Mary Clark says there is no nepotism in James Island town government.
She says the outrage over her family's business with the town is exaggerated by a bunch of malcontents.
But in the coffee shops and grocery stores, many folks -- some of them longtime Clark supporters -- are whispering about what's going on at Town Hall. In the last few months, Town Council has awarded the mayor's son $75,000 worth of government contracts.
And Clark says she doesn't see anything wrong with it.
"I had nothing to do with it," she says. "Nepotism is if I hired my son and paid him."
A few months ago, the council gave Clark's son a $26,000 contract to be webmaster of the town's rather modest Internet site.
And last month, Clark's son was also awarded a $49,000 contract to develop a Geographic Information System for the town. It does highly technical things like tell you where the town's power lines and ditches are.
Now, Clark says she checked with the State Ethics Commission to make sure her son could bid, and that's all she's done.
Here are a few other interesting facts:
--Clark's son was the only bidder, but that may have been because the proposal required the webmaster to be a James Island employee, sit in the strip-mall town hall for the better part of 20 hours a week.
But most freelance webmasters, at least the ones who bid on jobs like this, have multiple clients and work out of their own office. A website of this size is usually not a full-time job.
At least one other guy was interested in bidding but backed out when he saw that ludicrous provision. Interesting how one little thing in a contract can repel bidders.
And $26,000 is a tad high. It's not exactly apples to apples, but that's basically a lot more than Mount Pleasant pays for its much larger site. In fact, several towns around here are eying a company that offers municipalities website set up for $10,000, and then maintains the site for $5,000 a year.
--Also, the $49,000 for a GIS system is at least twice as much as Mount Pleasant or Charleston paid for theirs. Since the town raised the GIS issue, the island's public service district, which provides most of James Island's services, has offered its own GIS to the town.
Clark says she checked with the folks at the PSD and they don't have what the town needs. She says it is the same information the county has, and a lot of it's wrong.
--Originally the two jobs (webmaster and GIS development) were bundled together and advertised last summer. Town Council approved the mayor's son's bid for webmaster but council members say they turned down the $57,000 "additional services" part of the job, which included the GIS.
That contract has not been re-bid, but showed up on the agenda last month when the two guys most dead-set against it (Joe Qualey and Leonard Blank) were absent from a council meeting.
Clark says the GIS bid submitted by her son was added to the agenda by Roy DeHaven, the town's planning consultant. She said it was known that Blank would not be at the meeting, but no one knew Qualey would be absent as well.
"The council had just deferred action on it, they didn't reject it," Clark says. "Roy needed those maps, so he put it on the agenda."
--Did you know that James Island Town Council members are not allowed to add anything to the council agenda? In fact, they say the "town" requires them to file Freedom of Information requests to even get information about the town's basic operations.
--Since two of four councilmen were not present, the vote on the GIS contract was 2-0. Three is a quorum on Town Council, so the vote would not have passed without the mayor's presence. She may not have voted but she was, in this case, a deciding factor.
--Did you know that 50 percent of the people who voted for the contract now want to revisit the issue? Councilman Bill "Cubby" Wilder says he didn't know the PSD had a GIS, or that the contract had not been re-bid since the last time it was considered.
But the town attorney said the contract could not be reconsidered even when requested by someone who voted for it. The motion has to be seconded by someone else who voted for it. And last week Councilman Parris Williams would not second that emotion.
There are other things -- apparently some council members think that once a contract is rejected it should be re-bid, not pulled out of a filing cabinet when the naysayers are out of town.
Clark says the issue is over, that her son is already doing the work, and all this talk of repealing it is a waste of time.
The bottom line is that Clark is right -- this probably is legal.
But it sure looks bad.