Public debate required on RDA

David Ginn, President and CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, discusses the agency's work. (Brad Nettles/File)

Charleston County Council today is expected to discuss the dicey situation created by Chairman Teddie Pryor last week when he declared that the county had severed its 19-year relationship with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. Council members should insist on their right to weigh in on such an important issue.

Mr. Pryor can't be allowed to unilaterally determine policy for the county - certainly not on a matter as important as regional economic development.

If the county withdraws from the CRDA, it won't doom the alliance, which is largely funded with contributions from private donors. But it will fragment the public-private regional effort to bring economic development to Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

So far, a Dorchester spokesman says that the county will remain with the alliance, though at a reduced contribution. Berkeley also is weighing leaving the CRDA. So clearly there are issues that need to be considered regarding the alliance.

Charleston County Council should insist on a full discussion about the CRDA, and members should insist that it be conducted in open session. There are reports that the topic is slated for executive session today, presumably on the basis of allowable exclusions for contracts or legal advice.

So far, Mr. Pryor has been willing to make his CRDA pronouncements in public, and any subsequent debate deserves the full and open scrutiny of tri-county residents. It's an issue that affects us all.

Mr. Pryor has talked about his dissatisfaction with the CRDA in general terms, mainly insisting that the county can do better on its own. Specifically, he contends that the salary of CRDA director David Ginn is too high.

Certainly, Mr. Ginn makes a healthy salary, at $225,000. And with bonuses and other benefits, his full compensation totals $293,500.

According to a CRDA spokesman, Mr. Ginn's salary is within the range of pay for regional economic development officials elsewhere - and supposedly is on the low side of his peers.

In any event, the politics of envy aren't typically a good place to begin an objective policy review.

The primary issue is whether the CRDA is doing a good job for the region. Santee Cooper President Lonnie Carter, chairman of the CRDA board, says it does - that the alliance has brought 27,000 jobs and $7.5 billion in investment.

Those are the kind of numbers that council should consider in its review of the CRDA. And Charleston County Council should have such a review, as should its counterparts in Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

In any event, council can't allow a decision to withdraw from the CRDA to be made unilaterally by a single councilman. Mr. Pryor was elected by his colleagues primarily to preside over council meetings.

Indeed, council should be asking Mr. Pryor just how the CRDA action came about, and why they weren't kept in the loop.

His colleagues should be seriously concerned about how Mr. Pryor seemingly conceives of his expanded role as decision-maker.

They also should move to curtail any future incursions into matters that need to be discussed and decided by the elected council representing the county as a whole.