In their final public forum eight days before the June 14 election, North Charleston candidates for mayor and City Council Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4 went head to head in Pepperhill on Wednesday.
Mayor Keith Summey and challenger Hillery Douglas sparred over property taxes, the Noisette project and regional planning while council candidates zeroed in on crime.
Summey said the city has held property taxes steady for the last three years, and sometimes a tax reduction is really just a tax shift to those who can least afford it, while Douglas said Summey never saw a tax he didn't like.
Douglas called the city-owned golf course at Wescott Plantation "a money hole" for the city. Summey said taxes are high in North Charleston because Douglas, who is vice chairman of Charleston County School Board, recently voted for another tax increase. Douglas said the increase was caused by mandates from the state to maintain certain programs.
Summey said the city recently lowered speed limits in most residential areas to 25 mph to help with pedestrian-car collisions. Douglas countered that the lowered limits won't do any good if they aren't enforced.
Douglas attacked Summey on what he called "the giveaway" of land on the old Navy base to the Noisette Co. while Summey countered that development is occurring and cited Clemson University's planned Restorative Institute and the new port terminal.
Summey prefers state-issued identification cards for illegal immigrants, while Douglas wants a state-federal system to monitor immigrants.
Douglas favors regional planning to deal with some of the city's traffic woes. Summey said he supports it as long as it is not dictatorial. "North Charleston has been told what to do by other people long enough," Summey said.
Summey said he stands on his record of new businesses and industries, new affordable housing, new jobs and new amenities, such as the Fire Museum and Riverfront Park, as symbols of the progress the city has made during his time in office since 1994.
Each of the City Council candidates was asked what they could do to lower the city's crime rate:
District 1: Councilman Jesse Dove said the city is pumping money into recreation in upper Dorchester County to keep children busy. Opponent Ed Astle said the city needs to put recreation money into the older neighborhoods along Dorchester Road. Challengers Bill Brown said children need something to do after school, and Deon Knecht said community leaders and faith-based organizations need to get involved with children.
District 2: Councilwoman Rhonda Jerome said the police department has a new program of intelligence gathering, and a community resource officer will be placed in Pepperhill on July 1 since trends show that the neighborhood may be on the brink of decline. Opponent Ted Cozart said kids who are expelled have nothing to do but get into trouble and suggested alternative sentences, such as boot camps or community service projects, to keep them busy. Jerome's other opponent, Tom Botchie, said that if illegal immigrants weren't taking the jobs at lower wages, children wouldn't turn to crime.
District 3: Councilman Bobby Jameson said crime watches and neighborhood involvement are key to keeping crime down. Opponent Coakley Hilton said crime is a symptom of boarded-up communities that look like they condone crime, and more time and effort should be spent making neighborhoods look better.
District 4: Mickey Whatley, who was once police chief in North Charleston, said the city has always had crime and always will. His opponent, Councilwoman Phoebe Miller, said the key to keeping crime down is to head it off before it gets out of hand by being nosy neighbors.