Category Archives: Midlands

We have really nice people in Columbia, just FYI…

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This was nice.

I was reading along through the Opinion section of The New York Times this morning when I found this piece headlined, “What It’s Like to Wear a Mask in the South.” So of course I had to read it. I mean, when the NYT makes the effort to offer something from a Southern perspective, you’ve gotta check it out.

It was written by Margaret Renkl, who “is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.” She’s apparently from Nashville.

I was reading along and thinking, “I wonder if our friend, regular contributor David Carlton, knows her.” Because, you know, writers and college profs sometimes cross paths within the context of a community.

But then, I forgot about that when Ms. Renkl turned her column over to blurbs from other people around the South, and suddenly, there was an old friend from right here in Columbia. It was Allison Askins, who in a previous life was one of our two religion writers at The State. (Yes, there was a time when The State had not one full-time religion writer, but two. We were rather proud of that.)

Allison’s was the very first blurb. Here’s what she wrote:

“I have been making masks for two groups our church is providing them for — an organization that aids the homeless and the Department of Juvenile Justice. I try as I am sewing to be intentional about the act, thinking about who might wear it, hoping they are protected in some way by it and lifting up a prayer for their life, that it might somehow turn for the better in spite of this experience. I find it so sad to think that there are people who maybe are not wearing them simply because they do not know how to get them, can’t afford them or maybe really do not know they need to. It is these among us who I believe most deserve our mercy and our love.”

I just wanted to pass that on because Allison is a very nice and thoughtful person, and I thought, you know, it’s always a good time to stop and take note of the nice and thoughtful people here among us.

Not a thing you expect to see happen in Columbia

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

Two weeks ago, my church started having live masses again. I continued to watch them online, but they were happening. Now, they’ve been stopped again — by a curfew, in response to violence.

I didn’t post about this yesterday, because I was hoping to know a lot more if I waited. I still can’t say I know a lot. Local media seem to be trying hard, but there are more questions than answers.

So I’m still where I was when I saw the first reports of violence and gunshots near the police station downtown. My reaction then was, Hold on. Something is really, really off here. Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

And they don’t. Normally, public demonstrations — particularly those having to do with issues touching on racial tension — are very much in the dignified, MLK tradition of civil witness. I’ve certainly been to plenty of them, with regard to the flag and other matters. And there are certain things you expect — things that make you proud to live in a community such as this one.

Columbia has a long tradition of this. In the early and mid-’60s, both black and white leaders in the community looked around the country, and they began talking to each other to try to get us through desegregation without the strife seen elsewhere. This was harder than it looks from today’s perspective. There was no venue for such conversations — black and white folks coming together as equals — to take place. Then-president Tom Jones offered to let them meet on campus at USC. These conversations led, among other things, to a relatively peaceful desegregation of downtown businesses.

Out of those conversations grew the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, whose board I felt honored to serve on for several years (until just a few months ago). We didn’t accomplish anything so dramatic during my time, but the spirit that those meetings in the ’60s represented — let’s get together and figure out how to solve this — seemed reflected in how we talked about difficult issues in Columbia.

Even when horrible, evil things happened in South Carolina — such as the murders of those nine good people in Charleston in 2015 — I remember seeing comments from people wondering why South Carolina didn’t explode violently the way other places had with less provocation. Instead, leaders came together to mourn, and then to take action, together, to get rid of the flag. Yep, all they did was something that should have been done decades earlier — which means that yes, we still have plenty to be ashamed of in South Carolina — but they did it.

So when I saw that there would be a demonstration in Columbia about the death of George Floyd, I figured it would be a demonstration that would show other places how this kind of thing is done — sober witness, a sharing of grief, an airing of frustration that would demand respect.

And, from what I have heard, that’s what happened. There was such a demonstration at the State House.

But then later, several blocks away, all hell broke loose. Violence. Police cars — and a U.S. flag — set on fire. Rocks thrown. Shots fired. Fifteen cops injured. It’s probably happened before, but I can’t remember when one cop has been injured in a riot in Columbia. Certainly nothing like this.

I’m not seeing these comments in the paper this morning, but yesterday I kept hearing from family members (as y’all know, I’m not much of a TV news watcher) that local leaders such as Mayor Steve Benjamin and Sheriff Leon Lott were saying (if you can help me with a link, it would be appreciated) the violence was the work of people from out of town.

In other words, their reaction sounds like it was the same as mine: Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

Mind you, these are leaders who themselves had expressed their outrage at what happened to George Floyd. But they weren’t going to let people tear this town apart with pointless violence.

In Columbia, people protest. But they do it in a civilized manner, as we saw at the State House.

This was something else. And thus far, local officials are reacting appropriately to calm things down: Honoring those who express their grief and concerns in a rational manner. Stopping those who do things that don’t help any cause.

There’s a lot more to be done, locally and especially nationally. There are a lot of conversations to be had, and action to be taken. But for a community that’s unaccustomed to this kind of violence, we seem to be responding to it pretty well so far…

Watching things close down, a step at a time

library

Each day, on my walks around the USC campus and downtown area, I’ve watched things change. Each day, I encounter fewer people. And I watch as things close down a step at a time.

For instance, last week I could still walk into the Thomas Cooper Library, get a sip of water at the fountain, use the rest room if I needed to. Maybe walk back to the Hollings annex to see what collections are on display.

Monday, there was the above sign — only students, faculty and staff would be admitted. IDs would be checked.

Then today, the below sign — closed down completely.

When I got to Main Street today, it was the first day that I felt a bit like Rick Grimes entering Atlanta. Blocks of open curbside parking. Businesses all closed — or sufficiently curtailed that they looked closed. Go ahead and cross the street without waiting for the light, because there’s no one coming.

Passing maybe one person per block, each of you veering away sideways as you approach, so you don’t come too close. Careful. You might get “bit,” and become one of them

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

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How did your precinct vote? NYT has a cool interactive map

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I find that the most convenient place to find that hyperlocal information, right down to my neighborhood level, is…

The New York Times. I tried finding it at thestate.com, and maybe it’s there (in fact, I feel like it MUST be), but I couldn’t find it.

Anyway, they have an awesome interactive map. And I see that in my neighborhood, my man Joe cleaned up, with a higher percentage of the vote than he got overall in Lexington County.

Here are the numbers for my precinct:

Quail Hollow

 

To get your precinct, just go to the link, zoom in on your county, and roll the cursor around until you see your own polling station.

Jack Van Loan, a hero and a friend

Jack Van Loan, seated, at the dedication of his statue in Five Points in 2016.

Jack Van Loan, seated, at the dedication of his statue in Five Points in 2016.

I first heard the sad news last night, after my daughter saw a mention on social media, from a mutual acquaintance. Now, The State has confirmed it: My friend Jack Van Loan passed away over the weekend.

I guess I should have seen this coming. Early last year, sometime before I joined the Smith campaign, I’d had a conversation in which Jack, who normally identified as Republican, told me how he was fully on board in supporting James for governor. But then, months later when I called to ask him to participate in a presser we were doing with other veterans, I learned that his health wasn’t up to it.

So I knew the years were catching up on him.

I’m just so sorry to see it. I’m going to note his passing by rerunning this column from January 2008, about his and his friend John McCain’s experiences at the Hanoi Hilton. I wrote about Jack on other occasions as well, such as this piece showing him playing a king-making role in local politics as the unofficial “mayor of Five Points,” but I think Jack would most want to be remembered for this one. It’s the thing that looms largest in my memory of him, anyway:

What it was really like at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
“I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
“My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”
In October of Jack’s first year in Hanoi, a new prisoner came in, a naval aviator named John McCain. He was in really bad shape. He had ejected over Hanoi, and had landed in a lake right in the middle of the city. He suffered two broken arms and a broken leg ejecting. He nearly drowned in the lake before a mob pulled him out, and then set upon him. They spat on him, kicked him and stripped his clothes off. Then they crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him in his left foot and his groin.
That gave the enemy something to “bear down on.” Lt. Cmdr. McCain would be strung up tight by his unhealed arms, hog-tied and left that way for the night.
“John was no different than anyone else, except that he was so badly hurt,” said Jack. “He was really badly, badly hurt.”
Jack and I got to talking about all this when he called me Wednesday morning, outraged over a story that had appeared in that morning’s paper, headlined “McCain’s war record attacked.” A flier put out by an anti-McCain group was claiming the candidate had given up military information in return for medical treatment as a POW in Vietnam.
This was the kind of thing the McCain campaign had been watching out for. The Arizona senator came into South Carolina off a New Hampshire win back in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush after voters received anonymous phone calls telling particularly nasty lies about his private life. So the campaign has been on hair-trigger alert in these last days before the 2008 primary on Saturday.
Jack, a retired colonel whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing for more than a decade, believes his old comrade would make the best president “because of all the stressful situations that he’s been under, and the way he’s responded.” But he had called me about something more important than that. It was a matter of honor.
Jack was incredulous: “To say that John would ask for medical treatment in return for military information is just preposterous. He turned down an opportunity to go home early, and that was right in front of all of us.”
“I mean, he was yelling it. I couldn’t repeat the language he used, and I wouldn’t repeat the language he used, but boy, it was really something. I turned to my cellmate … who heard it all also loud and clear; I said, ‘My God, they’re gonna kill him for that.’”
The North Vietnamese by this time had stopped the torture — even taken McCain to the hospital, which almost certainly saved his life — and now they wanted just one thing: They wanted him to agree to go home, ahead of other prisoners. They saw in him an opportunity for a propaganda coup, because of something they’d figured out about him.
“They found out rather quick that John’s father was (Admiral) John Sidney McCain II,” who was soon to be named commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Jack said. “And they came in and said, ‘Your father big man, and blah-blah-blah,’ and John gave ’em name, rank and serial number and date of birth.”
But McCain refused to accept early release, and Jack says he never acknowledged that his Dad was CINCPAC.
Jack tries hard to help people who weren’t there understand what it was like. He gave a speech right after he finally was freed and went home. His father, a community college president in Oregon and “a consummate public speaker,” told him “That was the best talk I’ve ever heard you give.”
But, his father added: “‘They didn’t believe you.’
“It just stopped me cold. ‘What do you mean, they didn’t believe me?’ He said, ‘They didn’t understand what you were talking about; you’ve got to learn to relate to them.’”
“And I’ve worked hard on that,” he told me. “But it’s hard as hell…. You might be talking to an audience of two or three hundred people; there might be one or two guys that spent a night in a drunk tank. Trying to tell ‘em what solitary confinement is all about, most people … they don’t even relate to it.”
Jack went home in the second large group of POWs to be freed in connection with the Paris Peace Talks, on March 4, 1973. “I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.” Doctors told him that if he lived long enough, he’d have trouble with that knee. He eventually got orthoscopic surgery right here in Columbia, where he is an active community leader — the current president of the Columbia Rotary.
John McCain, who to this day is unable to raise his hands above his head — an aide has to comb his hair for him before campaign appearances — was released in the third group. He could have gone home long, long before that, but he wasn’t going to let his country or his comrades down.
The reason Jack called me Wednesday was to make sure I knew that.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

It’s really something when someone has a idea he really believes in, and never, ever gives up.

Remember Temple Ligon’s plan to build a convention center on a bridge across the Congaree? He’ll be talking about The Bridge again tonight, more than 30 years after he first proposed it:

Tomorrow night, Friday, beginning at 6:00 pm at the Columbia Empowerment Center on Lady Street, we’ll have a lecture on The Bridge. What began as a response to the city’s request for proposals in the spring of 1987 is now part of a major real estate development proposal that includes a five-star hotel, a Jasper Johns museum, a performing arts compound inspired by Washington’s Kennedy Center, a suggested home for the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and other features. Property taxes taken from the private development, mostly condominiums, out of what is now thin air over the Congaree River, can be collected as part of a tax increment bond financing development district to help build the cultural amenities. Low culture, you might say, can be exercised to support high culture. The Koger Center, an awful ballet theater and a terrible opera house – I was on the board of the Palmetto Opera for six years – stays where it is as a perfectly adequate symphony hall with a band shell that works. Still, renovation of the Koger Center is in the budget.Temple Ligon

Back in 1987, while the city was wondering what to do with a homeboy proposal of world’s first triumphal bridge in the modern era, the major hotel developer, Belz Hotels of Memphis, saw Columbia as an opportunity to build a Peabody and parade it’s ducks in the same class as the Peabody in Memphis and the Peabody in Orlando, both high-end properties. Belz committed in writing to Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, Lexington County Council, and West Columbia City Council. Copies of the Belz commitment will be available. Also available will be the blue ribbon committee report from the managing partner of South Carolina’s largest law firm, Nelson Mullins, which essentially said, “Build the Bridge.

In other words, The Bridge was wildly popular and eminently practical and thoroughly doable. It just didn’t have the initial support of the Honorable T. Patton Adams and later the support of the Honorable Robert D. Coble.

Even the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce was firmly on board. The membership was invited to vote their preference, which was reported as 65% for The Bridge, although the chamber director confided in me it was actually 75%.

So we almost had a done deal. As it turned out, we got a satisfactory convention center with good attendance and plans for expansion.

Fine. But who cares?

Now let’s get on with making a city. But who cares?

Everybody cares.

Benjamin testifies before Congress on climate change

Mayor Steve Benjamin winds up his testimony before Congess.

Mayor Steve Benjamin winds up his testimony before Congess.

I found this release in my In box, which said it was “happening now” — but I only got there as he was finishing his testimony. Maybe if I click on the link after the hearing’s over, I can see it from the start. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t.

In any case, here are his prepared remarks. And here’s the release:

Today, I’m in our nation’s capital testifying before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & Climate Change at its hearing on how state and local leaders are responding to the climate crisis in the wake of President Trump’s intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

In my testimony, I will highlight the challenges Columbia has faced with flooding as a result of unprecedented wet weather events as well as how cities like ours have taken leadership in addressing the issue for our residents.

It is our hope that my testimony provides members of Congress with a strong understanding of cities’ efforts to address climate change as well as some ideas that they can quickly implement to bolster local government leadership.

If you’d like to watch the testimony – happening now – you can view it here: https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-lessons-from-across-the-nation-state-and-local-action-to.

Sincerely,

Steve Benjamin
Mayor
Columbia, South Carolina

If you’re wondering how he believes the city has “taken leadership” on the issue, here are some of the things noted in his prepared remarks:

In 2009, with assistance from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, we conducted an energy audit and implemented several of the audit’s recommendations, including upgrading lighting systems, HVAC upgrades on City buildings, and installing solar panels on fire stations. These projects reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption and saved Columbia taxpayers approximately $337,000 per year.

In addition, one of my first priorities when I took office was to upgrade and rationalize our regional transit system to increase ridership, including successfully asking our voters to approve a penny tax dedicated to transportation, including transit. I have also built on and accelerated the efforts of my predecessor to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Columbia, completing several streetscapes and extending and opening several trails. Combined with thousands of new units of housing in Downtown Columbia and other central Columbia neighborhoods, these efforts have set the stage for truly giving Columbia residents a meaningful option to the car, with the added bonus of a vibrant, lively and beautiful Downtown. Two years ago, Columbia took the next step, setting a target of powering our community with 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035.

In addition to our climate change prevention efforts, we have been actively addressing mitigation. In the wake of Hurricane Joaquin, it became clear that we had to accelerate our efforts to improve the climate resilience of our stormwater infrastructure. We bit the bullet and increased stormwater fees to fund a wide array of projects to improve our stormwater system using both gray and green infrastructure. We also issued our first-ever green bond that allowed the City to finance upgrades and improvements to our stormwater system while protecting our environment.

Clare offers to sacrifice herself for the Greater Good

Clare list

Y’all remember Clare Morris, don’t you? She’s our correspondent who gave us the inside reports on Mark Sanford’s political comeback several years back.

Well, I ran into Clare this morning, and she notified me that she had done a crazy thing: Applied to join the Richland County Election Commission. Making her one of the 100-plus to do so.

I told her how crazy it was. Apparently, many others had told her, too.

But I paid her homage as well. Somebody has to run for it, if it’s ever to be fixed.

I wished her luck, if she was sure she wanted to sacrifice herself in this way.

I’m not sure anyone’s going to be elected to it today. Lynn Teague reported this a short while ago:

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Today’s Hot Topic: Columbia taxes and ecodevo

We had a pretty good crowd, who seemed engaged.

We had a pretty good crowd, who seemed engaged.

We’ve relaunched the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council’s monthly Hot Topic discussions. Today at the Chamber offices we tackled the subject of Columbia property taxes and their effect on economic development efforts. Or, as local Chamber head Carl Blackstone said when I told him about it, “My favorite topic.”

On the panel were:

  • Mayor Steve Benjamin
  • Paul Livingston, chairman of Richland County Council
  • Henry Baskins, executive vice president, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce
  • Ryan Coleman, director of ecodevo for the city
  • Jeff Ruble, head of ecodevo for Richland County
  • Lasenta Lewis-Ellis, president/CEO of LLE Construction Group

We had a good discussion, and will probably have another to follow up before long.

Local businessman Hal Stevenson moderated.

To give y’all some idea of what was said, here are some of my Tweets from during the session:

All of that said, the mayor speaks pragmatically when he says that he imagines the chances of the Legislature undoing the damage it did with Act 388 are “slim to none.”

Local attorney Mitch Willoughby chats with the mayor after the forum.

Local attorney Mitch Willoughby chats with the mayor after the forum.

Kyle always makes First Thursday sound cool…

I did go check out First Thursday later. That's Kyle in the doorway in he garnet shirt. That's ex-Rep. Boyd Brown in the foreground with his head turned back.

I did go check out First Thursday later. That’s Kyle in the doorway in the garnet shirt. That’s ex-Rep. Boyd Brown in the foreground with his head turned back.

I don’t know if I’ll stop by First Thursday on Main Street on my way home, but I always enjoy Kyle Michel’s oblique invitations to do so:

I stood out there and watched that lunar eclipse a couple of weeks ago. Cold night, clear sky and the moon just hanging up there bright and beautiful until the shadow slowly crept across, and then it turned that eerie red. Amazing.

Then you see all those awesome pictures of it and you think, how does that big chunk of rock just sit out there like that? What’s holding it up, anyway? Wait! What’s holding us up? Why doesn’t earth just fall? I mean, we weigh A LOT! And we’re sitting on nothing – like nothing nothing.

Oh yeah, gravity. The moon’s caught in our gravitational field. And we’re in the sun’s gravitational field and the sun’s caught in the Milky Way’s gravitational field so we all just kinda sit out here, floating in space everybody circling around somebody else bigger – for a long. dang. time.

OK – so where does the gravity come from? Well, it’s generated by the mass of the celestial body. How? We’re not sure. Can you go touch the gravity? No. Where is the gravity located? It’s not really located anywhere it just happens. How do we even know this in the first place then? Truth be told, we don’t *know*, it’s just our best theory – you know Einstein and relativity and all that. And they’ve had to invent some new theories to layer on the old theories to make all the math work out. But it’s still shaky.

Some things are like those distant stars in the dark night sky – the more you focus on ’em the fuzzier they get. First Thursday, on the other hand, doesn’t require any focus at all and you can get as fuzzy as you want.

It’s just a bunch of people you forgot you knew caught in Main Street’s gravitational field circling around each other for a few hours in purely random order. No hard questions. No shaky theories. No math.

We get going around 6:30. Stop by if you’re out.

I walked by on my afternoon constitutional earlier and he hadn’t put the records out yet. As I’ve mentioned before, Kyle has the biggest collection of vintage records of anyone I know, rivaling Championship Vinyl itself, and he always puts a couple of tables laden with ones he’s willing to part with — for a modest price — out in front of his office on First Thursdays.

Check it out….

I ended up purchasing three albums from "3 for $5" bin.

I ended up purchasing three albums from “3 for $5” bin.

Lake Street Dive is in Columbia tonight, which is cool…

Hey, y’all — Lake Street Dive will be in Columbia tonight!

I just heard about it last night from one of my kids, who have heard me talk about enjoying some of their stuff on YouTube.

They’re playing at the Music Farm. Or Tin Roof. Or The Senate. Which is all right there together, so you should be able to find them if you go to that general area. Just park and wander about until you hear Rachael Price‘s distinctive voice. It’s nice. (It goes down smooth, you might say.) And they strike me as a good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

The tickets I’ve been able to find are between $24 and $47. Why the range? I have no idea, since they’re general admission. Something to do with markets and what they will bear when buying on the Web. Or something.

I’m not planning to go. I’ll spend $7 to go hear my son’s band at New Brookland, but that’s about it. If you want me to spend more than that to see someone I’m not related to, you’re going to have to bring John and George back to life and reunite the Beatles or something.

But I know there are some of you who have disposable income and like to go out, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up.

Because as I say, I’ve enjoyed some of their stuff on YouTube, so I think it’s cool they’re coming to town. If I were a going-out kind of guy, I’d go hear them…

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

Benjamin, Kennell honored by Community Relations Council

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

Matt Kennell and Steve Benjamin, with their awards.

It occurred to me today that I don’t tell y’all enough about the doings of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. Which means I’m not being a very good board member.

So, since we had our big annual luncheon today at the convention center, and I tweeted about it, I thought I’d share a couple of highlights:

For instance:

  • Matt Kennell of City Center Partnership is the 2018 recipient of the CRC’s Milton Kimpson Community Service Award.
  • Mayor Steve Benjamin received the organization’s Hyman Rubin Distinguished Service Award.
  • Jennifer Reed was installed as our new board chair, succeeding Hal Stevenson. Hal made the point that she is Jennifer Clyburn Reed, although her relationship to her famous Dad the congressman isn’t something she brings up all that much:

The awards Matt and Steve received are named for two of the first leaders of the CRC, and are given to people who have led in ways that reflect the same spirit. The Council was formed during the civil rights era of the early ’60s by black and white leaders who wanted to see Columbia integrate peacefully, without a lot of the civil unrest that occurred in other Southern cities. Just meeting to discuss those issues was a sort of radical act at the time, and the black and white leaders met on the USC campus, as the guests of then-President Tom Jones, as there was no other place in town where such a gathering would be been accepted.

Today, the Council continues to promote civil conversations about difficult issues facing the whole community.

The role I play is that I’m co-chair — with Roscoe Wilson, who is also related to someone famous, his daughter A’ja Wilson — of the Council’s Community Affairs Committee. We convene issues forums (such as this one on Bull Street) and candidate debates (such as this city council debate), and we’ll be kicking off this year’s monthly Hot Topic sessions with one on affordable housing in August.

Watch this space for more on upcoming programs.

Oh, and as I mentioned in a comment to Doug earlier, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell at the luncheon. No, I did not see Henry McMaster…

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The ‘Famously Hot’ Trump protest

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Doug thinks that if I’m truly opposed to Donald J. Trump, I would join protesters at today’s event at Airport High School. My response echoes that of Mr. Darcy when urged to dance: “At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable.” Mr. Darcy didn’t do country dances, and I don’t do street protests. They are to me at the very least insupportable, if not indeed anathema.

But at least I can feel some small kinship with the protesters, after reading this release from the state Democratic Party:

Columbia’s #FamouslyHot Trump Protest, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., Airport High School, 1315 Boston Ave, West Columbia, SC 29170. Indivisible Midlands has a protest permit that runs from 4:00 – 8:00 PM and they will be standing along the sidewalks on Boston Ave starting from the corner of Boston Ave and Greenwood Drive (between the high school and middle school) and stretching towards Airport High. Parking: Protest attendees will be allowed to park **directly across the street** in the parking lots of the SC Vocational Rehab buildings starting at 4:00 PM. The lots are large enough to fit buses if groups choose to organize them. As of writing this, Boston Ave will remain open to traffic flow, so you’ll be able to get to the lots easily. Our event plans are to demonstrate outside–even once the McMaster/Trump event begins at 6:00 PM.If you choose to leave our permitted area to venture elsewhere or choose to go inside the rally where the president will be speaking if you have tickets, Indivisible Midlands is not responsible for your safety and cannot be held liable for what occurs outside the bounds of our permit. The McMaster/Trump event won’t let you take signs or much of anything inside, so you’ll need to stow any of those in your vehicles before venturing in. Again, we aren’t necessarily encouraging or discouraging anyone from going to see the president speak if they wish–the event is open to the public if you reserved ticket online. We just have no plans as an organization to do so and any disruptions that may occur once inside should not be attributed to us as such. …

As you may or may not know, ADCO is the agency that came up with Columbia’s “Famously Hot” identity.

I suspect it will seem particularly apt at about 4 p.m. today in the vicinity of Airport High School. Yet another reason to leave the whole mess to other people. I assure you that at that hour, I will be congratulating myself on not being there

The Three Musketeers (plus Beth Bernstein)

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie texted me  this picture taken at the Lourie Center on the day of the primaries.

My reaction: “The Musketeers and their lady friend. And your Dad!”

Back when Joel and James Smith were first in the House in the ’90s, I used to refer to them as “the Hardy Boys,” partly because of their youth (Cindi Scoppe and I referred privately to Smith as “young James” and of course we knew Joel’s father before we knew him) but because they were inseparable allies, always working together, whatever the issue. On more than one occasion, I’d be interviewing one when he got a phone call from the other one.

Then, about the time Joel moved to the Senate, the duo became the Three Musketeers with the addition of Vincent Sheheen.

Then, starting sometime before Joel’s retirement from the Senate, Beth Bernstein became part of the group.

I don’t have a nickname for the four of them, but Joel does. Noting that back in the ’70s his Dad Isadore and other Richland County Democrats used to refer to themselves as “the Home Team,” Joel titles this photo “the New Home Team with the original coach.”

Whatever you call them, they’re a happy crew after the results of Tuesday’s voting came in…

A new way to complain (about the chicken plant stench)

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I read this news item in part because the headline cracked me up: “new ways for public to complain.” What — they’re going to start whining at a different pitch? I sort of expected an Onionesque piece that began:

OSLO — A crack team of dedicated public gadflies won the Nobel Prize for Petulance after developing new methods of whining, bitching, moaning and kvetching, techniques guaranteed to drive elected officials to despair…

But instead it began:

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – When Tyler Driggers isn’t floating down the Congaree River, he enjoys it from West Columbia’s Riverwalk Park.

“It’s monumental for a city. It really changes, you know, people’s attitudes,” he said. “You know, after a hard day, they can come down here and walk around. They can experience what Columbia is supposed to be like.”

However, as Driggers admitted, there’s one reason he sometimes leaves the natural crown jewel early: when a breeze delivers a gag-inducing odor….

I was momentarily distracted by the fact that that guy got a whole sentence out, right at the end, without saying “you know.” Then, I focused on the story, which of course was about the smelly chicken plant along the river, near the Gervais Street Bridge.

As Councilman Tem Miles notes, the smell of the chicken plant has gotten worse in recent months. I’m not sure why, but it’s truly wretched.

As for the “new ways of complaining” West Columbia has “launched a new odor hotline and a new web page to report stinky smells.”

The number is 803-794-3506, ext. 805.

The website is here. It’s a bit vague what you’re supposed to do once you get there — it’s almost like the town doesn’t really want you to complain —  so you might want to try the phone number.

And whine away…

Hey, alla you kids get offa my campus!

Horseshoe

The Horseshoe.

Part of my daily routine of getting in at least 10,000 steps (and preferably 15) is to take an afternoon walk around downtown, usually through the USC campus and around the State House before heading back to ADCO.

This has been particularly peaceful this week, with the kids gone for spring break — even though it’s not, you know, technically spring.

I suppose I’ll be tripping over them again next week. But it was nice to have it mostly to myself for awhile…

The Russell House -- a student center with no students.

The Russell House — a student center with no students.

Thomas Cooper Library.

Thomas Cooper Library.

Good to have SOME adult supervision for Richland County

Here’s what I don’t like about ideologues is that they don’t know when to make an exception to their rules.

Folks on the left and right dismiss those of us in the middle because they think we don’t believe in anything. I believe in quite a few things — but I know when to make an exception from the principles I espouse.

Cindi Scoppe’s the same way. She and I hold quite a few principles in common. One of them — which you can describe as subsidiarity, or devolution or decentralization or federalism or some other word that’s not coming to mind because I had a beer at lunch — is the idea that, generally speaking, governing decisions should be made as locally as possible.

But there are exceptions. And personally, I prefer the term “subsidiarity” because it assumes exceptions, since the rule is that “matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.” The key word being “competent.” When the smaller entity can’t do the job, the larger one needs to step in. Which came into play in Cindi’s column today about the state Supreme Court jumping on Richland County for misspending penny tax money:

But honestly, even as someone who believes passionately that local governments should have broad authority to act without state interference, I can’t help being relieved to know that there are going to be some grownups looking over the county’s spending.

Not all of it, of course. The County Council still has control over property taxes and restaurant taxes and all sorts of other revenue the county collects.richland-county

It still has the ability, unsupervised by grownups, to sell prime real estate at a ridiculously low price without marketing it, or even announcing that it was on the market, as it did with the former sheriff’s department site on Huger Street.

It still has the ability, unsupervised by grownups, to hire a new transportation director with absolutely no experience in … wait for it … transportation.

It still has the ability, unsupervised by grownups, to spend $1.2 million to renovate its own meeting and office space, and then announce less than four months later that it’s relocating its chambers and the whole complex, bulldozing the adjacent building (to build a new courthouse) and turning the just-renovated space into a ceremonial courthouse.

And to secretly concoct a plan to move some of its offices to a nearly abandoned mall — which might be a good idea, but for the “secretly” part, which applies not just to the specific property being purchased but also to the whole plan. And to wrap it all up with a gaudy “Richland Renaissance” bow that also covers such dubious projects as a business incubator, a critical care medical facility (don’t doctors usually build those?) and, my personal favorite, a competitive aquatics center.

For which the cost is at best speculative. And no funding source has been identified. And about which it agreed to hold a legally required public hearing only after one of my colleagues in the news department kept hounding the county.

But I digress….

Maybe she got that from me. The digressing thing. (In her defense, she’s far more disciplined about it than I am.)

But back to her original point: Yes, it’s good to see the county get some adult supervision. And it could probably stand with a little more. Vote Grownup Party!

About bars closing at 2 a.m. in Columbia

For my second post of the day based on Twitter, I’ll give you something I retweeted this morning:

Kevin Fisher

Kevin Fisher

First, let me tell you of a sorta kinda indirect conflict I have. Or at least, apparent conflict: Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig, is one of my elder son’s oldest friends, and one of the leading opponents of an earlier closing time for bars in the city. (For that matter, Free Times has a much closer connection than that his partner Will Green, but no one makes a secret of that or anything.)

And their argument is this: Their bar, which benefits from staying open later, would be penalized when it isn’t one of the bars causing the problems the policy is designed to address — which is more of a Five Points thing. (Phill and Will, let me know if I didn’t state that clearly.)

Of course, that flies in the face of my Grownup Party instincts, which embraces such concepts as “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” So I tend to lean toward what Kevin is saying:

In case you didn’t know it, we are very much the outlier on this issue, with Charleston and Greenville both requiring bars to close at 2 a.m.

Yet somehow the hospitality industry in those cities has survived and thrived without serving alcohol past 2 a.m. That’s right, all the bar activity on the peninsula in Charleston and all the bar activity on Main Street in Greenville comes to an end at 2 a.m.

What do their City Councils know that ours doesn’t? Maybe how to run a city, for starters.

Kevin was as wrong as wrong can be in the column before this one. If there was a perfect example of an issue that should NOT be decided by referendum, it’s the Dominion-SCANA deal. But he’s on more solid ground this week.

Cayce chief’s Facebook post

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m not going to take this down for now, because if I did, the post correcting it would make no sense. But for the record: The chief wasn’t talking about Meg Kinnard at all. Mayor Elise Partin thought he was, and reached out to me to tell me about it, which led to this erroneous report….

Earlier today, I got a Facebook message from Cayce Mayor Elise Partin, asking the following: “Brad, have you seen the FB post by our chief? I just saw your post about the reporter. Wanted to make sure you had both sides.”

I had not seen it, and at first I had some trouble finding it. But the mayor, on her way into a council meeting, called me back and told me where to find it — on the city’s public safety Facebook page (I had looked on hers, and the city’s, and the public safety chief’s personal page).

Here’s his essay, which I urge you to go read in its entirety. Here are the sections that caused the mayor to reach out to me:

These types of incidents are very dangerous and must be controlled quickly and effectively. The goal is to “Control the Chaos” by stabilizing the scene and caring for the victims. In order to do this, certain procedures and rules must be put into place. This includes procedures for the media to be able to have access to the information they need for their stories….

Cayce Chief Byron Snellgrove

Cayce police chief Byron Snellgrove

Again I feel that this incident ran very smoothly with so many entities involved and cooperating with each other. There are, however, a couple of tweets going out by a reporter about one of my staff making them leave the shelter and school district property. Let me make this very clear. The story is true! They were asked to leave because they were not abiding by the procedures that were put in place and were clearly explained to them and all the other media personnel that were at that location. By not staying within the boundaries that were outlined by my staff they were obstructing the flow of the operations at the shelter. They even attempted to get on a bus and do interviews with victims as they were leaving the shelter which slowed the process of the victims and their families getting where they needed to go. We received complaints on them from District 2 staff, victim’s families and even the bus driver of the bus that they attempted to gain access to. The procedures were made clear to them and they did not follow those procedures and when asked to stop they became aggressive with a school district official. They were, therefore, asked to leave.

I stated before that incidents like these are handled by “Controlling the Chaos”. Any disruption to this “Controlled Chaos” jeopardizes the operation and the care that the victims receive. I feel that cooperation between all agencies and emergency personnel in South Carolina is better than it has ever been and the way this accident was handled is proof of that. I feel the same way about our cooperation with the media. I respect the job they do and the fact that the media must sometimes be aggressive in getting the information they need for their story, however, ambush reporting and working outside of the boundaries and procedures that are put in place for an incident of this magnitude is simply unacceptable. So yes, they were asked to leave and I take full responsibility for the actions of my staff and, in this case, completely agree with them.

It may seem to some that the media outlets and Public Safety Agencies are often at odds with each other when it comes to information flow, however, it has been my experience that this is not the case and difficulties like these are rare. I would actually like to thank the media for the great coverage that they gave this major incident and for the needed information access that they provided to the public….

So there you have it. Frankly, I don’t think of this (or many things) in terms of “both sides.” There are lots of “sides,” multiple perspectives, on any event. I certainly didn’t see my earlier post featuring Meg’s video as one-sided, even though it was from her POV. I thought a fair-minded person could look at that video and feels sorry for Mr. Hinton trying to do his job while being chewed out by an angry reporter, just as much as a person who’s been there and done that (which I have, which of course colors my perspective) could identify with Meg’s frustration in trying to do her job. I think both of those things were true.

And I value the POV of the chief as well, and appreciate his presentation of his difference with Meg’s version within the context of an appreciation that the media folks there had a hard job to do, too.

Photo from Meg Kinnard's Twitter page.

Photo from Meg Kinnard’s Twitter page.

Bullying local governments: An issue bigger than plastic bags

What do these have in common with bump stocks?/photo by Dan4th Nicholas

What do these have in common with bump stocks?/photo by Dan4th Nicholas

This Tweet reminded me of something I meant to post about:

First, kudos to James for standing up on this: Forbidding local governments to clean up their communities is unconscionable.

But there’s a much bigger issue here than plastic bags littering the landscape: More than 40 years after passage of the Home Rule Act, the South Carolina General Assembly continues to bully local governments, preventing South Carolinians from running their own affairs in their own communities as they see fit.

It was always thus. From the beginning, long before the Recent Unpleasantness, the small class of plantation owners who ran things from the Legislature kept local governments weak, just as they did the governor. Home Rule was supposed to fix that, at least on the county level. But lawmakers kept vestiges of the Legislative State — such as unaccountable Special Purpose Districts (think Richland County Recreation Commission, and the Elections Commission in the same county). In some counties, state lawmakers even continued to run local schools.

And when local officials dare to try to improve their communities without the permission of the state, they can expect to have the state jump on them, hard.

We all saw what happened, nationally and locally, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas: Pretty much everyone, across the political spectrum, agreed that nobody needed a “bump stock,” and that the deadly devices were bad news all around.

And then, on the national level, nothing happened. And here in Columbia, elected officials decided they would act, within their limited ability to act: They banned the use, although not the possession, of bump stocks within the city limits.

It wasn’t much, but it made national news, and was much applauded as a case of some elected officials, somewhere, being willing do something.

So of course, a group of SC lawmakers decided they weren’t going to allow that. So Reps. Jonathon D. Hill, Craig A. Gagnon, Anne J. Thayer, Joshua A. Putnam — none of whom live anywhere near Columbia — sponsored H. 4707, “so as to provide that a political subdivision may not regulate firearm accessories.”

It’s the same old story in South Carolina: These lawmakers don’t propose to DO anything; they just want to make sure nobody else does anything….