There were few items of substance on the May 25 Charleston City Council meeting agenda, but there was no lack of drama. Council continues to assert itself, readily taking issue with Mayor Joe Riley over matters of principle.
The cause of the most recent confrontation was the recommendation of the mayor to reappoint David Jennings to the Charleston County Aviation Commission.
Jennings currently serves on the board and is chairman. Riley lauded Jennings for his service and credited him with helping to bring Boeing and Southwest Air to Charleston.
However, before the appointment came up for discussion, the mayor asked that consideration be deferred. The appointment normally was made jointly with the county.
Although the appointment had been discussed with Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor Sr. and viewed favorably, the county had not yet voted on it.
Riley mistakenly believed that the vote had been taken. He preferred that the city defer voting until the county decided. Then it got heated.
Council member William Dudley Gregorie proposed the appointment of Councilman Jimmy Gallant III to the commission. The proposal was not a surprise to Riley as Gallant had raised the issue with him.
The mayor stated that under state legislation, it was not allowed for a council member to be a dual office holder, and therefore, Gallant could not be nominated. Councilman Michael Seekings immediately took issue with Riley and noted that members of the Legislature served on the commission.
Yes, said Riley, they held their positions “ex officio.” In other words, they were on the commission because the regulations of the commission required a member of the Senate or House to serve.
Councilman Timothy Mallard sided with Seekings, but expressed irritation that the city should defer its vote on the appointment until that of the county. He said the city should take the lead in the matter.
After some more exchanges, Mallard called for a vote. He accused Riley of intimidation, always responding immediately to a council member when they had an opposing view.
The short silence after the outburst ended when Councilman Robert Mitchell said he was not voting on the issue when he did not understand it. He called for more information, clarification and a deferral. Councilman Gary White Jr. also supported a deferral.
Gallant was asked how he felt about being appointed to the commission. He said that a member of the legislative delegation requested him to seek the appointment.
Responding to the mayor’s request, Gallant said the request came from state Rep. “Chip” Limehouse.
Council ultimately voted to defer the issue.
There may also be a change in the method of appointing a member to the commission to represent both the city and the county. Alexander suggested a joint committee be formed from members of both councils.