A combative, handwringing Thursday meeting of Charleston City Council to discuss an audit of Mayor John Tecklenburg’s office was a troubling spectacle for our city’s government.
The remaining steps in the process — the audit will be submitted to the state Ethics Commission for further review while Mr. Tecklenburg’s emails will be combed over — unfortunately ensure that additional fireworks will be forthcoming.
And when all of the resulting smoke settles, which one presumes will occur only after the November mayoral election, the biggest losers will be Charleston taxpayers.
This whole mess started when council member Harry Griffin, who is running for mayor, questioned Mr. Tecklenburg’s spending on business cards that included his wife’s contact information.
Council member Gary White, who is also running for mayor, raised additional concerns about travel expenses and the use of a city-provided car.
At the time, we agreed that the accusations, while thin and plainly politically motivated, justified an audit of Mr. Tecklenburg’s office. Council obviously shared the sentiment, and voted unanimously to approve it.
Earlier this month, City Council met to review the audit’s initial findings, which were similarly unremarkable. The biggest flagged expenses were contributions to celebrations for a civil rights icon’s 90th birthday and for the law enforcement and emergency responders who helped rescue a kidnapped Johns Island child.
Not exactly scandalous.
Even the most ethically concerning component — plane tickets that had been belatedly or not reimbursed — amounted to a few hundred dollars in a more than $200 million city budget. And on Thursday, Mr. Tecklenburg provided a plausible explanation for those mistakes, which have now been rectified.
In the past, we have occasionally called out the mayor for demonstrating poor judgment, most notably as related to his unauthorized self-loans from an elderly woman’s finances he helped oversee, and which were paid back with interest.
Some of the issues highlighted as part of this audit process could be similarly described as lacking judgment.
But at this point we have ample — and perhaps more compelling — reason to question the judgment of Mr. Griffin and Mr. White, who are not only further pursuing what has so far been a thoroughly unexceptional audit but expanding its scope.
It is unlikely, for instance, that a costly and time-consuming inquisition into Mr. Tecklenburg’s emails will produce any information relevant to a further analysis of his office’s use of taxpayer money.
It is entirely likely, however, that it will produce some embarrassing quotes to use on the campaign trail.
Unfortunately this appears to be a cynical attempt to conduct opposition research at taxpayer expense. It also is a waste of city staff members’ time. It is most surely a distraction from the far more important business of running a growing, complex city.
And Charleston residents should treat it as such.