Category Archives: Community

Doug Ross claims title of ‘highest commenter’ on blog

Photo by Doug Ross

Photo by Doug Ross

Yesterday, our own Doug Ross texted me the above photo, saying:

Fyi, my last post on your blog came from the top of a mountain in squaw valley… 8900 feet… which makes me your highest commenter

It is the official position of this blog to assume he meant “highest” in terms of physical altitude — even though he is a libertarian, vacationing out West, where smoking dope is legal…

When he gets back, we’ll have to ask him whether there are plans to change the name of the valley…

Another centrist video message from an SC Democrat

There’s nothing terribly surprising about South Carolina Democrats gravitating toward the center — they’ve done it as long as I’ve been following politics in my home state.

But I’m definitely seeing a pronounced trend toward setting out those positions very definitely, so you make no mistake.

You saw the recent Tombo Hite video, stressing limited government and keeping taxes low (not lowering taxes, but keeping them low — a truthful distinction you won’t often hear from Republicans, who tend to pander to the erroneous belief that taxes are high in SC).

Now here’s one featuring Vida Miller from the Georgetown area, stressing “Community. Integrity. Responsibility.” Communitarian values that sound sort of conservative because they ARE conservative in the traditional sense of the word — as distinguished from all the anti-institutional bomb-throwers who call themselves “conservative” these days.

vida miller

Bryan Caskey’s shotgun tie

Caskey tie

I had lunch today with Bryan Caskey at his club.

We’d had drinks at my club recently, so it was his turn.tie closeup

We talked about the kinds of things gentlemen talk about at real gentlemen’s clubs (as opposed to the trashy kind) — politics, whether one can actually travel ’round the world in 80 days, shooting for sport, etc. Then in the middle of the shooting part, I noticed his shotgun-shell tie.

So I thought it only right to share it here.

Then we went back to harrumphing about those political chaps, most of them vile Whigs and Jacobins, don’t you know…

Did you vote today? Were you the only one there?

Voted

Well, I did, and I was the only voter at the time. I was greatly outnumbered by poll workers, poll greeters, and media. It was 8:41 a.m., and I was the 46th voter to take a Republican ballot. Exactly one person had voted in the Democratic runoff.

Of course, I HAD to take a GOP ballot, having voted Republican two weeks ago. But had I not been wrongly, unfairly forced to do that (you should be able to vote in both primaries, any time), I would have anyway. I don’t think there was anything on the Democratic side other than superintendent of education, and I didn’t have an opinion on that choice. (Had I voted in that, lacking a view of my own, I likely would have accepted The State‘s recommendation and gone with Tom Thompson. As you may know, I generally, but not always, vote a straight State paper ticket.)

Whereas on the GOP side, I not only had superintendent of education and lieutenant governor, but a hotly-contested county council race.

On my way in I did something I don’t usually do, which is reveal how I was going to vote. Chalk it up to that knock on the head the other day; I cracked under questioning. And since I did it in the presence of the press, I’ll share it with you. I stopped to say hey to Tim Dominick from The State — he shot the picture below at my precinct (I hope The State won’t mind my sharing it — here’s the link to where I got it). He was chatting with a lady who urged me to vote for Bill Banning, for county council. Not feeling like being cagey, I said I would.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read this story, or who otherwise has been paying attention. A key excerpt:

Anti-tax and limited-government groups are helping Tolar…

In other words, Tolar is sort of the tea party option. I mean, seriously. Anybody who thinks taxes are too high in Lexington County is not likely to get my vote.

Anyway, please share your voting experiences today. You don’t have to say how you voted. Unless you want to. And even then, you don’t have to…

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at thestate.com.

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at thestate.com.

SC does well on voter participation, less well on some other measures of civic engagement

Benjamin Thrutchley with the National Conference on Citizenship was kind enough to share the following release with me today, at the suggestion of my friend and long-ago boss Paula Ellis.

Paula, who was managing editor at The State back when I was still in the newsroom in the early ’90s, is well aware of my communitarian tendencies, or at least of my love for wonkish musings about civic virtue, the commonweal, etc.

Here’s the release, and here’s a story about the report in the Charleston paper. My comments on the report will follow:

South Carolinians are active voters, but among the least likely to take action after leaving the voting booth

University of South Carolina Upstate and NCoC

Release South Carolina Civic Health Index

Spartanburg, SC  – Today, University of South Carolina Upstate and the National Conference on Citizenship released the South Carolina Civic Health Index. The report reveals how residents in South Carolina engage in important civic activities such as voting, volunteering, and interacting with neighbors. This type of engagement is critical because it is linked to the economic and personal health of individuals and the strength of our democracy. Overall, the report finds South Carolina’s civic health to be stable, but with key areas of weakness in political participation and civic social connections.

“South Carolinians are some of the most active voters in the country,” said Abraham Goldberg, the report’s author and a professor at University of South Carolina Upstate. “But, voting is only one small piece of our civic life and our state has some work to do. This report shows that too many of us aren’t likely to stay politically engaged after leaving the voting booth and that too many of us are disconnected from our communities and each other.”

Compared to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, South Carolina ranked among the highest communities for traditional forms of political involvement such as voter registration (13th), voting in the 2010 mid-term elections (14th), voting in the 2012 presidential election (19th). However they ranked near the bottom for other forms of political action such as boycotting products (46th) and contacting public officials (48th). The state also ranked in the bottom half of all states when it came to key social strength indicators such as exchanging favors with neighbors frequently (30th), having trust in neighbors (38th) and attending public meetings about town or school affairs (44th).

“This report is one example of how USC Upstate, through the Metropolitan Studies Institute and numerous other venues, achieves our metropolitan mission of engaging with communities across South Carolina, said University of South Carolina Upstate Chancellor Tom Moore. “The South Carolina Civic Health Index and its recommendations can serve as a call to action to increase political and community engagement, educational attainment, and civic involvement that will improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians.”

The report also reveals a strong correlation between educational attainment and almost every measure of political participation and civic involvement analyzed in the Civic Health Index. For example, at a 5 to 1 ratio, college graduates were more likely to contact public officials than those without a high school diploma. Additionally, over 43% of college graduates frequently discuss politics with friends and family, while only 16.3% without a high school diploma do so.

“University of South Carolina Upstate is doing critical work by starting a conversation to strengthen civic life South Carolina,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship. “While this report reveals clear challenges to South Carolina’s civic health, especially around younger and less educated residents, South Carolinians have a strong civic foundation and the skills to tackle these challenges.”

The report data was obtained primarily from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey on Voting, Volunteering and Civic Engagement. Following are additional key findings from the report:

  • Over 40% of South Carolinians participate in at least one type of organization and almost 10% hold leadership roles as an officer or committee member. The state ranked 22nd for group membership and 37th in leadership rate.
  • South Carolinians rank 7th in the nation for church, synagogue, or mosque participation.
  • The report looked specifically at the civic health of residents 18 – 29 years old. South Carolina’s youth ranked 35th in discussing politics a few times a week or more, 40th in exchanging favors with neighbors frequently, and 45th in belonging to any group. However, young South Carolinians were active voters, ranking 6th for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election.

“This report is an important first step in building on our civic strengths and addressing our challenges, especially in developing broader political engagement and social connectivity,” said Abraham Goldberg. “We will continue the work started today by disseminating these findings and activating partner organizations across the state to improve civic life in South Carolina. Maintaining strong civic health is vital to sustaining our state’s prosperity and individual well-being.”

The report also includes suggestions for reshaping South Carolina’s civic health. Specifically: 1) Develop urban areas that bring people together and stimulate neighborhood engagement; 2) Foster a culture that values educational attainment; 3) Reach out to willing religious institutions to invite people to participate in nonpartisan political activity and broader community involvement; and, 4) State leaders should consider assembling and empowering a “South Carolina Commission on Youth Civic Engagement.”

###

The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) is a congressionally chartered organization dedicated to strengthening civic life in America. We pursue our mission through a cutting-edge civic health initiative, an innovative national service project, and cross-sector conferences. At the core of our efforts is the belief that every person has the ability to help their community and country thrive.

Metropolitan Studies Institute at USC Upstate supports research efforts between USC upstate and the community, enhancing relationships, promoting the reciprocal flow of information and ideas, assisting community and economic development, and increasing the strategic use of the University’s scholarship and outreach capabilities. The MSI engages in select community-based research and assessment projects, notable among them the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project, and partners with community agencies to undertake program evaluations, needs assessments, feasibility studies, and data management projects.

That’s good news about our voter participation — 19th in the nation in the 2012 presidential election, with young voters ranking 6th. And while the Post and Courier report says that’s “even though the state is not a presidential battleground and there’s relatively less campaigning here,” I don’t find it surprising. No, there’s not a lot of suspense over which way we’ll go in November, but I think our extreme national importance as an early primary state gets voters interested every four years — one reason why I’d hate for us to lose that status.

And I’m not that terribly concerned about the supposed dropoff of participation after elections, especially when that is measured by such dubious factors as participation in boycotts, which I seldom see as positive engagement. Trying to do financial harm to someone you disagree with seems to me highly unlikely to foster constructive dialogue. We have enough confrontation in our politics, which I think is one thing that turns many people off to the whole process.

Also, as a small-R republican — as a firm believer in representative democracy, rather than the direct kind — I see voting as the citizen’s first and greatest duty. Between elections, I see the voter’s main job as being paying attention to what the elected officials do, so that he or she can vote intelligently next time. And, of course, engaging in civil dialogues with friends and acquaintances, as we do here.

And I’m torn about the “contacting public officials” thing. In theory, it would be great if politicos heard from all of their constituents, including the most thoughtful ones — or at least a representative sample. But in practice, they tend to hear more from the angriest constituents (see, for instance, “Tea Party“), or the most organized, and resonate to their messages. And while, like a broken clock, the angry people are occasionally right, they aren’t right often enough to reassure me.

Of course, if there’s an increase in elected officials being contacted by the kinds of citizens who read reports on civic engagement and worry about them, that would most likely be a good thing.

Finally, I found it interesting that this report came the same day as this front-page of The State. It’s jam-packed with well-covered news (nice job, my friends), but it’s all of the sort bound to increase voters’ cynicism and sense of alienation from public institutions…

BqbF2YkCcAAtJRr

 

Could a man have a better headline on his obit?

HonorThis front page obit today noting the passing of Leroy “Nab” Inabinet bore a headline that any man should aspire to.

I suppose there are other attributes by which one would wish to be remembered — “good father,” “loving husband.” Some may aspire to the status of “hero.”

But you can only get so much into a headline, and in a newspaper it’s most appropriate to refer to the public side of a subject’s character.

With that in mind, it’s hard to beat this tribute.

It’s the sort of thing that makes me wish I’d known Mr. Inabinet, and feel a sense of loss because I did not.

Those who did were fortunate, and are no doubt reflecting on that today.

They say baseball will be very, very good to us

baseball talk

Seated are, from left to right, Mayor Steve Benjamin, developer Bob Hughes and moderator Jim Hammond.

This morning’s edition of Columbia Regional Business Report’s “Power Breakfast” series featured Mayor Steve Benjamin and developer Bob Hughes talking up Bull Street and baseball.

tie

Don’t read too much into the tie.

I had overslept and dressed in a rush for the hyper-early event, and didn’t realize until I got there that I had worn my tie with the layouts of classic Major League ballparks on it. As I hastily explained to Mike Fitts when I saw him there, this should not be construed as a sign of support on my part. I’m still sort of ambivalent about this thing. I, too, think minor league baseball could be very, very good to us, but I always wanted it down by the river, so… I don’t know how I feel about this consolation prize.

Also, I don’t know what to think about Bull Street overall, and I think part of the reason for that is that I still find it hard to envision. I get what Mr. Hughes says about the specifics of what will actually be there and how it will ultimately look will develop in an “organic” manner over the next couple of decades, and will largely be driven by market forces. But that makes it hard for me, and others, to make up our minds about it. Which, I know, has been infinitely frustrating to the mayor, who believes, as he reiterated, that we have to stop “kicking the can down the road” on this unique urban fixer-upper opportunity.

Anyway, here are some things that came up that seemed of interest to me:

  • Hughes talked the concept of “placemaking,” a concept that sounds to me a bit like the “third place” that Starbucks has always striven to be. He described it as a place where, if you arrange to meet someone there, you don’t mind if that person is late, “because there’s something to engage your mind.” In any case, we were invited to think of the Bull Street redevelopment, and I suppose the ballpark in particular, as an exercise in “placemaking.”
  • As a representative of ADCO, I wasn’t too thrilled with his complaint that “I’m tired of Columbia always making excuses for being hot.” He said it’s 6 degrees cooler than Dallas here, and this development is about showing people in a concrete way how much cooler we are.
  • The mayor again made his point that we have to stop thinking of ourselves as the “compromise… government town.” All the governmental entities that contribute to our local economy are awesome, he said, but they don’t pay property taxes. He thinks the city needs to be known to the private sector as a place that “aggressively seeks your capital and treats it well while it’s here.”
  • Benjamin observed that increasingly, people don’t move to a city because they found a job there; they move to a place where they want to live, and seek employment opportunities in that place. This development is about creating that kind of place. Hughes spoke of our local institutions of higher education as places that will crank out residents for Bull Street: “You’re graduating each year more people for this development.”
  • The ballpark was repeatedly touted as a necessary spark to draw the rest of the kind of development that will be needed for the project to succeed. Not having it, in the minds of potential investors/developers, would have been a deal-breaker, Hughes asserted. Now that it’s a done deal, everything can proceed.
  • Hughes invites people who want to be part of the development to “Bring me something you want to build.” That’s because “We cannot do Bull Street by ourselves;” the billion-dollar investment would be too much. He’s seeking “a diversified team of developers.”
  • He said more and more such developers are interested, even enthusiastic: At recent development gatherings across the country, the questions his team gets from potential developers have changed in a positive direction, going from “Why would I want to go to Columbia?” to “How big can my sign be?” and “When will the first pitch” be thrown in the ballpark.
  • But for the moment, he’s only interested in development that fits the architectural concept of the place. The buildings — whether apartments, attached single-family homes, or commercial — will be three-to-four stories tall. Anything taller than that would obscure “the dome” (by which I assume he means the cupola atop the Babcock Building) , and anything less doesn’t fit the concept. “If you’re not three stories tall, we’re glad to talk to you, but we’re not going to be interested in the beginning.”
  • When is “the beginning?” The plan is to start “moving dirt” this summer, and work will start on the ballpark in the early fall. We’ll see the first residents in August 2015, and “hotel, retail and baseball” up and running in April 2016.
  • How long will it take to complete the development? Hughes said, “I want it not to take 20 years,” and reckons that “We’re a great success if it takes 14 or 15.”
  • Possibly the least sensitive remark of the morning was something that Hughes quoted to the effect that “Old brick is depressing; that’s why nobody ever left this place.” I didn’t hear who he was quoting and I missed the larger point he was trying to make about the look of the place. He did say that five buildings will be preserved, which he said represented about 75 percent of the square footage of the most comprehensive wish lists for historic preservation that he’d seen.
  • There was a lot of talk about walkability and bikeability. One person asked how the development would be accessible by bike from the established neighborhoods across Bull Street. Hughes gave perhaps his weakest answer of the morning to that, suggesting that cyclists could cross at the light. Then he said something about a tunnel that runs under Harden perhaps being employed for that purpose on the eastern side.
  • Hughes noted with regard to the $31 million in publicly-funded infrastructure, “It takes me 20 years to get that.” Benjamin added, “20 years, and benchmarks that have to be met along the way.
  • “This project’s going to be judged by its success,” Benjamin asserted. In response to a question about opposition, he said, “I talk with people every day who are very excited.” He spoke of touring Charleston with Joe Riley, “the dean of mayors in the United States,” who spoke of building things that have “a permanent impact on a city.” Benjamin added, “In 50 years, no one will remember what the unemployment rate was,” or the crime rate. Or, he hopes, how acrimonious was the debate over Bull Street. He believes its success will wash all that away.

baseball been berry berry good to me

Come give blood with me next Tuesday, ya wimps!

This is me giving once in 2011. I'd already been doing it for YEARS by then.

This is me giving once in 2011. I’d already been doing it for YEARS by then.

Today, they called me to ask for my blood again, on account of the fact that I’ll be eligible to do so again starting this Thursday.

I set my appointment for 5 p.m. next Tuesday, May 27 — double red cells, as usual, if my iron is good enough.

And as usual, they asked me that question that always sounds kind of odd — asking me if I could bring a friend.

But not really so odd, when you think of how much blood is needed in this part of the country. We almost never have enough, and have to import from other regions. So the more, the better.

So… for once, I’m asking well ahead of time: Would any of y’all join me in giving, either on Tuesday when I go, or at your convenience.

It’s important. It’s worth doing. Which is why I overcame my “Room 101″-level horror of having blood drawn from my body to become a regular giver, like clockwork.

So join me.

Are we an uncompromising bunch here on the blog?

The last couple of days, Doug Ross and I have had a sidebar conversation growing out of the earlier thread about the importance of compromise.

Doug argued that we may all talk about compromise and how important it is to getting along with the people in our lives or in shaping public policy, but we don’t practice it all that much — which to him is not a bad thing. With “we” referring to regulars on this blog, including Doug and me.

Excerpts from a couple of his emails:

Who among your most regular commenters would you say ISN’T uncompromising? Including yourself. I think we’re all of a certain age and high level of certainty about our beliefs based on our experiences. …

Of this group, which do you think could be convinced to make even a moderate change in his/her views?

bud, Kathryn, Phillip, Bryan, Silence, Mark, Karen

Anyone past the age of 40 who hasn’t got a clear view of his beliefs, principles, and view of the world is probably pretty lost.

I know that I have made some large swings in my beliefs in the past 10-15 years – I was pro-choice and am now pro-life. I was against gay marriage but now am for it. I am definitely coming around on single payer.. it beats the current alternative since we can’t go back to the former.

My take on it is that we are each a function of our experiences. You would have a hard time convincing me that you would have the same view of the military had you grown up in my house or Phillip’s. You are what you know and what you’ve seen and done….

So… bud, Kathryn, Phillip, Bryan, Silence, Mark, Karen… were your ears burning? Since we were talking about you, I thought you might want to join in.

I said he probably had a point — although a couple of y’all (maybe Mark? maybe Karen?) are perhaps slightly more open to changing your minds than the rest. I think maybe the more “malleable” people are probably shyer about posting. They are the lurkers (and you know who you are — I can see several of you out there on Google Analytics as I type this). The more, shall we say, definite people are less bashful about making statements for all to read.

And I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think I’m that hard to convince with a good argument. People used to change my mind during our debates at The State — before we took a stand on them that is, during the decision-making stage.

And from time to time, I would change my own mind in the process of writing something. I would have a thesis, and as I worked on it and collected evidence I would find that my thesis just didn’t work, and that I wanted to say something different, often very different.

I once had a candidate endorsement on the page, and the page ready to go to press, when I changed my mind (because of a single phone conversation that I had in the early evening after I thought I was done with the next day’s pages), and pulled it and endorsed her opponent.

But the things we talk about on the blog are usually things that I’ve made my mind up about over a course of years and decades of testing them against contrary arguments. Which makes my positions hard to shake.

There are plenty of issues out there, though, that I haven’t made up my mind about. There’s the ballpark at Bull Street, for instance. Y’all haven’t seen me take a strong stance on that, have you?

Way to go, John Paul. John, too…

Our pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter's on Sept. 11, 1987.

Our pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter’s on Sept. 11, 1987.

At Mass yesterday, I got to thinking about it being Pope John Paul II’s big day, after which he will henceforth be called SAINT John Paul.

I have a lot more memories of him than I do John XXIII. In fact, as important as he was, I really have no memories of John XXIII. I didn’t grow up Catholic, and my earliest memory of being aware of a pope at all have to do with Paul VI.

We particularly remember John Paul because he stopped by our church, St. Peter’s, when he was in Columbia on Sept. 11, 1987. I missed the ceremony because I was one of the editors responsible for our coverage of the papal visit, and couldn’t leave the office. I did get to see the Popemobile arrive at Williams-Brice Stadium, though — some of us climbed up on the roof of the old newspaper building (which now belongs to ETV) to watch the motorcade arrive — then went back to work.

But the visit is commemorated with a huge marble plaque (below), and various photos on the walls from the day. So I feel like, as a parishioner, I was a part of his visit to our church.

Of everything written about yesterday’s double canonization, I was most impressed by this piece, which explained how meaningless it is to speak of John as a “liberal,” and John Paul as a “conservative:”

Here’s the shorthand narrative about the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II on Sunday that you’re bound to hear this weekend (or may have already heard). Ready? The first was a liberal, and the second was a conservative.

As with most black-and-white descriptions, this one falls short. To begin with, the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” as commonly understood in the modern political sphere, fail when applied to the church, which has always transcended such categories. The terms also limp when it comes to describing the former Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla.

To wit, the installation of the “liberal” Pope John wasn’t even an installation. Technically, it was a “coronation,” with the former cardinal-archbishop of Venice carried into St. Peter’s Basilica seated upon a grand sedia gestatoria (literally a “chair for carrying”), an ornate throne borne on the shoulders of 12 footmen, before he was crowned with a bejeweled triple tiara. John’s pronouncements used the papal “We,” and he once issued a document called “Veterum Sapientia,”recommending the use of Latin in seminary training and throughout the universal church. Indeed, one of his closest advisers and his personal secretary, the now 98-year-old Cardinal Loris Capovilla, called him a “great conservative.”

As for the “conservative” John Paul II, he issued several encyclicals that included slashing critiques of the excesses of capitalism and repeatedly called for justice for the poor; he was the first pope in history to visit a synagogue; he opposed many causes that U.S. conservatives supported (for example, the Iraq war); he tirelessly built bridges to other faiths, joining with other religious leaders for the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, to the consternation of many in the Vatican; he issued sweeping apologies for past wrongs committed by the church (to, among others, Jews, women and those persecuted during the Inquisition); and finally, in a way no pope had ever done, he made full use of almost every form of media available to spread the Gospel….

The ways most people use “liberal” and “conservative” today are indeed nonsensical within the context of the Church. Which is one reason that I, as a Catholic, am personally uncomfortable with both labels…

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter's -- a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter’s — a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

Kevin Fisher missing Mayor Bob. Really.

Mayor Bob, during an editorial board interview in 2008.

Mayor Bob, during an editorial board interview in 2008.

This was published several days ago, but I just saw it, so I’m sharing with others among you who are just as slow on the uptake.

I enjoyed this column by Kevin Fisher in the Free Times. An excerpt:

Where have you gone, former Mayor Bob? A city turns its troubled eyes to you, woo, woo, woo. What’s that you say, Cola Citizen? Gentle Bob has left and gone away, hey, hey, hey …hey, hey, hey.

First, my apologies to Simon and Garfunkel. And also to Mayor Bob, if he’s offended. I hope not, because it’s meant as a compliment.

Indeed, we could use a little Mayor Bob about now. Can you imagine him fighting with council members in public? With concerned citizens? With anyone? Of course not. As I wrote about Bob upon his retirement: “Coble was eminently approachable as mayor, making each person feel worthy in their opinions and welcome to share them.”

While I disagreed mightily with him on a wide range of policy and management decisions (or the lack thereof), I always liked the way Bob conducted himself both personally and in his role as the city’s elected leader. Council followed suit, as the mayor sets the tone. And therein lies a lesson that Steve Benjamin needs to learn….

Those of you who remember Kevin running against Bob several years back may be surprised at these comments, but you shouldn’t be. Kevin can be an irascible critic — and has gotten under Mayor Bob’s skin a little over the years — but he’s fair-minded, and he’s given former Mayor Bob his due before. Back at the outset of that 2006 campaign, he said of the mayor, “He’s a really nice guy, and much nicer than me.”

But he also saw that as a weakness. He criticized Coble for “waiting for consensus” to lead, and for not being tough enough to say “no” to bad ideas.

Now, Kevin — and probably others — are missing that “waiting for consensus” stuff. That’s not Mayor Benjamin’s style.

Basically, the two mayors have complementary upsides and downsides. With Bob, you really could go nuts waiting for him to step out ahead of the rest of council. He really wanted that consensus. Steve is too impatient for that, so you get a lot of action. But after four years of his impatience, he’s created enough irritation on council that the action is increasingly one-sided, and little gets done.

Although it does seem like the ballpark’s going to go through, it will do so at serious cost to the mayor’s remaining political capital. There are more rough waters ahead — waters upon which Bob Coble would have poured oil…

How Benjamin, et al., are selling Bull St. ballpark

bull street

In case you don’t get these emails, I thought I’d share. The image above shows what the top of the e-blast looks like. Here’s the text:

In case you missed it, Sunday’s Op-Ed in The State made it clear that there WILL be a vote on the Bull Street baseball stadium this Tuesday evening. This vote will set the future direction of our city – survive or thrive!
Please share this article with your respective networks, post it on social media, and like it on the Building Bull Street page. WE NEED TO SHOW OUR GROWING VOICE OF SUPPORT!!!
 
Once you’ve read the article, please take a moment to contact Mayor Benjamin and Council members Cameron Runyan, Sam Davis and Brian DeQuincey Newman to thank them for their leadership.
 
The important final vote will take place this Tuesday, April 8th at 6pm. Plan on joining us at City Hall for this very important moment in our citys future.

That’s followed by the text of the op-ed that was in The State over the weekend, which you can read here.

The vote is supposed to come today.

ALL of Richland Election Commission should be replaced

This morning, when I read that there was the potential for every member of the Richland County election commission to be replaced, I wrote on Twitter, “And all five SHOULD be replaced.”

Rep. Nathan Ballentine both favorited and reTweeted my post, so I know I have at least one member of the delegation agreeing with me.

This afternoon, when I got back into town from a business trip to Greenwood, I got a call from a friend, a local businessman who is at the point of retirement, who said he was interested in serving if the delegation was interested in having him. He’s a man who has had a certain success in business, and has been very active in the community. He has no political interests or ambition, and doesn’t want to start playing political games at this stage in life. He’s just concerned about this problem in his community, and is willing to pitch in and help if anyone thinks he can.

In other words, he’s just the kind of person we need serving on the commission.

I called James Smith and asked what the procedure was. I was told he should call the delegation office and get a form to fill out. I passed on the information.

There are at this point about 40 names in the hopper. Here’s hoping that out of the 40, plus the additional ones that will come in now that they’re starting a new filing period, the delegation will find five people willing and able to fix this problem. And that the delegation will actually choose those five…

I was at St. Pat’s in Five Points. Where were y’all?

BizE8crIcAAksvp

Late in the afternoon Saturday, I sent out the above picture with the challenge,

My HQ today is @yesterdayssc in case any of my blog peeps care to join me. And if ye don’t, yer an eejit…

But none of y’all showed. At least not immediately. I only waited about another half-hour.

Sorry about the “eejit” thing. It was the only Irish-sounding put down I could think of. I get it from Roddy Doyle.

Saturday was a quick-in, quick-out deal for me, compared to my usual habits on this day. I had been uncertain that I would attend at all. My son’s band was going to play at Henry’s up the street, but one of his bandmates had a death in the family the night before and they had to cancel the gig. I did run into a couple of his present and former bandmates — these guys have played in a lot of bands together over the years — at Yesterday’s, sans instruments.

It was a beautiful day for it. Sorry I missed y’all.

My grandson, waving to a tractor in the parade. You have to understand, that tractor was The Most Important Thing in the parade...

My grandson, waving to a tractor in the parade. You have to understand, that tractor was The Most Important Thing in the parade…

I thought it very Hemingwayan to celebrate standing in one spot, foot propped on bar.

I thought it very Hemingwayan to celebrate standing in one spot, foot propped on bar.

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When I arrived for the party in mid- to late afternoon, things had already reached this stage…

That's Laura and Brooke, moving at blurry speed behind the bar at Yesterday's/

That’s Laura and Brooke, moving at blurry speed behind the bar at Yesterday’s/

Troy Thames and Adam Jones, two of my son's past and present bandmates.

Troy Thames and Adam Jones, two of my son’s past and present bandmates.

This table at Yesterday's kept breaking out into wild cheering, for no apparent reason.

This table at Yesterday’s kept breaking out into wild cheering, for no apparent reason.

Kept trying to get a decent panoramic photo. Kept failing...

Kept trying to get a decent panoramic photo. Kept failing…

Best costume. This guy was all like "I'm going to be a James Joyce character today."

Best costume. This guy was all like “I’m going to be a James Joyce character today.”

Pay AGAIN? Sure and ye must be after takin’ me for an eejit

How many of these people do you think would pay TWICE?

How many of these people do you think would pay TWICE?

That’s what I expect a lot of people to say when they leave the St. Pat’s celebration in Five Points this Saturday and try to come back in — assuming, of course, that they’ve learned a cheesy Irish accent from the same dialect coach who trained the “Lucky Charms” guy in “Austin Powers.”

Expect a few donnybrooks over that.

I don’t know what I think. On the one hand, it seems reasonable to me, as it has seemed reasonable to the organizers of this annual festival from time immemorial (this never happened in Jack Van Loan’s day!), to allow people to come back in if they’ve paid once. I mean, when you’ve paid for an all-day event, I can think of all sorts of reasons (say, for instance, you are constitutionally incapable of taking advantage of a port-o-john) why you might need to leave briefly and come back — and you DID pay for the whole day.

On the other hand, the public safety argument has some force on its side, although I’m not entirely devastated by the logic:

But the new policy will allow police and private security to better monitor who is coming and going.

In the past, people were screened the first time they went through the festival gates but not necessarily when they came back, interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said. Instead, those returning just showed an arm band and walked in.

Now, everyone inside will have been screened, eliminating the risk of bringing contraband, Santiago said. The policy also keeps people from leaving so they can drink more or use drugs before coming back, he said.

“We know that everybody who is in there has been through security,” he said.

Franks also hopes the no re-entry policy curbs some of the disturbances the festival causes in surrounding neighborhoods. There should be fewer people walking through yards and less trash…

What do y’all think?

Chamber backs plan for Lott to run CPD, even while council gives it a cold shoulder

Most of city council has thoroughly dissed Cameron Runyan’s attempt to revive the idea of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott taking over the Columbia Police Department.

But the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce is applauding. It sent out this statement yesterday:

“The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce fully endorses Columbia City Council member Cameron Runyan’s plan to contract Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to manage the City of Columbia’s police department. Public safety, economic development and job creation are top priorities of the Chamber and our business community. Our neighbors and our business owners deserve the right to feel safe in their homes, on their streets and in our business districts. Public safety is critical to moving our city from good to great to achieve status as a world-class city.

We firmly believe Sheriff Lott, based on his past performance, has the credibility and proven results to bring about positive changes in the Columbia Police Department, which will benefit our entire community. Sheriff Lott is a well respected leader throughout Columbia, the state and law enforcement. We encourage our city council members to embrace this plan and help make it a reality.”

-  Holt Chetwood | Chair, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

It’s a bit surprising to me that council so categorically rejects the idea of the popular and competent Lott taking over the department, given that the CPD has in the last few years gone way beyond the point that the word “troubled” adequately described just how fouled up it is at the top. The same proposal lost by only one vote in council in 2010.

But it’s habit now with the council majority, I guess. If it comes from the Benjamin camp, and has business support, and might change the status quo in a way that makes sense, they’re against it.

The local messes are really piling up, feeding on each other, with no solutions in sight

There are several festering issues on the metro front that I have neglected to write about in the last few days, probably because of an old prejudice of mine: I don’t like to write about problems for which I can’t think of a good solution.

But at least I can take a moment to catalog the local snafus, and note the way I think they all add to a general lack of confidence in local government, even a feeling of hopelessness on the part of those who wish for something better in the Midlands.

Let’s start with a few points about the Richland County election commission — which, of course, is not a county board at all, since it derives its authority from state legislators who represent portions of the county (but who have rendered themselves powerless to guide the board), something that no doubt confuses folks from more sensible parts of the country, and still makes us South Carolinians, as used to it as we are, want to bang our heads against something. Some of the recent developments on this mess that keeps on giving:

  • The board chose one of its own to be the new interim director — which one wag on Facebook described as “Selph-serving.”
  • The firing of the theoretically permanent director, apparently for, among other things, firing employees he deemed incompetent.
  • The ex-director’s claim that he was warned not to fire an employee because said employee was the brother-in-law of Sen. Joel Lourie.
  • The ex-director’s claim that when he tried to hire a replacement for that employee, the board’s first question about his choice for the job was about the candidate’s race. He also said the board didn’t want to hire a black candidate for the position — which would be a twist on the perception among some in the county that the agency is a sort of black patronage mill.
  • The fact that Lillian McBride still has a job with this public body. Unless I missed some startling news.

OK, I’m running short of time. So instead of doing similar lists of developments on the other local problems, I’ll just list the other local problems:

  • The ongoing mess that is the Columbia Police Department. There will be no charges filed after the lengthy corruption investigation. There will also, apparently, be no answers as to what really happened among ranking cops to lead to the bizarre allegations to begin with.
  • The fact that the process to hire a new chief is sufficiently embroiled in discontent and multidirectional accusations that we hold out little hope of a new broom setting things right any time soon.
  • The possible cost to taxpayers resulting from city Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine’s handling of a federally funded loan.
  • The continuing fallout from Richland County Council’s mishandling of the awarding of a contract to manage the roadwork to be funded by the new penny tax. The council seems to have gone out of its way to maximize public distrust on an issue where public trust most needed to be courted and reinforced.
  • All the hoo-hah over Bull Street and the ball park, which… well, I’ve lost track of where all that is. I just know that something that should be about a big shot in the arm for the community seems to be leaving a bad taste in more and more local mouths.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. But this list will do for starters.

Any thoughts about a way out of this thicket?

Fisher ticked off about the wrong end of the penny tax contracting debacle

File photo of Kevin Fisher as a candidate.

File photo of Kevin Fisher as a candidate.

In Kevin Fisher’s latest column, he expresses ire over the episode in which Richland County Council first gave the contract for managing hundreds of millions worth of roadwork to the out-of-state contractor ICA Engineering, then yanked it back.

But instead of being indignant that in initially awarding the contract, the council utterly blew off the concerns of the citizen panel appointed to be a watchdog over the spending of the penny tax, Kevin is mad that council responded to public outrage by calling for a do-over:

Indeed, while our local government is now conducting the people’s business in a manner that would make Vladimir Putin proud, the citizens of Richland County, S.C., USA should be ashamed.

Again.

I’d like to say we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, but we always take it. I don’t know why that is, but it is. It’s an unusual civic tradition.

In the case of the award/unaward of that $50 million engineering and construction contract, I would love to have seen the winner/non-winner (ICA Engineering) take Richland County straight to court. However, the company has instead chosen to swallow hard and bid again, and if that is their business judgment I respect it and wish them well.

But I can assure County Council that if they had done the same thing to me, aggressive attorneys would have already been hired, a massive lawsuit filed and a legal colonoscopy would be underway on them both individually and as a public body….

First, an aside… I have to confess that I’m sort of unclear about what Peter Finch’s character was so mad about, or why it struck such a chord among the viewing public, in “Network.” Maybe it was clear to me when I saw it back in 1976, but I never liked the film enough to see it again, and it’s slipped my mind…

End of digression…

I’ll agree with Kevin that this is not the way public contracting usually goes. But then, public bodies seldom act with such disregard to a body created to make sure the public will is followed. Frankly, I don’t think the creation of such a body should have been necessary. But it was part of the deal that gave the council these funds to disburse, and a deal is a deal, as Kevin would apparently agree.

Kevin’s column was brought to my attention by Luther Battiste, who had a strong interest in having the bidding process start over, as a member of the local team that had scored higher than ICA, but didn’t get the contract. He wrote this to Kevin:

Mr. Fisher : I  read with great interest your column particularly because of my 15 years on Columbia City Council.  I actually agree with you much of the time and believe you raise the issues that need to be contemplated and discussed. I am part of the team that finished second in the voting for the contract to manage the ” penny tax” funds.  Our prime contractor is local and our team was local, diverse and extremely qualified. I think you missed the ” issue” in your recent column.  CECS followed the dictates of the Request for Proposal and was rated number  one by staff in their rating of the groups. ICA which is actually and out of state firm was rated third thirty points below CECS.  Richland County Council after receiving legal advice decided that there were problems with the process of awarding the contract.  I think you probably did not have all the facts when you reached the conclusion that ICA was mistreated and should pursue legal action. I hope you take my comments as constructive.  I look forward to reading future columns.

Thoughts?

 

 

Open Thread for Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This promises to be another busy day on my end, so I thought one of these would be in order.

Possible topics, both on the metro front:

  1. New police chiefOur own Kathryn was quoted in the paper as saying, in advocating for Rub.en Santiago, “If you’ve got a horse that’s winning the race, why do you want to change horses?” Meanwhile, some want to scrap the whole process, just as the five finalists prepare to go before the public.
  2. Bull Street/ballpark — There’s a lot going on with regard to that this week as well. Here’s a story from The State today.

Of course, y’all can talk about whatever. Just be civil…

Barry’s thoughts on police chief candidates

A couple of days ago, our own Barry emailed me his thoughts about the finalists for the job of Columbia police chief. I just now noticed that he said “yes” to my request for permission to post his observations here. He based these thoughts on this story from WIS:

Tony Fisher looks like a good choice- but he’s 64 years old and he retired last year after a long career in Spartanburg.   Not sure someone that age needs to be brought in to head up a headache of a job in Columbia.
http://www.wspa.com/story/22530068/spartanburg-public-safety-director-set-to-retire

William Holbrook –   Columbia is almost 3 times bigger than Huntington, West Virginia.   Huntington is 90% white.  Columbia is 51% per 2012 estimated census data.  Doesn’t look like a great fit.

Bryan Norwood – resigned as Richmond Police Chief amid pressure. For some reason, he also personally supervised the probation conditions of R & B Singer Chris Brown. (Very odd that a police chief would do that – and folks were very critical of it).      We really don’t need someone that just had to quit somewhere else because of problems. http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/02/12/2674226/raleigh-police-chief-finalist.html

Charles Rapp-  very impressive credentials (Baltimore police department veteran, hostage negotition team leader, training academy director, led 2 precincts, has a masters from Johns Hopkins) – but same thing as Tony Fisher- looks like someone that would only be able to serve a few years due to his age- which I couldn’t find.

Gregory Reese –  Air Force experience- but hasn’t led a city department.  He led a large group  - 1600 people- but I see not having led a city department as something that would hurt him.

For further info, here’s the story that ran in The State.