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Town Council night in Mount Pleasant: Equal rights, insults, communists and the May queen

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Mount Pleasant Town Hall. File

MOUNT PLEASANT — In between banning new multi-family buildings and regulating the thickness of plastic bags, the town's elected leaders recently spent hours considering the Equal Right Amendment and whether May Day is about communists or the arrival of spring.

“It was very different meeting," said first-term Councilwoman Guang Ming Whitley.

The 4½-hour April 9 meeting was not a record-breaker but it stood out for the amount of time devoted to proclamations and position statements with no force of law.

In addition to whether the town should endorse the federal Equal Rights Amendment, there was a resolution urging state lawmakers to approve legislation listing cancer as an occupational hazard for firefighters.

“I think we are getting away from what we were sent here to do as a municipal government," said Mayor Will Haynie, who objected to both resolutions.

A proposed proclamation supporting town police, fire and public services workers also proved controversial, due to the idea of declaring May 1 — "May Day" — in their honor. 

Councilman Jim Owens said colleagues mischaracterized the idea as having something to do with communists.

He noted May 1 is celebrated as "Lei Day" in Hawaii and said there's nothing wrong with honoring Mount Pleasant's first-responders on that date.

Councilwoman Kathy Landing said she thought so, too, at first.

Landing said what May Day first brought to her mind was ancient Gaelic rites of spring which are still celebrated in Europe. She said her late mother was once the May Queen in Plymouth, N.C.

But Landing said she then looked online.

"It is international labor workers' day, representing a certain way of thinking, predominantly in communist countries," Landing said.

Councilman Joe Bustos, a veteran, took the discussion several steps beyond the pagan and labor union origins of some May Day celebrations.

“This is not about crops and maypoles and kids," he said. "This is about a day out of the year when they (communists) celebrate, basically, the deaths of Americans.”

So, the council decided "May Day" wouldn't work, but the month of May could instead honor certain town employees.

Whitley was surprised at the push-back against a resolution she introduced, advocating that South Carolina adopt the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Whitley said she brought the resolution to the council on behalf of constituents, and that such resolutions are not uncommon for the town.

“I don’t know why the concept of equal rights for women is a scary one," she said.

Haynie suggested that if the amendment were to be adopted, it could have unknown consequences, possibly for Mount Pleasant's recreation programs for boys and girls. Bustos said urging passage of the ERA would put the town "right in the middle of a partisan fight."

Public comments and council discussion consumed at least an hour before the resolution was eventually sent back to a committee. Whitley said she'll bring it back at the next meeting. The ERA dates to the early 1970s, and a deadline for ratification passed in the 1980s.

Later in the meeting, it was time to talk about Councilman Kevin Cunnane insulting the mayor in a non-public setting. Bustos, who is Haynie's closest ally on council, raised the issue but wouldn't explain what Cunnane allegedly said or what Bustos wanted done about it.

"I think it’s a little distasteful for public bodies to even have to talk about this in public," said Bustos.

Cunnane dismissed it as "political grandstanding." 

“I can approach elected officials and speak my mind whether they like what I am saying or not," he said. 

In September, Cunnane apologized for cursing at town Board of Zoning Appeals member Barry Wolff in a private message. The insult, which Wolff publicized, came after Wolff suggested Cunnane was invoking his service with the New York Fire Department during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks for political gain.

Haynie, who was apparently similarly insulted recently, said he didn't want punitive action but told Cunnane: "What we’re hearing is that any plea from us for civility, for not calling us names when you disagree with us, that impugn our character, is falling on deaf ears."

In town-related business, the council voted 7-1 to approve a moratorium on multi-family buildings. Landing cast the opposing vote, noting that Mount Pleasant's permit allocation system already prevents multi-family construction during the coming years.

"Is this really accomplishing anything at all?" she said.

The unusual tenor of the council meeting comes seven months before an election when four of nine seats will be on the ballot, including those now held by Bustos, Cunnane, Bustos, Owens and Bob Brimmer.

November is coming. 

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

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