County asks David Coe to mail in complaints

Allen O'Neal

A Connecticut yacht captain who retired to James Island five years ago and has spent countless hours examining Charleston County's property tax system -- particularly yacht taxes -- is being asked to stay away from county employees.

County Administrator Allen O'Neal wrote to David Coe last week to inform him that his "loud, demanding and belligerent" attitude is harming employees' work in several departments.

O'Neal asked that Coe direct future communications via the U.S. mail instead of telephone, in person or email.

"The volume and tone of your increasingly frequent telephone calls and emails, many of which are simply antagonistic and repetitive, has caused disruption to some of the operations of the county," O'Neal's July 1 letter said.

Coe, who has sent hundreds of emails and attended most County Council meetings during the past three years, has doggedly sought to identify yachts that have remained in local waters long enough that their owners should pay property taxes on them.

He said $800,000 in county boat taxes has been collected in recent years in large part because of his efforts.

"If I turn around and rile a couple of administration people or a couple of elected officials, I don't care what they think. I care what the public thinks," he said.

Coe wrote back to O'Neal the next day, saying, "I am truly sorry that you have to spend some of your remaining time as County Administrator at $168,000 a year scolding a 64-year-old man on how to deal with elected officials and Charleston County employees." O'Neal's contract ends Jan. 31.

Coe recently has sought to draw attention to an agricultural tax exemption given to County Auditor Peggy Moseley's Johns Island residence, and he paid a visit to Exchange Landing Road to photograph her property.

"He seems to have a lot of time. He seems to love to be in the news media," Moseley said.

One morning last month, Coe said, sheriff's deputies showed up at his James Island door asking whether he had trespassed on Moseley's property. Coe said he had not done so and would comply with Moseley's request to not go on her land.

Asked if Coe has disrupted the Auditor's Office, Moseley replied, "Surely you've seen the (emails) he's sent about the boats, and I don't think you'll find any other county in this state that does as much research for boats as we do."

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said he has butted heads with Coe, but not all their exchanges have been unpleasant ones.

"He's opened our eyes up to some things," Pryor said. "He is very passionate about what he believes in. He's brought us some information. Some of it has been correct, and some of it has not been correct."

Coe said he knows he can be a "royal pain," but he sees himself as a crusader, particularly when it comes to getting yacht owners and others to pay their fair share. "If (Washington Post Watergate reporters Bob) Woodward and (Carl) Bernstein would have stopped because they were getting pressure from elected officials, what would have happened?"

O'Neal said he was not asking Coe to limit his communications with the county "but simply ask that you refrain from disturbing county employees."

Coe said he is taking his concerns to state officials and no longer plans to attend council meetings.

"I have worked for the past three years trying to make a difference, but people refused to listen, or were not able to comprehend any of my information," his letter to O'Neal said. "My health is too important to me."