Charleston Council Grapples Over Grant

March 31, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveThings got interesting at the most recent Charleston City Council meeting as there was controversy surrounding a decision over whether to apply for a $250,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to implement a Green Plan initiative.

Mayor Joe Riley explained during the March 23 meeting that the program in its latter stages could lead to city-sponsored financing for business and homeowners to weatherize structures and to energy savings. The latter would also help SCE&G by lessening the need to build new electricity-generating capacity.

The initiative would also assist employment in the city. The mayor also said that even if the grant were made, there was no commitment on the part of the city to accept it or to any part of the plan. He argued that these things could only occur if the council approved them.

Staff said that the application had to be submitted immediately; otherwise the opportunity would likely be lost. The money was to be used “for operation expenses, legal consultation, marketing, and energy efficiency program enhancements for a local energy efficiency partnership.”

This was not enough for Council member F. Gary White Jr., or the majority of council members. They were concerned there was a commitment implied with making the application. White was opposed to the banking role the city would assume in supporting the initiative.

It is also suspected that White and other council members were peeved about the short notice they were given to make a decision on the grant. After considerable debate White, Timothy S. Mallard, James Lewis Jr., Dean C. Riegel, Michael S. Seekings, Aubry Alexander and Blake Hallman voted in favor of a deferral.

However, later in the evening, those against the grant application relented after Riley provided assurances about the council’s role in accepting and spending the grant money.

The change of heart came after Riley again proposed an application be made for the Rockefeller grant, but subject to a condition. He then “ad libbed” the very lengthy condition. Council member Hallman asked him to repeat the condition and there was an even lengthier response.

We don’t envy the clerk of council’s task of transcription, but our interpretation is that nothing will be done and no commitment made by any city committee to advance the weatherization/efficiency program without council’s approval.

White said he would support the amendment but it could not be implied that he supported the weatherization/efficiency initiative. Council voted unanimously for the amendment. And despite the lengthiness of the mayor’s motion, it didn’t appear much different than what he proposed before the first vote. Presumably some council members thought otherwise, however.

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