Folly voters could decide on Nov. 6 whether to make permanent their city’s ban on drinking alcohol on the beach.
Election officials have verified that supporters of the ban collected enough signatures to force Folly Beach City Council either to adopt the ban or let voters decide the issue in a binding referendum.
City Council will discuss the petition request when it meets next on Aug. 14. Council members could pass a permanent ban at that time — eliminating the need for a referendum.
However, Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said Monday he expects council members will opt for a Nov. 6 vote instead.
“It’s very emotional, and you get a lot of people on one side or another,” he said. Council also will discuss whether to extend a temporary ban past Sept. 7.
How did Folly get here?
As Charleston County’s only beach community that has allowed alcohol on the beach (as long as it’s in a plastic cup), Folly has seen a growing number of flash parties — sudden, large gatherings — that have rankled residents. Their concerns boiled over after a July Fourth melee near East 10th Street that resulted in six arrests.
After that, City Council agreed to ban drinking on the beach for two months, launching a debate on what to do next.
Pro and con
Susan Breslin, an island resident who helped collect signatures, said residents’ quality of life has improved markedly in many ways since the ban took effect July 11.
“The Fourth of July was just the last straw,” she said.
But not everyone agrees. Omar Colon of Bert’s Market said the city has issues with trash, traffic, public urination and some drunk and disorderly people, but an alcohol ban on the beach isn’t necessarily the answer.
“We haven’t looked at other solutions, implemented and evaluated them and concluded they’re failures,” he said.
How unusual are these referendums?
Since 1962, eligible voters in South Carolina cities and towns could put a local ordinance to a vote if at least 15 percent of them signed a petition, but it’s rarely used, said Scott Slatton, senior field services manager with the S.C. Municipal Association.
“It’s not been done in recent memory,” he said.
Folly residents collected signatures several years ago to limit the height of new buildings there, but City Council adopted the change before putting the issue to a public vote.
Goodwin has a few ideas why Folly might be more inclined to these efforts than other cities.
“It’s a small city, so it’s easy to get passionate about things and have 100 people show up,” he said. Also, it’s relatively easy to get signatures because there’s no mail delivery at many island homes. “Everybody meets sooner or later at the Post Office.”