Mixed Results on Charleston Transparency

February 22, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Marc Knapp
Citizen Reporter

 

There has long been concern regarding the City of Charleston’s budget process, specifically the lack of information available and the limited time given city council members to consider the budget before voting on it.

But after considerable prodding by city council members, particularly William Dudley Gregorie, things have changed. At last week’s council meeting, Mayor Joe Riley made a number of recommendations to the process that should allow more scrutiny. They include:

  • Holding three new budget execution review sessions during the year. These will be used to answer in detail all questions regarding the 2010 budget;
  • Scheduling the first 2011 budget workshop on Nov. 16, 2010, with a follow-up workshop to be held a week later;
  • Going forward with the first reading of the 2011 budget on Dec. 7, 2010, and the second and third readings Dec. 21.

“The additions I have proposed will make a sound process even better,” Riley said in a letter to the council.While Riley acceded easily to requests for more light on the budget process he was resolute in his opinion about televising council proceedings. It would be too costly, he said.

Given the seating arrangements in the council chambers, city council staff has indicated that three cameras would be required. The cost of setting up the cameras and modifying the audio system would be about $125,000, Riley indicated.

Council members noted many other municipalities are able to televise their meetings with the use of just a single camera. But Riley said those meetings are held in more-modern buildings, and council members are able to sit linear or curved-linear tables.

Charleston’s chamber is one of the oldest in the county and can not be reconfigured for single camera without compromising its historical integrity.

Council members Aubrey Alexander and Kathleen G. Wilson were skeptical about the need to televise council proceedings.

They said they’d never been asked by constituents to have proceedings televised. If citizens wanted to see proceedings, they should attend, Alexander added.

This drew a hostile response from Council member Jimmy S. Gallant III, who said he had constituents who were interested in the council’s proceedings but were old or handicapped and unable to make the meetings.

Marc Knapp is a contractor specializing in heavy underground utilities and the owner of Charleston Site Utilities.