Tuesday night’s Charleston City Council meeting set no benchmark for rationality or insight. Unsurprisingly, the council voted to support tolling the extension of I-526 to Johns Island, in spite of the overwhelming fiscal and operational flaws with the proposal.
Speakers against the project outnumbered supporters roughly eight to three, but both sides expressed their points of view respectfully and stayed within the 90-second time limit imposed by Mayor Tecklenburg.
What was surprising was the crass lack of civility displayed by council member Dean Riegel. When the Conservation League’s Natalie Olson began her comments, Riegel interrupted her with a sarcastic insult.
He then accused opponents of delaying the highway project with slews of lawsuits, either knowing full well that not a single lawsuit has been filed and intentionally misrepresenting the facts, or being inexcusably ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the proposed expressway.
Democracy is a fragile institution in which courtesy plays an essential, harmonizing role. Over the past few decades Charleston has been fortunate at least to have had respectful debates about contentious issues.
Council member Riegel’s behavior not only diminished his stature as an elected representative, it tainted the council’s proceedings as a whole, in a session that was otherwise admirably respectful.
He owes an apology to Ms. Olson and to the other citizens who devoted the bulk of their evening to participating in the democratic process.
Coastal Conservation League