Charleston County Council members will no longer individually select which nonprofits will get taxpayer money.
Council voted 6-3 on Tuesday to end its controversial contributions after this budget year. Each council member had been able to award grants totalling up to $35,000 to groups of his or her choice.
Councilmen Curtis Inabinett, Henry Darby and Teddie Pryor opposed the move. Darby and Pryor both said the practice has received unfair press in the past and that they would not be intimidated by newspaper editorials questioning the contributions.
Critics have questioned the merits of giving taxpayer dollars to charitable causes, but supporters have argued the chosen nonprofits provide services the county would otherwise have to pay for.
Those in favor of the practice also say the greater good should be considered and that the chosen groups serve residents in need.
"I think it's sad, a shame and tragic that we're going to do this," Darby said. "Where's the compassion?"
Earlier this month, council agreed to give $203,500 in all to about 40 area nonprofits and quasi-governmental organizations for next year.
Tuesday's decision to nix the practice won't affect those groups getting money. Council might decide to continue contributing to agencies in the future. But council members would not, however, individually pick and choose how much each organization would receive.
Chairman Tim Scott said he hopes they will find other ways to still contribute to agencies that serve specific public purposes by filling a need in the community that otherwise is not met.
Scott initially suggested that the county's grants administration department or an experienced agent, such as Trident United Way, handle future allocations so that individual council members would not make them. His idea was for the qualified groups to be rated and brought back before council to decide as a whole how much to award.
But Pryor disagreed. "What's the difference if the grants department does it or if we do it ourselves?" he asked. "Still, it's going to take five members on this council to support what the grants department says."
Six council members voted in favor of completely tossing out the contentious practice during the Special Finance Committee meeting and did not change their minds by the full council session.
"If we can't improve it, let's get rid of it," said Councilman Joe McKeown, who voted in opposition.
Councilman Paul Thurmond did not give any money to any group for next year, because he said he was concerned about how individually picking groups affected council's image.
"Philosophically, I believe that people should take responsibility rather than the government in this position," he added.
The county awarded $307,000 to about 50 recipients last year.
Two years ago, the practice made headlines because $500 was given to a nonprofit lobbying group that pushes for more lax drug laws in the state. The drug reform group returned the money.
Council has since changed its policy to only allow money to go to nonprofits or groups with a 501(c)(3) status and government or quasi-governmental organizations.
But critics continued to question whether taxpayer money should be given for charity at all.
Pryor has said the practice is not new and has been going on for at least two decades, long before the county converted to single-member districts.
Darby said minority groups that had been overlooked in the past for public funding would likely be affected in the future. "This is going to hurt blacks, and it's going to hurt poor whites — nobody else," he said. "This is going to be irreparable."