NORTH CHARLESTON — Mayor Keith Summey touched on a variety of topics in his 2021 State of the City address while also applauding the city's response to the coronavirus.
Summey, now in his seventh term as North Charleston's leader, called 2020 his most difficult year in public service, as the state's third-largest city grappled with the ongoing pandemic while also trying to meet the community's needs.
The address was prerecorded and released during Thursday's City Council meeting. The mayor said that regardless of an $18 million budget shortfall amid the pandemic, staff found innovative ways to provide essential services.
“Despite the challenges, our city must go on," Summey said.
Councilman Ron Brinson told the mayor toward the end of the meeting he felt the address was the mayor's best State of the City presentation. He called it constructive and positive.
Brinson also praised how the mayor and city staff have managed city finances during the crisis by cutting costs while also preserving essential services like fire and police.
"I think financially, we’re going to have to be well-disciplined and nimble for at least two years," said Brinson, who chairs the Finance Committee.
A.J. Davis, president of the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood association said he wished the mayor had addressed city's homelessness issue.
Davis recently asked City Council to create a task force to look into solutions to help those without places to stay. He said homelessness is the "next crisis" that cities across the nation will need to confront, especially once the pandemic subsides.
“Cities have got to realize they do have a responsibility to be very visible, out front on this issue," Davis said.
The mayor discussed a variety of topics, including recreation, transportation, redevelopment on the city's south end and police and community relations. Summey spoke to the challenges small businesses face and encouraged community support for locally owned shops.
The mayor also addressed the killing of George Floyd, which sparked protests nationally and in North Charleston.
Here's a breakdown of what Summey said in his 2021 address:
Summey touted a handful of recreation projects the city either started or completed last year. Most significant is the $22.5 million North Charleston Aquatic Center completed over the summer. The space, built in partnership with Dorchester District 2, serves as the Lowcountry's first aquatic center with an Olympic-size pool.
The city also started and completed $1 million worth of renovations at Riverfront Park, which included repairs on the park's shoreline and boardwalk. The new Park Forest playground also opened this year. It provides children an opportunity to get out of the house in small groups and play together, the mayor said.
Summey said the killing of George Floyd "should have never occurred" and drew parallels to Walter Scott, a Black man shot to death by a North Charleston police officer.
"On that day, as with the murder of Walter Scott, an officer of the law forgot his oath," Summey said. "It saddens me as a nation that we have not progressed further. Racism anywhere is an injustice. And in North Charleston, it is not tolerated.”
The death sparked demonstrations at City Hall, where protesters drew more attention to racism and systemic injustices.
Summey said infrastructure must keep pace with growth and praised a handful of road projects aimed at easing congestion. The largest is the billion-dollar Interstate 526 widening project conducted by the state Department of Transportation.
Several smaller endeavors are being spearheaded by the county to help with traffic flow: Palmetto Commerce Phase 3, Palmetto Commerce Interchange and the Airport Connector Road.
Lowcountry Rapid Transit, being organized by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, is also an endeavor that's moving in the right direction, Summey said.
The city also is looking at ways to enhance multimodal travel across the Ashley River, the mayor said. North Charleston has been examining how it can establish safe access at the North Bridge, connecting North Charleston and West Ashley, for walkers and bikers.
Efforts are moving forward to help redevelop the southern part of North Charleston. The mayor highlighted a developer's plan to redevelop the old Charleston Naval Hospital into apartments and Charleston County's work in creating a social services hub at the former Shipwatch Square site.
Around corner from those projects, the old Chicora elementary school will become an early childhood education center and cultural arts center.
Summey said the city is continuing to look at ways to bring progress to the area, despite budgetary constraints.
Police and community relations
The city approved a long-awaited racial bias audit last year that will examine the department's practices and policies.
Additionally, the city launched ncpdopendata.com, a website providing analytical data, including use-of-force incidents and complaints against officers.
As the audit is conducted, Summey urged the public to a partner with the department.