HICKS COLUMN: If you really want to know about 526, follow the signs
All those folks creeping across Johns Island to the PGA Championship this weekend have been treated to some very timely political ads.
These roadside signs say: “Stuck in traffic? Complete I-526.”
Clever. Dirty, but clever.
Funny how these signs showed up during Johns Island's worst traffic problems in at least a decade.
Not to mention a week or so after the South Carolina Department of Transportation sent out questionnaires to gauge support for the controversial road project. And a day after the news broke that County Council might put a 526 referendum question on the November ballot.
If you didn't know better, you might think some powerful folks around here are anxious to build a big ol' road.
Majority too silent?
Councilman Vic Rawl wants to give voters a chance to chime in with a nonbinding, advisory referendum.
A poll, basically.
Many politicians believe that the great silent majority want 526 extended/completed from Savannah Highway and across Johns Island to the James Island Connector. They might be right. Now they want proof.
Well, good luck with that.
To nearly a one, council members say they like referenda, but several have concerns about this one. It's too vague, makes no mention of potential funding shortfalls, attempts to scrap the “parkway” alternative and circumvent state law that allows cities to veto plans.
Not that an advisory referendum can actually do any of that. Or anything, really.
“I don't know how you get any meaningful result in less than six questions,” says Council member Colleen Condon. “If you ask the question that way, it's not just misleading, it's dishonest.”
Councilman Herb Sass agrees this is more complex than a simple yes or no answer. And Councilman Dickie Schweers is uncomfortable with council moving meetings to make a ballot deadline.
“It's feels like the half-cent sales tax referendum: rush, rush, rush,” he says. “It gives me pause any time politicians are in a rush to do something.”
So this isn't looking good for the silent majority.
Councilman Elliott Summey is not amused.
He says it's arrogant and elitist to deny voters the right to be heard. He says it's a simple question, that all this about details is just smoke.
“If you are fighting this, you are afraid you're going to lose,” Summey says.
For some, there could be truth in that.
Summey says the only people with a voice in this 526 debate so far are the special interests on both sides. That's a fair assessment.
If council puts this on the ballot, you will hear a lot more from those special interests over the next three months. Obviously 526 is apparently the gift that keeps on giving — and never dies.
“On council a 'yes' vote means yes and a no vote means 'we'll try again later,' ” Condon says.
The smart money says council will not put this referendum on the ballot. But don't think this is going away, regardless of Tuesday's council meeting.
Some very powerful people are determined to not let that happen.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.