North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has sent a 20-page letter and package of materials to the state Ethics Commission seeking guidance on whether he should abstain from matters regarding the CSX Transportation-city of North Charleston railroad rerouting plan.
The letter came about after The Post and Courier reported last month that an area being developed near the project is partially owned by the mayor's wife under a limited liability corporation.
The development is part of a new neighborhood taking shape near the northern end of a 3-mile-long railroad line Summey wants to shut down. Records show the neighborhood, the Village at Hyde Park, is owned by three investors, one of whom is the mayor's wife Debbie.
Summey said earlier he sees no conflict of interest because the development had been going on for years already, and that a section of rail to be abandoned ends at Braddock Avenue, not on the LLC's property, so it is not part of the abandonment issue.
"Even assuming the property owned by the LLC would benefit to some extent, it would be one of hundreds of thousands of properties in the city impacted by the rail relocation," Summey wrote. "In light of this fact, it would be my hope that any possible impact is so attenuated as to not pose any ethics concern."
City Council voted recently to seek a $3 million U.S. Department of Transportation planning grant for abandoning a 3-mile section of rail that cuts through east of Park Circle, and building new lines elsewhere. Summey voted in favor of seeking the money.
The grant is a first step in a massive plan the city is pursuing, along with CSX Corp. and Shipyard Creek Associates LLC, to protect as many neighborhoods as possible from trains originating near the new State Ports Authority terminal being developed at the former Charleston Naval Base.
The plan, which could cost as much as $100 million, calls for abandoning the 3.2-mile-long rail line that runs just east of Spruill Avenue, from Viaduct Road to just south of the Mark Clark Expressway. The northernmost section of this line runs behind nine backyards in the Village at Hyde Park.
A representative of Common Cause of South Carolina said earlier that at a minimum, Summey should have abstained from voting because of his connections. State ethics laws prohibit public officials from using their office for their personal gain -- or for family members' financial gain.
In his letter, Summey said he and his family are residents of the city, and any decision he is involved in could potentially affect someone he knows. "Every road project or stop light may improve traffic in one area while potentially causing a greater delay somewhere else," he wrote. "If these type of attenuated impacts ethically disqualified elected officials from considering them, then local government would likely find its elected representatives having to abstain on an every-day basis from the very decisions they were elected to make."
State Ethics Commission assistant director and general counsel Cathy Hazelwood said an answer to Summey's inquiry should be ready by next week. The package also includes aerial maps and a copy of the memorandum of understanding the city signed with CSX and Shipyard Creek.