With Charleston and the town of James Island set to face off before the S.C. Supreme Court next week, Charleston City Council on Tuesday debated whether the city's legal challenge to the town's incorporation is a good idea.
James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey set the stage, addressing Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and City Council at the meeting. Woolsey asked the city to drop the lawsuit, and promised that if the town were to lose, it would incorporate once again.
"Mr. Mayor, I'm here to ask you and the members of council to make peace," Woolsey said. "I am committed to cooperation.
"But, if you pursue this, and the Supreme Court agrees with you, we are equally committed to a fourth incorporation," he said. "How much time and how much money will we spend on this issue?"
Several members of City Council asked the same question, in an often spirited debate. At one point, Councilman Tim Mallard attempted to shout down Riley, whom he accused of speaking out of turn, and Riley criticized the discussion as "beyond ridiculous."
Riley and some council members said dropping the legal fight now would mean wasting the $205,000 spent so far, practically on the eve of the final hearing.
City officials estimated the town costs Charleston $550,000 yearly in local option sales tax revenue because James Island receives sales tax money that would go to other municipalities and to Charleston County for property tax relief if the town did not exist.
Charleston and the town of James Island currently share jurisdiction on the island, with a patchwork of municipal boundaries. Two prior town incorporations were reversed following legal challenges by the city, involving the constitutionality of state laws tailored to help the town incorporate.
The current challenge is set for arguments before the S.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 2, the town having prevailed at the lower court level.
City Councilman Dean Riegel said that, as Woolsey suggested, he expects that the state Legislature would help the town incorporate again if the city wins. Riegel asked the city's lawyer on the case, Tim Domin, how long this scenario likely would continue.
Domin said the city won the last two cases, hopes to win this one, and each time it's been harder for the town to incorporate using legislation specifically tailored for that purpose. That partially due to the fact that the city has annexed more properties on the island in between town incorporations.
Councilman Jimmy Gallant, a pastor, quoted Scripture and said that peace should be pursued at all costs.
Domin said the lawsuit isn't personal, but is a matter of constitutional law, and if the Supreme Court sides with the town, then that's the end of it.
Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson of James Island said the city residents she represents would benefit if the town were unincorporated.
There was no vote taken, and the legal battle continues.
In other business Tuesday:
--City Council unanimously agreed to hire Skanska USA Building Inc., with a $340,000 contract for pre-construction services for the renovation of the Gaillard Auditorium and construction there of city offices. Skanska is known locally for its lead role in building the Ravenel Bridge. The company is working with a local partner, Trident Construction Co.
--The winner of the city's annual Harold Koon Award for public service was announced. The 2011 winner was community organizer and Gullah poet Fouche'na "Che" Sheppard.
--Two $500,000 grants were accepted for the Charleston Saves energy efficiency program.
--Riley announced, in a memo, that in response to concerns raised by City Council members and after consulting with Police Chief Greg Mullen, security will be enhanced at City Hall for meetings of City Council starting Feb. 8.