Category Archives: Midlands

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…

DgtgiFfWAAQGaUR

 

The ‘Famously Hot’ Trump protest

2017Portfolio-Fam-Hot-Logo

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)

wis

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….

Meg Kinnard’s confrontation while covering train wreck

One of Meg's photos from the scene.

One of Meg’s photos from the scene.

Yesterday morning I was sleeping late. I was awakened by an editor at The New York Post, telling me there had been a train wreck a few miles from me and asking whether I would cover it for them. (They’ve had my name and number on file ever since I covered the infamous Mark Sanford presser for them in 2009.)

Meg Kinnard

Meg Kinnard

I declined. There was a time, about 40 years ago, when I’d have been excited to run out in the rain and cover such a thing. But not yesterday. If they’d had a good political story to chase, maybe. But I left this one to the large crowd of reporters that I was sure was already out there.

One of them was Meg Kinnard of The Associated Press. This video she posted on Twitter reminds me of the thousand little hassles reporters run into in the course of doing their jobs:

This partial clip sort of makes it hard to tell what was really happening. The argument started before she started shooting. Obviously, Meg was a bit upset already by that point. Some will probably watch this and think she’s the aggressor and feel sorry for the school employee, who is clearly out of his depth. Especially the kind of people who despise White House press for getting aggressive when they get their rare shot at getting an answer.

I remember how stuff like this felt. You’re trying to do a job under tough circumstances, and somebody erects a barrier “because he can.” It’s pretty infuriating. You’re like Really? Like this wasn’t already difficult enough for all concerned? Kind of made me glad I left this story to Meg, et al. They seem to have done a fine job without me.

I just have one little complaint, Meg: Turn the phone sideways!

What’s with Richland’s super-secret mall plans?

columbiaplacemall.com

This just gets weirder and weirder:

Richland County administrator Gerald Seals confirmed Tuesday that the county is finalizing the purchase of three anchor stores at Columbia Place Mall – the former Sears and Dillard’s locations, as well as the soon to-be-vacant Burlington Coat Factory.

However, Seals would not comment on whether the county is planning to purchase the entire mall, which could mean the nearly 60 tenants at the Dentsville shopping center would have to move.

County officials announced in December that they planned to buy property at Columbia Place as part of their Renaissance project. The plan is to move county administrative offices to the mall and for the current administration building on Hampton Street to be razed to make way for a county judicial center. The current judicial center on Main Street would be sold.

When asked if the county planned to purchase the rest of the mall, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris declined to say specifically. “As to the acquisition of any other entities, the County only engages in direct negotiations,” she said in a statement….

What does that mean? And what’s with the secrecy, which has characterized this mysterious “Project Renaissance” since the start? It’s not just the public being kept in the dark, by the way:

“The discussion has been about the anchors,” said Paul Livingston, one of five of the 11 council members to vote against the project, in large part because of the secrecy surrounding it. “But we don’t know” if the sale of the entire mall is being negotiated.

“I support the concept” of purchasing the anchors, he said, noting that importing county workers and constituents would provide a windfall of customers for the merchants. “But there has been no public participation.”…

If members of Council don’t know, then who does? Is this all being planned out of Dr. Evil’s secret underground lair?

This thing has just been really weird from the start.

Show us blueprints. Sketch out the plan, in detail. Then, if the plan survives scrutiny, start buying up property. Don’t do this business where you tell us you’re going to spend millions on some grandiose plan and then shut up, saying, “It’s a secret!” Leave that stuff to the private sector.

Put an Apple Store near me, and I might take you up on it…

Apple Store

Doesn’t Apple have a way to know where the person it’s sending an email to is located?

I got this come-on from the tech giant today, urging me to partake of various interesting activities “at an Apple Store near you.” Such things as:

  • Take a Photo Walk. And snap pictures that pop with Portrait Lighting.
  • Join a Sketch Walk. And expand your palette with Procreate.
  • Stop by for a Music Lab. And define your sound with GarageBand.
  • Drop in for Kids Hour. And spark their imagination and creativity.

OK, so maybe I wouldn’t actually take you up on these activities. I’m not that starved for stuff to do. I never have been. Back when I was at the newspaper, and an editor’s meeting would come up about the Weekend section or the community calendars we’d run in the paper, I’d always wonder what it would be like to be someone who actually had to go out looking for something to do. I had trouble imagining it.

Anyway, if I did want to do any of this stuff, I’d be out of luck. When I click on the link in the email that promises to let me “Explore all the amazing things you can do,” I am immediately identified as being in the “Augusta area.”

Yep, that’s right — not only does Charleston have an Apple Store and we don’t… not only does Greenville have an Apple Store and we don’t… but little Augusta has an Apple Store — and in case you haven’t picked up on it, we don’t.

I think they’re just taunting me. Taunting all of us. Because they hate us…

Admittedly, I don't have a strong personal desire to be in this picture, but what if I did? Why taunt me?

Admittedly, I don’t have a strong personal desire to be in this picture, but what if I did? Why taunt me?

Columbia named a ‘City on the Rise’

Soda City market, just one of many signs of a more attractive city./file photo

Soda City market, just one of many signs of a more attractive city./file photo

This came in last night from Mayor Steve Benjamin:

Dear friends,

We’re thrilled to share that Columbia has been named one of the 29 “Cities on the Rise” for 2018 by National Geographic Travel! As the world’s most widely-read travel magazine, National Geographic Travel chose Columbia based on both a unique set of metrics and expert picks from its editors.

The Nat Geo team worked with global destination branding advisors Resonance Consultancy in developing a Small Cities Index, a survey that drew from statistics and social media mentions to determine which cities rank highest in a variety of distinctive, fun categories. Columbia’s inclusion stems from being one of the “Best Groomed” and “Meatiest” destinations.

“At Traveler we’re passionate about tales of urban renewal, about communities that have collaborated to improve their main streets, about smart cities that have pursued development policies that produce happiness. In this article, we report on authentic small cities that each embody a surprising superlative,” says George Stone, National Geographic Traveler editor in chief. “Happy places for locals are also rewarding places for travelers. Our index of small cities on the rise is based on unconventional metrics that we think produce happiness: green spaces, coffee shops, breweries, music venues, Instagrammable moments and puppies!”

Columbia joins fellow South Carolina cities Charleston and Greenville in this list as well as destinations like Honolulu and New Orleans.

You can get a copy of the February/March 2018 issue, available now on newsstands and online at www.natgeo.com/bestsmallcities.

Meatiest? As in “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy?”

Meaty

Mayor Benjamin on Columbia’s new ‘bump stock’ ordinance

As you may or may not know by now, yesterday Columbia became one of the first, if not the first, city in the country to ban the use of “bump stocks.”

Yes, city council went ahead with it, blithely risking the wrath of Catherine Templeton, who had threatened… well, it’s a little unclear, but she seems to have threatened to run for mayor, or something. Anyway, her protest was wildly irrelevant and disregarded, but I’m sure her mission was accomplished — somewhere, a Bannonite thought better of her for her tough, though vague, talk. Those folks tend to be about attitude more than results.

Image from website of Slide Fire, which sells bump stocks.

Image from website of Slide Fire, which sells bump stocks.

Back to the real world: In light of council’s action yesterday, Mayor Steve Benjamin was interviewed on NPR this morning. Hear the interview here.

And his interview belongs in a different rhetorical universe from Templeton, Bannon and Roy Moore. Which means to say, his words were measured, helpful, and respectful of all views. In a world in which too many speak to the extremes on both sides of the gun debate, this was refreshing.

Note that I said the city has banned the use of bump stocks (and trigger cranks), not the devices themselves. You can still own and sell them in Columbia. You just can’t attach them to a firearms and/or use them, unless you leave town. Violation of the ordinance would be a misdemeanor.

“It was important for us to make sure that we crafted an ordinance that was both constitutionally and statutorily sound,” said the mayor, who proposed the ordinance earlier this month. He was careful to fully respect what he called the clear intent of the 2nd Amendment, as well as state statutes on the subject.Benjamin

“We are preempted from regulating firearms or ammunition or even component parts,” he said. “This is not a component part; it is a $30 attachment that someone can add to a gun that changes the nature of it.”

He said the council “feel pretty good” that the new rule in on firm legal ground and he feels “fully prepared to defend it.”

He said the response he has received to the action has been overwhelming positive.

“On our city council there are a whole lots of good guys who have guns,” he said, and they felt this was no time for more of the usual polarization. His thought was that “people who are strong supporters of the 2nd Amendment, but also strong supporters of downright good common sense, should step up and do something.

“And we thought that Columbia, South Carolina, might be a great place to start.”

Penalty for trains blocking streets is $20? Now I get it…

train

I just got this from the S.C. House Democrats:

Rep. Rutherford Pre-Files Legislation Targeting Train Obstruction of Roadways

Columbia, SC – Democratic Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia), announced today that he will pre-file legislation to target the issue of roadway obstructions caused by trains. The proposed bill would significantly increase the penalty for train and railroad companies that have products or assets that block South Carolina roads for longer than five minutes.

Todd Rutherford

Todd Rutherford

The intent behind the legislation comes less than a month after two trains blocked Whaley Street, Assembly Street, and Rosewood Drive in downtown Columbia, halting morning traffic for over an hour. Unfortunately, trains and other objects impeding automobile traffic are too common of occurrences, in both urban and rural communities across South Carolina.
Under current state law, the maximum penalty for obstruction of a roadway is $20. Rutherford’s bill seeks to increase the fine to $5,000 per lane blocked, with the fine rising to $10,000 per lane if the violation occurs between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm.
Rutherford stated, “We cannot allow trains and obstructions to paralyze our roadways. Delays caused by these occurrences directly impact South Carolinians’ wallets and even worse, can be a matter of life or death. It is my hope that increased penalties and improved enforcement of the law will keep our roads clear and our cars moving.”
Rutherford continued, “South Carolinians should not have to suffer because they happen to live near a freight-train line. This issue threatens our quality of life, public safety, and economic growth.”
###

Can that even be right? $20? If so, it explains a great deal…

Columbia’s 4 percent election turnout

Turnout at the city council debate last week.

Turnout at the city council debate last week.

I got this email from Joe Azar today:

Many, many thanks to all of you that supported me in the city council election. I greatly appreciate it and hopefully the concepts and ideas I promoted will be enacted by council.

Maybe one day we can get Columbia moving in a responsible and intelligent way, but it will not happen until people care, analyze, and vote. With only 5250 voting out of a city of 130,000, it is a herculean job to provide progress in a city that seemingly does not care.

What is the answer? I surely would like to know as I have cared greatly for our city all of my life.

Again, THANK YOU!!! You are wonderful!

Joseph Azar

Folks, my calculator says 5,250 out of 130,000 is 4 percent.

Yeah, I get it — it was a low-suspense election. Joe had no chance against Tameika, and Chris Sullivan was punching above his weight against the veteran Sam Davis. Everybody “knew” that, the way people know things that are obviously true (until they aren’t). You know, like “There’s no way a lunatic like Donald Trump could be elected president of the United States.”

I bought into the same conventional wisdom. Rather than the Community Relations Council (upon which I serve) using resources to sponsor its own candidate forum, I suggested we co-sponsor the one the Chamber was doing — which we did, and I moderated. Two years ago, the CRC’s city council debate drew a packed house. This time, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen, and I was right. But I applaud the Chamber and the Building Industry Association (and the CRC) for staging a debate anyway. I mean, it was an actual election that would elect actual council members to help run the city. We should act like it, and provide opportunities for voters to learn more about the candidates, whether they show or not.

But here’s the thing about conventional wisdom…

Tameika Isaac Devine won by getting 3,583 votes to 1,638 for Joe Azar. So if he had identified just 1,945 voters and turned them out, he’d be replacing her on the council. Even though it would have meant getting more than double what he got, that’s not insurmountable with some organization. We’re talking about a city of 130,000, remember.

Chris Sullivan only needed 632 votes, although from a smaller pool.

Maybe they couldn’t have done it. Maybe a 2-1 margin can’t be overcome.

But it’s possible, because the numbers involved are so small

Of course, the big question here is, what will it take to get both voters and strong candidates to care more about Columbia city government?

The much larger crowd in 2015.

The packed house in 2015.

How’s Election Day going (if you’re having one)?

file photo

2014 file photo

Joe Azar sent this out a few minutes ago:

Voting is today for city council. If you do not vote, you can complain all you want about city government, but nothing changes. I am challenging a 4 term incumbent, and it is time for change. Please go vote for Joseph Azar.

Polls are open a few more hours, until 7p.m.

Oh, yeah! I’m not voting today, but other people are. I have a separate notification from the SC Democratic Party that notes there are elections in 123 municipalities in our state, plus a special election down in Charleston.

And POTUS started the day throwing his weight around in a gubernatorial election in Virginia, where an erstwhile establishment Republican is trying to win using Trump/Bannon tactics. For instance, he’s campaigning against “sanctuary cities” even though Virginia has no sanctuary cities. Poor Virginia! Aren’t you glad we don’t have nonsense like that down here? Oh, wait…

So… have you voted? Are you going to vote? How’s the turnout (I sort of think I know, but let’s see if I’m right)?

Or would you just like to comment on what’s going on out there? If so, here’s your chance…