does it not follow the practice of Charleston County Council to seek qualified candidates for these positions?
“I had hoped with the unusually open process used by the Municipal Center Committee, it might become a model for the rest of the Town operations. Unfortunately, this has proven not to be the case. No Town Committee [or] Board openings have been advertised. Witness the appointment to the BZA at today’s meeting. Committee appointments continue to be limited to individuals personally known by Town Council members. Mr. Parker’s qualifications to serve on the BZA are not the question; the process and procedure leading to his selection are. This is just another example of the Town limiting its appointments to a select inner circle.”
[Councilmember Weaver later produced one of the Town’s newsletters which requested applicants to Public Safety Committee].
“The Environmental Committee has not met since May 2015 despite the importance of ongoing environmental issues which include beach re-nourishment at the eastern end of the Island, significant beach erosion after October’s 1,000- year rain and flooding event, and the threat posed by potential offshore drilling.”
[Councilmember Johnson addressed this, citing a number of related activities like sending out e-blasts and adding to the town’s newsletter, and then said the Environmental Committee would meet again in the future].
“The Public Safety Committee has not met since October despite significant flooding both on and off the Island that directly threatened the safety and welfare of property owners and island visitors.
I’ve been told the Town’s Emergency Operations Committee was never intended to address these issues. If not the Public Safety Committee, then what Town committee or board has such responsibility? Why has the Committeenot yet provided the community with a summary of lessons learned?”
[Councilmember Weaver explained some meetings had been planned but cancelled for lack of a quorum, in one case, and explained the Public Safety committee had not been designed for such a purpose].
“The Communications Committee has not met since October 2015. How does this comport with continual statements from members of this Town Council about how open and transparent its actions are?
“While I have not yet collected the data, this Town Council and the last Council have probably conducted more discussions in Executive Session than any other municipal organization in the Charleston area. It appears that this Council is afraid to discuss issues in public. Limiting all discussions about the results of the forensic audits to Executive Session isn’t going to make the problems go away.” Next up was Kiawah resident Dennis McGill, who also had plenty to say.
McGill filed suit against TOKI last June for violations of the Freedom of Information Act in connection with the proposed municipal complex.
To summarize, McGill expressed his frustration with TOKI’s response to his suit. The town’s motion to have large parts of the case dismissed was denied by Judge Dennis of the Charleston County Circuit Court early last fall. Subsequently TOKI has granted McGill increased access to its documents. However, McGill says TOKI has slow walked responses to his interrogatives. He went on to say that his options are to take TOKI back to court again, or argue for responses in public.
Choosing the latter would take him past the, now enforced 3 minute time limit at council meetings.
Next David DeStefano asked council about the sale of the existing town hall building, had there been any meetings with prospective buyers and had any appraisals been done?
“KICA [Kiawah Island Community Association] is interested” the mayor said again this month. “Both [KICA and TOKI] have had appraisals done,” he said.
The first item of new business was listed as Ordinance 2015-09, a zoning measure related to the new municipal complex. TOKI has encountered more obstacles in the design of their municipal complex.
“This ordinance makes it possible for the town to have a single use,” said the town’s attorney Dennis Rhoad. The measure would accommodate the parking lot and curb cut designs advanced by architects not possible under the current “mixed use” designation for the tract. The ordinance passed unanimously.
The town’s new treasurer was officially and unanimously appointed to her position and Kiawah resident Scott Parker was unanimously appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. The latter appointment revitalized the discussion of advertising such positions in advance of engaging someone for the post. The mayor closed the topic by saying such posts should be advertised to “minimize criticism.”
Councilmember Wilson said the Planning Commission meeting had been canceled. The Audit Committee had met the week before and would meet again on Jan. 15. The hope is a final report on the forensic analysis of 2012 will be available and made public then.
Councilmember Labriola said nine firms had applied for consideration to build the new municipal complex and the Municipal Committee had completed their evaluations. The list has been winnowed down to four, who will be called on to respond to construction documents developed by architectural firm LS3P in the near future.
Councilmember Johnson’s Arts Council report followed, noting this and the next three months were the busiest of the year for the group. She provided a lengthy review of past events and described a slate of upcoming dates. Johnson concluded her report by announcing the Environmental Committee “will be meeting next week.”
Councilmember Weaver said Public Safety had scheduled a meeting for the following week and the Communications Committee was reviewing its processes.
Stephanie Tillerson described plans to hire a “planner” with time and costs to be spilt with the county before bringing town staff members out with reports on subjects in their bailiwicks.
Jim Jordan’s beach erosion report focused on the most egregious example of recent erosion, the breach near boardwalk 139 (Flyway). Jordan said “the beach will heal itself in time,” but the ramifications of waiting were apparent in the next report, presented by Rusty Lameo. Lameo’s report was also quite lengthy.
Many of the island’s boardwalks were damaged during October’s flooding, however the interplay of TOKI ordinances dictating design, condition and repair of boardwalks is causing some delay in rebuilding for organizations like KICA and private residents affected by the damage. The same issue is occurring with TOKI’s trash cans along the beach.
Not only were the trash can containers damaged by recent storms but their design and aesthetic has also come into question. Replacing the wooden containers is under review, using a new design currently floating through a group with representatives of the Architectural Review Board, TOKI and KICA. There are 43 wooden containers on the beach, the new design is estimated at $800/box and would cost the town a substantial amount even if phased in. Councilmember Johnson suggested the town save money by transferring responsibility to KICA.
“If it’s on KICA property maybe we can turn this over to them. Get the town out of the middle,” said Johnson.
James Baily, COO of KICA diplomatically inveighed on council for action on the breach in the beach, calling it an eyesore and impediment to resolving other issues. The mayor however said some maneuvering would have to be done after the Department of Health and Environmental Control had denied a request to plug the gap in the beach.
Citizen’s Comments (second round)
Kiawah resident and two time KICA board member Marilyn Olson started the second round of citizens comments. She called for action necessary to recover from recent storm damage. “These boardwalks are a hazard,” she said.
Kiawah resident Virginia Abbott strode to the podium to ask if Ordinance 2015-09 could be applied elsewhere. The town administrator gave assurances the change was only applicable to the site of the proposed municipal center.
Armed with information obtained through FOIA, Dennis McGill opened the topic of the town’s attorney, Dennis Rhoad’s, compensation. His presentation touched on several points he had previously raised at council meetings, including the high amount the town spends on attorney’s fees compared to Seabrook; the fact that the town attorney’s compensation is documented at $69,000 per year, yet McGill says Rhoad’s has received $80,000 per year for the last five plus years; and that the in-house attorney, a contractor, received medical benefits from the town as if he were an employee, in addition to his contracted fees.
The mayor interjected asking McGill what his question was. Before he responded, Rhoad stepped in saying his objective in gaining medical benefits was not intended to amplify his income and that “If the town overpaid me, I would like to pay it back with interest,” adding that “Gunnells and Rucker made a mess of things.”
Council then went into executive session. Nearly two hours later, they returned to active session and produced the following:
• Rhoad predicted the forensic audit of 2012 would be available and made public on Jan. 15.
• The town attorney and town clerk did not require reappointment after all.
• Unanimously approved the reappointment of Judge John Strauch to municipal court. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.