HICKS COLUMN: Town of James Island's mistakes costly to everyone else
For a while, it looked like the town of James Island had settled down.
They finally managed to incorporate correctly — it only took four tries — and had put their fight with the city of Charleston, and Mayor Joe Riley, behind them.
All they wanted was the right to be their own town. And now, once again, they've given their critics ample ammo by proving themselves absolute amateurs.
In March, the town agreed to annex six properties at the owners' requests. Trouble is, none of those properties abut the town. A couple of them are a half-dozen lots away, and one is probably a mile from the nearest town line. Uh, that's illegal But the town, in its infinite insanity, did it anyway.
Mayor Bill Woolsey told reporter Schuyler Kropf, “My preference was that no one would challenge them.” And the rest of us would prefer to quit paying the bill for these bonehead stunts.
Above the law?
If anyone ought to know the definition of “contiguous,” it's the town of James Island.
The first three times it tried to incorporate, state courts shut them down, in part because they couldn't draw contiguous lines. Obviously, no one has taken any drawing lessons since. There is good reason for this law. If a town didn't have to sit next to the property it wanted to absorb, we would have a chaos of political jurisdictions. Mount Pleasant could annex Middleton Place.
Woolsey said he supported the annexations because they go along with his long-term goal of getting all those folks who were part of the old towns in the new one. But the courts repeatedly said that can't legally happen.
Does James Island think the law doesn't apply to them?
Now, a lot of Jim Islanders have criticized Riley for filing a suit over this.
But don't shoot the messenger. Riley didn't screw up — he just tattled.
The city of Charleston grudgingly went along with the town's fourth incorporation because it was done correctly — apparently practice makes adequate. But the city has a problem when the town oversteps its bounds in a potentially precedent-setting action.
Make no mistake, there is no room for interpretation here. “The law is clear: contiguity is necessary, no exceptions, in annexations,” says Reba Campbell, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.
That's why the Attorney General's Office is looking at this.
For all the high-falutin' talk of local rights, the town exists largely to block Charleston annexation. It doesn't offer any of the services a normal city provides — save for planning. And that department must be understaffed since they didn't plan on getting sued for ignoring state law.
The town is going to lose, and probably have to pay Charleston's legal fees — and that'll be a trick since it doesn't collect property taxes.
So the town will probably take money it siphons off the rest of us to pay the bill. And they wonder why anyone might have a problem with their little town.