A free shuttle between the Charleston airport and the North Charleston Convention Center appears to be on the fast track for county funding. But County Council should apply the brakes until ethical questions can be fully resolved.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has asked Charleston County for $300,000 to help pay for the shuttle service. The idea received 5-4 approval in council’s Finance Committee on Thursday.
Mayor Summey’s request was made in a letter to his city’s tourism director, Council Chairman Teddie Pryor. Councilman Dickie Schweers questioned whether that is a conflict of interest.
And a similar question was raised about Council Vice Chairman Elliott Summey’s support for the proposal. Elliott Summey is chairman of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA), which would provide the service. He also is the mayor’s son.
Apparently, neither Councilmen Summey nor Pryor believe there is anything to be concerned about. Both voted to approve the allocation of accommodations taxes for the service.
But Councilman Schweers was sufficiently concerned about the potential for a conflict of interest to follow up with Charleston County Attorney Joe Dawson on Friday.
In response, Mr. Dawson wrote a memo to council saying he wouldn’t take up the ethics matter unless asked by the councilmen in question. Instead, he recommended seeking an advisory opinion from the State Ethics Commission.
That’s a good idea.
Before the shuttle plan proceeds any further, Councilmen Summey and Pryor should do just that.
A written opinion by the Ethics Commission would clear the air on this matter, and could help clarify future ethics questions, should they arise.
As Councilman Joe Qualey said Monday, “It’s better to get an ethics opinion than to get an ethics complaint.”
There should be no cloud over this proposal when it goes to council.
Indeed, a delay would give council an opportunity to give the request additional review. Councilmen Schweers tells us that taxi cab owners are complaining about the proposal.
Revenue from accommodations taxes, derived from a surcharge on hotel room rentals, are used for tourism-related purposes.
Mr. Schweers notes that non-profits previously granted accommodations tax funds saw their funding reduced during the recent economic downturn.
A $300,000 allocation could help sustain those organizations.
Another question: Will the county be expected to fund a portion of the shuttle service in future years?
In short, council needs to give this proposal more consideration all around. It should be removed from the agenda pending resolution of the ethics questions. Additional debate also is needed on other issues related to the shuttle service and accommodations tax allocations.
Editor’s note: Earlier versions of this story misidentified North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey. The Post and Courier regrets the error.