Will the Lowcountry become stronger if those governing its cities, towns and counties get together regularly for informal discussions on issues of regional importance?
Some think so, and next year, they’ll find out.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails is convening the first such Mayors and Chairs meeting next month, inviting about 30 mayors and county council chairs from Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
That first meeting, set for Jan. 9, will feature State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome.
“I certainly think the Ports Authority has a big impact on all three counties,” Swails said. “When those trucks start heading up the road or down the road, they come through all three.”
The Mayors and Chairs idea grew out of a recent visit several dozen Charleston-area business and political leaders took to Nashville.
The trip was organized by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, which hopes to visit similar metro areas annually to get ideas for improving public schools, infrastructure and entrepreneurship, said Chamber President and CEO Bryan Derreberry.
Derreberry said the visit also looked at how Nashville’s private and public leaders interacted.
“It’s not so much the ingredients you have in your community but how you leverage the ingredients,” he said.
Charleston area leaders currently meet regularly as part of the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments, but Swails said those meetings are structured to review specific issues such as transportation planning, regional water quality and small-business loans.
“That’s structured. I don’t think you want to structure this,” said Swails. “I think you just want to let it flow.”
Derreberry said these quarterly meetings could provide an important forum for discussing the region’s growth and how local governments can work better together, such as support the area’s emerging aerospace cluster.
“It’s not good enough to say, ‘I don’t care about it once it gets to the end of my political jurisdiction,’ ” he added.
The Mayors and Chairs gathering is not a public body under state law, and Swails said there will be no votes taken or minutes kept. Asked if the meetings would be public, he said, “If we were going to meet in secret, we wouldn’t have (invited) 30 people. … We’re not going to turn anybody away.”
Swails said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley thinks these quarterly gatherings will help. If others disagree, no problem.
“If we don’t have any more meetings, it’s not going to break anybody’s heart,” Swails said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.