Category Archives: Midlands

Kevin Fisher missing Mayor Bob. Really.

Mayor Bob, during an editorial board interview in 2008.

Mayor Bob, during an editorial board interview in 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bull street

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

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

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

The vote is supposed to come today.

Gregory shocker: Who throws it all away for 100 grand?

Gregory's former office.

Gregory’s former office, on Tuesday evening…

This morning at the Capital City Club, which sits 25 stories up from Columbia’s economic development office, the regulars were all abuzz with the news that one of their number, Wayne Gregory, was in the county jail on embezzlement charges.

You know how shocked everyone was at his club when Winthorpe was arrested in “Trading Places?” It was like that, only not funny. There was a good deal of breathless talk about “one of our number” and so forth.

It had only been a few months since Gregory, 36, had replaced a longtime regular, Jim Gambrell, but we had started getting used to seeing him around. I had not had a chance to get to know him, but I knew who he was, and figured we’d cross paths at some point. Maybe not, now.

As I said in a comment yesterday (yeah, this whole post consists mostly of stuff I said before, but I thought this was worth a separate post):

Here’s what I want to know… Who risks it all for 100 grand? Who — among people who have good jobs (and his base pay was $110,000) — risks prison for a year’s pay, essentially?

Assuming I were someone who would steal, I’d be the sort of thief who would abscond with something more like $100 million. And that’s borderline… I mean, even if one has no morals, one should have a sense of proportion. A year’s pay just wouldn’t be worth it, aside from moral considerations.

Maybe it’s because, as a journalist, I’ve been in a lot of jails and prisons. I’m telling you, people, you don’t want to go there.

One last point: I’ve seen a lot of comments about “Here we go again” with our poorly run city. Well, yes and no. The one thing that distinguished this from some of the other recent messes is that the city immediately fired Gregory. In the long, painful separations of police chiefs, city managers and the like in recent years, we seldom saw such a moment of clarity and decision.

Of course, as Kathryn pointed out yesterday, Gregory had been charged with a crime. And I suppose that draws a bright line that has been missing in other situations. But in any case, the quick action makes this instance quite different.

ALL of Richland Election Commission should be replaced

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess you better slow your Mustang down

Yesterday, I saw the hawk on my way in to work. Today, I encountered a character from R&B legend, previously believed to be fictional.

There was this late-model white Mustang coming up behind me on Sunset Boulevard, coming on too fast. I got into the right lane, preparing to get onto the ramp for Jarvis Klapman, and it started to zip past me — but then we were both stopped by a traffic light.

My eye was drawn to the furious activity going on in the driver’s seat of that car. It was a young woman who was very busy applying makeup. She had a powder brush in her right hand, and rather than brushing it on, she seemed to be aggressively stabbing her cheek with the brush, and looking in her rearview to check the effect. Maybe she was trying to redden her cheek under the powder.

Then, I noticed the cigarette smoke curling up from her left side, partly blocked by her head. So I’m pretty sure that hand was fully occupied, too.

The light changed, and she stomped on the accelerator, and rushed away.

It was then that I realized that I had just seen Mustang Sally herself.

She needs to slow that Mustang down…

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

BizE8crIcAAksvp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biy9bUCIcAITz62

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too bad. He sounds like the kind of chief the city could have used

Busy day today, but I didn’t want it to pass completely without saying a word about this:

COLUMBIA, SC — A candidate for Columbia police chief on Wednesday leveled tough criticism toward city officials as he withdrew from the search….

In an interview with The State newspaper, Fisher said the city lacked consistency within its leadership and questioned why interim Chief Ruben Santiago remained on the job after being the target of a federal and state investigation.

But Fisher stopped short of calling the city dysfunctional.

“In my close to 40 years in law enforcement, I’ve had the fortune to work in a cohesive, visionary environment where all seem to have the same goals – the politicians and the professionals,” Fisher said. Columbia “could have been a challenge for me.”

The selection process had been “laborious and indeterminate,” Fisher said.

He also indicated that the frequency with which City Council discusses merging the police and sheriff’s departments was a concern. Those conversations affect the entire organization, he said.

“There is no consistency in leadership and expectations,” Fisher said….

This is too bad. A chief who came into office with his eyes this wide open might have had a chance of succeeding. I say “might” because anyone who works — indirectly — for a city manager who in turn works for seven very divided bosses is highly likely to fail.

Columbia is increasingly dysfunctional under this system that the political elite managed to maneuver the voters into keeping. And it’s getting worse day by day. Anybody with clear vision is likely to run the other way rather than take this job…

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

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

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

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

Expect a few donnybrooks over that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do y’all think?

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

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

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

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

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

-  Holt Chetwood | Chair, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce

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

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

‘Stand Your Ground’ asserted in high school stabbing

Don’t know whether you’ve seen this yet today:

LEXINGTON, SC — An attorney for the 18-year-old former Lexington High School student accused of stabbing to death a student at a rival school said Thursday his client will seek to invoke South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law and not face murder charges.

At a bond hearing Thursday morning before Circuit Judge William Keesley, attorney Todd Rutherford said Kierin Dennis was in “fear for his life” and a “victim” rather than the aggressor in the death of Dutch Fork High School senior Da’Von Capers on Feb. 17 following a tension-filled high school basketball game between their two schools….

You may have last seen Rep. Rutherford in court action defending Rep. Ted Vick against a DUI charge, saying that the reason his client was walking so unsteadily was that he had a rock in his shoe. That made The Daily Mail. (OK, that’s the second time today the Mail has been invoked on this blog. It’s a steady job, but I want to be a paperback writer…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any thoughts about a way out of this thicket?

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

File photo of Kevin Fisher as a candidate.

File photo of Kevin Fisher as a candidate.

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

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

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

Again.

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

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

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

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

End of digression…

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

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

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

Thoughts?

 

 

Open Thread for Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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

Possible topics, both on the metro front:

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

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

Barry’s thoughts on police chief candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richland County Shocker: Council does right thing, restarts process

Hey, I’m kind of stunned that, after having been arrogant and dismissive over community reaction to its unexplained decision to award the contract for managing all that road construction that the new penny tax would buy, Richland County Council has done a complete about-face and voted unanimously to vacate that decision, and start the selection process over.

This is good news. And I say that not just because CECS, the local bidder who came in second — despite getting higher scores than the out-of-state firm that the county initially selected — is a client of ADCO’s. I’m saying it because the county had given the citizen’s watchdog panel — and by extension, the entire community — a slap in the face, the way this was done the first time. Not only did the county ignore the panel’s wishes, it refused to give any reasons for its selection of Kentucky-based ICA Engineering. Some council members were pretty obnoxious about it.

That was outrageous, and this stunning turnaround was warranted. The people of Richland County — and those of us who don’t live in the county, but will pay the tax — deserve a do-over, and a transparent one.

This is a very encouraging development — responsive local government officials who can admit when they’ve made a mistake! Next thing you know, the county legislative delegation will give up control of the county election commission. OK, maybe I’m getting all giddy and carried away here…

Other side heard from: ICA says they’re local, too…

Apparently, ICA — which won the nod of Richland County Council to manage the penny sales tax construction projects — is concerned about the protests over their getting the job. They’ve sent out a mailer to some local folks, including our own Silence Dogood, protesting that they, too, are local folks. An excerpt:

In fact, ICA Engineering, formerly known as Florence & Hutcheson, has been a part of – and grown with – Columbia and Richland County for the last 30 years. From five employees in downtown Columbia in 1984, we now have 30 professionals who live, work, invest and raise their families right here. All work for the Penny Sales Tax contract will be performed in Richland County. For the past 30 years, ICA Engineering and its employees have paid state, county and city taxes here. We are also proud of the fact that the vast majority of these local employees are graduates of engineering programs at The Citadel, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina.
We also support many local charities and community organizations. We actively serve in our community through homeowners associations, churches and professional societies. I recently served as chair of the Issues Committee for the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. We have supported organizations such as Epworth Children’s Home and the Special Olympics. Many of us have served on School Improvement Councils and have been a part of Leadership Columbia as well. We also support and are active in local economic development agencies, like the Central SC Alliance, that focus on growing the area’s economy and creating jobs….

You can read the whole letter here. Yeah, I’ve been rooting for the team that was rated No. 1 and didn’t get the job, CECS. But never let it be said that I don’t give you everybody’s point of view. Within reason, of course.

Yeah, y’all had BETTER go hide in Clemson…

When I saw this in the paper the other day:

CLEMSON — Drivers in Richland County could see the first road improvement projects funded by a local sales tax completed by year’s end.

Meeting in Clemson for a two-day planning retreat, Richland County Council members seemed eager to get started on six intersection improvement projects outlined by transportation director Rob Perry.

The $15 million in construction could involve enhancements for pedestrians and cyclists at the intersections as well, said Perry and his deputy, Chris Gossett.

“I’m ready,” several members chimed in after Perry asked for an endorsement….

My first thought was, Yeah, Richland County Council, you’d better go hide in Clemson if you want to talk about penny-tax roads

I say that because of what was mentioned in the next paragraph of the story:

First, the county must resolve a protest over the hiring of a project management firm brought by the second-place finisher. Chairman Norman Jackson said he’s hopeful there will be a resolution soon…

I don’t see how there would be a “resolution” unless Council opens the process back up and reconsiders its decision.

Not because it’s what I want them to do. After all, as I said before, ADCO did some work (a brochure) for the group that scored higher in the bidding process, but didn’t get the contract. We’re not doing any work for them now, but I was impressed by the team CECS had assembled. Of course, I haven’t heard presentations from the other groups.

But as I said, don’t go by me. I’m not the problem. The problem is that the penny tax watchdog group is mad at you for not picking CECS. You know, the group that was created in order to assure the public that everything would be on the up-and-up as the billion dollars from the new tax is spent.

And they’ve got a big problem with the very first big decision you made — perhaps the biggest decision you will ever make — with regard to spending the money.

So yeah, I believe I’d want to discuss it out of town, too.

By the way, here’s a copy of the CECS protest. To quote from it:

As you know, the TPAC is a Citizen Advisory Committee. They are not employees of the County, they are citizens chosen for their wide range of expertise, serving in a voluntary capacity. Their mission is to provide advice and transparency to the program. The Selection Committee was a group of Richland County employees – professionals, who were empaneled to evaluate and rank the proposals submitted as a result of the solicitation for the Richland County Transportation Penny Program Development Team. The Selection Committee and scoring will reveal this once it is made public as required by law. Once County Council entered the process, the very problems that the TPAC and Selection Committee were designed to prevent arose, and an inferior, lower ranked, out of state firm was selected. Council ignored and overrode the scoring and results of the Professional Staff comprising the Selection Committee, the established selection criteria, the Small and Local Business Enterprise Ordinances which were designed to favor businesses with a local headquarters, the desires of the TPAC and the overall intent of the Transportation Penny Program as authorized by the voters of Richland County….

Yes, exactly. And here is the relief CECS seeks:

The damage done by Council’s mishandling and deviation from published RFP processes can only be undone by a cancellation of the Notice of Intent to Award to ICA and an award to the top ranked vendor, CECS – the locally headquartered company that offered the most advantage to the County by offering the best combination of quality, cost, local ownership, minority ownership, local participation and employment. Under the applicable protest Ordinances, as Procurement Director, you have the power and the duty to correct these violations of law by re-awarding the contract to CECS.

CECS requests that the notice of intent to award to ICA be stayed, that the County employees make prompt production of all requested public records, that an appropriate Due Process and FOIA complaint public hearing be held in connection with this protest. CECS further asks that all of the decisions and actions that resulted in the notice of intent to award to ICA be reversed, and that the notice of intent to award be issued forthwith to the local Richland County vendor, CECS, which was legitimately chosen by the team of qualified evaluators chosen by the County as the best proposal….

This document has not been filed in court. In accordance with procedure, it has been filed with Rodolfo Callwood, director of procurement with the county. It will be interesting to see what Mr. Callwood does, since the council has spoken…

City shouldn’t shoulder the burden for Bull Street ballpark

photo posted on www.post-gazette.com

As The State said, ‘The Columbia City Council seems to have been seduced by a voice very similar to the one that enticed Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, with its promise that “If you build it, he will come…”‘

Mark Stewart suggests this topic:

Brad.,
How about discussing how and why the City of Columbia is staking its future viability on the development of publicly fianced minor league baseball (and, frankly, private retail, commercial and residential development) at the Bull Street boondoggle?

I find this situation to be absolutely stunning myself.

And since he’s a good friend to the blog, and adds much to the quality of civil discourse here, I decided to start a separate post on the topic.

Also, it’s a big local issue that I’ve been remiss in not blogging about.

The thing is, I haven’t really been passionate on the subject. See, on the one hand, I really, really want to see professional baseball come back to the city. Not because I’ll personally go to the games, but then, I’m not someone who goes out and spends money to be entertained. No, my motivation is vaguer and more abstract than that. You know how the Godfather said, “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man?” Well, I have this idea that a city that doesn’t have a pro ball club can never be a real city. There it is. Not really an argument worth blogging about, is it?

And in the end, I probably reluctantly end up taking the position Warren and Cindi have taken, which is consistent with the positions we took on such things in the past:

A MINOR league ballpark would be a nice complement to the mega-development planned at the old State Hospital site on Bull Street. As a matter of fact, it would be nice to have a minor league team move back to Columbia as well.

But, as we have said in the past, any baseball park that can’t be built without Columbia taxpayers shouldering the load should not be built. If Greenville developer Bob Hughes wants a ballpark, he should lure private investors — including the team — to the table to finance it.

That’s not to say Columbia can’t participate in some limited way. The city already is on the hook to provide the development with infrastructure such as water, sewer and roads, which would include that needed to support a minor league ballpark. And we can see the city providing limited incentives beyond that to help lure a team to town, but only after the club puts its own skin in the game by making financial commitments toward building a stadium, which would reduce the chance that it would up and leave as soon as it gets a more lucrative offer from another city….

Already, the Bull Street redevelopment is costing the city more than anticipated (a bunch more — I don’t know about you, but $23 million is more than I make in a year). So the city shouldn’t be a spendthrift when it comes to something as nonessential as a sporting venue.

Basically, footing the lion’s share of the cost with public money violates the “Publix Rule” we set on the editorial board a number of years ago. The city put up about $300,000 to help a Publix come into the old Confederate printing press building. The store was a success, and has had a salutary effect on fostering the whole live-work-play dynamic in the city center, and been a plus to the local economy. We regarded that 300k as a good investment.

With baseball as with other things, the city should generally confine itself to Publix-sized incentives.

A foggy outlook for the State House

fog

At the Capital City Club this morning, I happened to glance toward a window on the South Side, and saw nothing but gray.

I didn’t know whether it was high fog or low clouds, but I find it interesting to watch the outlines of the State House sort of come and go with the drift of the mist.

It seemed to me this could be a metaphor for the legislative session that was starting today, but I was stumped as to how that worked. It’s not like the future is murky. This session will be like all the others — a lot of huffing and puffing, but little attention paid to the state’s real needs.

Or not. Maybe it was an omen. Maybe this year, they’ll get some good stuff done. One can hope.

Oh, and in case you think I can’t ever take a decent picture from atop SC’s tallest building, I share with you this sunset from one evening last week. So there…

sunset

Penny watchdog group upset over selection of contractor

I was surprised this didn’t make the front of The State today (yeah, there was other big news, but it’s still possible, you know, to get more than four stories onto a front), given that it’s about the group appointed to be a watchdog on the penny sales tax being very unhappy with the county’s biggest decision on spending the road-construction money:

Members of a citizen watchdog committee objected Monday to the selection of an out-of-town engineering firm to manage Richland County’s transportation improvement program.2005-Penny-Uncirculated-Obverse-cropped

“I’m sure you’re a great firm,” Elise Bidwell told members of ICA Engineering’s team, introduced to the transportation penny advisory committee. “But I want to know how much of the money … is actually going to go to people in Richland County for doing the job.”

Committee members said they heard the second-place finisher was rated higher than ICA on their commitment to hiring small, local and minority subcontractors.

But transportation director Rob Perry would not discuss the ratings. He said they were a private part of contract negotiations.

Richland County Council set up the 17-member citizen advisory committee, short-handed as TPAC, to oversee details of the county’s massive transportation improvement program – which got under way with last week’s pick of a project manager.

But committee members said they should have been consulted. Since they were not given the rationale behind the decision, some said, the selection plays into the hands of those skeptical about government….

Richland County Council selected ICA Engineering, headquartered in Kentucky, over Columbia-based CECS Engineering Consulting Services and three other firms.

The highly competitive contract, valued at $50 million over five years, sets in motion the beginning of the county’s massive transportation improvement package…

Disclosure: This is particularly interesting to me because ADCO did some work (a brochure) for the CECS group, which had scored higher than the group that got the contract.

It’s also interesting because I advocated for the penny (and would do so again), and this committee was set up to assuage the concerns of others about how the money would be spent, and members of the panel seem to think they’re being blown off by the county.

Which is not good.

I don’t know what can, or even should, happen going forward (like the panel, I’m sort of in the dark here), but this deserves further, very public, discussion.