Charleston County Council fails accountability test
The citizens of Charleston County owe a debt of gratitude to Councilman Joe Qualey for bringing to the public’s attention a lack of the ordinary accountability and operational oversight that council has a duty to provide on behalf of the taxpayers.
I attended Charleston County Council’s Administrative Policy/Rules Committee on May 3, where Mr. Qualey noted that the county attorney submits his monthly pay request in the form of a dollar amount due with no accounting of his activities or record of hours spent working for the county. Clearly this is not usual business practice.
Mr. Qualey’s sense of frustration over its persistence apparently led him to propose two rule changes.
The first proposed change was to allow all items discussed in a committee to be brought to full council for subsequent discussion and vote regardless of the outcome of the committee’s vote.
Currently, if an item is voted down in a committee, it does not move to the full council’s agenda. As Mr. Qualey and one other council member pointed out, such a process precludes all council members from having the opportunity to weigh in on a matter.
Consequently, it is possible for a few council members to prevent items from going to full council for discussion and vote if they constitute a majority of the members of the committee.
Along with selective appointments to committees, this policy can thwart the will of the majority. When the proposed rule change was voted upon, this very scenario played out. The committee members voted against the rule change by a three-to-two margin. The other four members of County Council, who are not members of the Administrative Policy/Rules Committee, will now be unable to voice an opinion on the proposed rule change.
The second proposed change was to move the position of county attorney from one that is directly hired by and answerable to council to one that is hired by and reports to the county administrator.
Apparently, Mr. Qualey proposed this change because of council’s shortcomings in the management and oversight. As was noted during the discussion, strong arguments can be made for and against either structure. Yet this, too, “died in committee” on a three-to-two vote.
Good representative government demands that each and every elected member of a deliberative body have the opportunity to discuss and vote on all items, and be held accountable for that vote.
Perhaps if Mr. Qualey’s first proposal, to allow all matters to go to full council for discussion and vote, had passed, his second proposal would not have been necessary.
Ruddy Turnstone Drive