Those new Town Council members in Mount Pleasant got quite the education this week.
Mainly, they discovered that their learning curve is going to be steep — and governing is hard work.
Now they are responsible for the whole town, and will get the blame when things go wrong. Or even when they go right.
So, welcome to Town Council!
These four new council members, who ran on a slate backed by the Save Shem Creek crowd, came storming into their first meeting with a long, ambitious list of things to do.
They wanted to reconsider the traffic circle planned for Coleman, Chuck Dawley and Ben Sawyer boulevards because “some people don’t like it.” They wanted to move all committee meetings to 6 p.m. so more people could attend. They wanted more public comment at meetings.
And, of course, they wanted to talk about that infernal parking garage/office building going up at Mill Street and Coleman Boulevard — and what they might do to stop it.
And after five hours of cold, harsh reality, they learned that it’s far easier to throw rocks from the cheap seats than it is to actually run a town.
It was a fairly contentious night, with relations between Mayor Linda Page and the newbies at a Lowcountry boil.
They quickly booted a rule that it takes two council members to put something on the agenda, a fairly recent edict aimed at the new guys’ main ally, Councilman Gary Santos.
Of course, it was a largely unnecessary change since Santos now has a posse.
That’s about as far as anything got. When they talked about changing committee times, they were surprised to learn that committee chairmen can schedule meetings for any time they like. They just usually do it during the day because that’s when staff is working.
See, that’s what you do when retaining employees is suddenly your responsibility.
Then, when the new guys questioned the Coleman Boulevard traffic circle, they learned that it is part of a project to add streetscaping and — more importantly — stormwater drainage to the road. Something it needs.
Getting rid of the traffic circle, or any redesign, and the eight-year-old project goes back to the drawing board for all-new Department of Transportation approvals. Which takes time.
And, oh yeah, the money to pay for it is coming from a special taxing district that expires in about 18 months. With no set plans in place, that money will just vanish.
So the new council decided to merely ask the staff to give them a list of options, just like veteran public officials.
Of course, all of those options are likely to incur significant cost increases and lead to years of delay.
And guess who will get the blame for that?
Not as easy as it looks, huh?
The big-ticket item was the parking garage, which has some locals steaming mad.
That discussion took place in executive session, and no one said anything after, but this is probably the gist of what they heard:
That project is already under construction, so if the town uses eminent domain to take the property, it likely faces a lawsuit that will cost roughly the gross national product of a small country.
And the town’s case — that it wants to build a park — is going to be weak, seeing as how some of the new council members ran on a platform of simply stopping the building.
Judges read newspapers, you know. So there is a better than average change the town could end up spending a lot of money to have their eminent domain powers laughed out of court.
And who would be responsible for all those court costs and damages?
Yep, the new council.
It takes time to get the hang of this governing thing, and council veterans say they saw light bulbs going off over a few heads at the meeting. Some of them will get it, others — maybe not.
But before long, these new guys will realize there’s a big difference between being passionate about one issue and having responsibility for an entire town.
And they will figure out that it is impossible to please all the people all the time, or most of them any of the time.
That’s what happens when you move from the cheap seats to the hot seat.
So be patient with the new council. Really, all they need is a little seasoning — and some input from residents. For instance, all the Shem Creek restaurant owners who need the parking that garage will provide should attend the next meeting and voice their opinion.
Let the new guys see how council looked at them just a few months ago. Really.
Everyone should have plenty of time to speak, since the new council graciously called for more public comment.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.