Charleston County Council oversees a nearly half-billion-dollar annual budget and a government that runs services ranging from emergency responders to waste management, road construction and land preservation.
Its nine members are elected by district and serve four-year terms. Five seats are up for election this year.
The race is a partisan one, but we find the distinction between Republicans and Democrats to have little relevance on local issues so specific to Charleston County and would encourage voters, as in all races, to carefully assess policy positions rather than party affiliation.
Moreover, we have been frequently disappointed over the past few years by costly and misguided decisions by the sitting County Council. Several of the candidates running are not just new faces, but offer fresh perspectives. These are our recommendations:
Donna Brown Newton — District 1
Donna Brown Newton, who lives in an unincorporated part of Mount Pleasant, says the No. 1 issue for County Council is representation. “There’s nobody there talking for all the people in the community when we have traffic issues, no public transportation and a lack of adequate affordable housing,” she said.
She said it’s dangerous or impractical to walk or use public transit in much of her district and suggested that large projects like completing I-526, which County Council recently voted to move forward with, likely won’t make things much better.
Ms. Newton suggested that the county could do more to address its housing affordability crisis, including by creating a mixed-use development at the site of the former Naval Hospital in North Charleston.
“We grew up in Mount Pleasant and my kids can’t afford to live here,” she said.
Flooding is a complex challenge, but Ms. Newton pointed out that simple, low-cost efforts like regularly cleaning out ditches can make a big difference. She said the county’s half-cent sales tax money would be better spent on flooding than I-526.
“I’m running to be the voice of people who aren’t being heard,” said Ms. Newton.
Voters should welcome that voice.
Dickie Schweers — District 2
Dickie Schweers is running unopposed for a fourth term on County Council. But we enthusiastically welcome him back. Voters should have no qualms about doing the same.
On many occasions, Mr. Schweers has been a lone sensible vote on council. On most of those occasions, it was for all the right reasons.
Mr. Schweers has consistently spoken up in favor of smart use of taxpayer dollars, avoiding risky county investments, protecting the natural environment and preserving quality of life. Similarly sensible voices of reason have been in troublingly short supply among his colleagues.
Dickie Schweers is an asset on County Council. He has more than earned another term.
Teddie Pryor — District 5
Teddie Pryor, who has served on County Council since 2004, is also running unopposed.
Mr. Pryor has been a fierce and outspoken defender of his constituents on many occasions over many years.
But he has also made some significant missteps, including most prominently taking the lead on key decisions that left Charleston County taxpayers on the hook for $33 million and counting to own and redevelop the Naval Hospital property.
When candidates run unopposed — even when they are well-qualified for the job — voters lose out. They miss the chance to hear and compare a variety of opinions on how best to move their communities forward. Given Mr. Pryor’s recent track record, that opportunity would have been particularly welcome here.
Joe Boykin — District 8
Joe Boykin hasn’t always been interested in getting involved in Charleston County politics. For most of his career, he worked in law enforcement.
But when he couldn’t get his representative on County Council to consider a reasonable measure to protect the quality of life on Johns Island, he knew something had to shift.
We believe he represents the right kind of change.
“The people I’ve talked to just want to see somebody get on council who will answer the phone, listen to them, meet with them and try to help them,” said Mr. Boykin, who has made “people over politics” a slogan of his campaign.
Mr. Boykin’s district is largely rural, albeit under significant development pressure. And he has some good ideas for helping that district thrive while protecting its rural character.
He has spoken in favor of using more county Greenbelt money for land preservation. He supports changing the county Comprehensive Plan, a project currently underway, to better protect against flooding and overdevelopment in ill-suited areas.
Mr. Boykin is in favor of completing I-526, but said he wouldn't support taking money away from the projects outlined in the half-cent sales tax referendum.
Mr. Boykin said rural residents shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to recreational amenities, and said that he would try to negotiate a deal for the Charleston Water System to oversee the Hollywood and Meggett sewer system, which leaked earlier this year, disrupting oyster harvesting.
District 8 voters could use a new and enthusiastic representative on council. Joe Boykin is an ideal choice.
Jenny Costa Honeycutt — District 9
Jenny Costa Honeycutt defeated the incumbent in the primary election earlier this year based mainly on a single issue — completing I-526. But it would be a mistake to assume that’s Ms. Honeycutt’s only priority.
On the contrary, she has a deep understanding of many critical issues facing Charleston County and offers pragmatic solutions that balance the different — and sometimes opposing — concerns of her constituents.
That kind of no-nonsense, consensus-building approach is needed on County Council.
Ms. Honeycutt rightly points out that the best way to guide growth is through zoning and planning rather than blocking infrastructure projects, and calls for closer collaboration between the county and municipalities to move her district forward.
That’s especially crucial on challenges like flooding that don’t respect city or county limits. “We have consolidated dispatch for emergency services. I don’t see why we can’t have something like that to deal with nuisance flooding,” she said.
She said the Naval Hospital property should be transformed into transit-oriented development, praised plans to make Folly Road a safer, better place for bicyclists and pedestrians and stressed that the county needs a good balance between walkable, human-scaled places and a more traditional suburban lifestyle.
“There is more that unites us than divides us,” she said.
That is a deeply important sentiment, particularly at this moment of heightened political tensions. Jenny Costa Honeycutt is a smart pick for County Council.
This endorsement editorial has been updated to clarify Mr. Boykin's position on funding the completion of I-526.