By Gregg Bragg, Island Eye News Staff Writer
Mayor Jimmy Carroll welcomed attendees, including the press, to the Sept. 25 meeting of the Isle of Palms town council (IOPTC). The well-attended meeting opened with a prayer and the Pledge. Parliamentary procedures were quickly dispatched with just one hiccup during the reading of last month’s meeting minutes. Councilmember Jimmy Ward took note of the fact the account mentioned only one [staff] opening, and should also include the administrator, and public works,” he said. There was some back and forth before the minutes were approved, and citizen’s comments were teed up.
IOP resident Rusty Streetman spoke to council’s agenda item; to consider rejecting the proposed Morgan Creek Grill lease extension, and consideration of an RFP to lease the space in the marina. Streetman said it wasn’t personal, numbering himself among the restaurant’s patrons, “but as a citizen of IOP, I voted for change, not business as usual.” His take on the proposal to renew the lease suggested the City would actually lose money in the near term, and be subject to the possibility of renewals for over 30 years. Going to bid is the best way for the City to determine fair market value, he concluded.
Harold Timmerman introduced himself to attendees and said he’s lived on IOP for 52 years. He had nothing but praise for the Morgan Creek Grill and its owners. “I have been there since there was nothing, I’ve been there to the BBQ Shack, been there with Henry J… Morgan Creek Grill is something we can be proud of… They’ve made a lot of improvements… the City didn’t pay for. I would like to see the lease extended,” he said.
Jay Lee strode to the podium, and his “that’s what he said” rejoinder drew chuckles, as he echoed Timmerman’s comments. He deferred to Streetman’s grasp of the details, but seemed to prefer thinking the devil could be exorcised from the details as a new lease agreement is hashed out. He pitched the establishment as a part of the community, as they recently played host to a “Locks of Love” fundraiser, among other things. “Save the time, save the money and keep what you’ve got,” He concluded.
Fifteen year IOP resident and 10-year Morgan Creek employee Bob Wilder thanked Council for its support, “especially of late. I see kids come in there and apply for their first job that doesn’t involve a lawnmower or babysitting, and they never have a pen,” he recounted to open laughter. “They come in and they have no social skills, they’re shy, LAZY [emphasis his]… and I watch their transformation over the summer. They come out with confidence, a work ethic… and an understanding of how hard you have to work [to pay the bills],” said Wilder. He related several anecdotes, that had attendees in stitches as he painted Morgan Creek as an integral part of IOP’s quilt you can’t get from a franchise like Hooters.
Morgan Creek Grill owners Carla Pope and Jay Clark made their way to the podium with frequent stops for hugs and well wishes. Deferring to Streetman’s facts, she said the proposed lease wasn’t necessarily what they wanted. “Everything’s negotiable, just give us a chance,” Pope entreated. None of the other businesses at the marina have been subjected to the RFP process to extend their leases she said, and asked that the same process be applied to Morgan Creek. “50% of the revenues the marina contributes to the City are from Morgan Creek, and yet we only occupy 1/6th of the footprint,” she added. Jay Clark simply thanked Council for its time and consideration.
Pope acknowledged starting a petition to save Morgan Creek from the RFP process. She gave a nod to Council before telling the audience “I love petitions,” harvesting any chuckles Wilder left on the table. Pope has 1,700 signatures so far, and 200 of them are from IOP residents. “Please understand that if you go through the RFP process, time is of the essence. Our livelihoods and those of all the people who work with us will remain uncertain [while this plays out],” she concluded.
Jim Rye had a different perspective on the Morgan Creek situation. Rye described the RFP process as a necessary legal requirement, which should be satisfied, and a win/win for the city. “We’ve had some losers in there that are long forgotten. We have a winner in there now, and we should have nothing to fear from the RFP process,” he said.
The Mayor kicked off the Ways and Means Committee report by saying the City’s finances are on solid ground. Revenues are slightly ahead of projections, and expenditures are on target, while attributing any fluctuations to timing issues, he said. Accommodations tax numbers are up over last year, as are the City’s hospitality tax numbers. While parking revenues are down over last year, he was pleased to report an increase in activity, which means fewer people parking where they shouldn’t. Mayor Carroll concluded his financial report by announcing there would be no increase in millage rates from IOP this year (belatedly confirmed by a vote of Council), though he struck a cautionary tone about the prospects for 2019.
The Mayor broached the thorny issue of the Morgan Creek Grill by suggesting the issue be broken into two parts; the lease as proposed, and the decision to go to bid for the space. Councilmember Randy Bell stepped in to say the vote was only on the lease extension as presented first to Ways and Means, and now to Council.
Bell validated Streetman’s interpretation of the details; extensions totaling up to 33 years, $135,000 in rent, but closer to $285,000 in total taxes collected through Morgan Creek. He also warned that the lease didn’t come up for renewal until 2020, that the current debate is an effort to get ahead of the issue, that a vote is not a comment on the fate of ultimate renewal, and responses to the RFP are not binding. The City’s legal counsel weighed in suggesting state procurement laws favored the RFP process. Council subsequently voted unanimously against the current iteration of the renewal, and unanimously in favor of initiating the RFP process.
Interestingly, the next issue before Council was the award of a sole source contract to Coastal Science and Engineering (CSE). Several councilmembers took a moment to explain the new contract with CSE is eligible to by-pass the RFP process because it was part of IOP’s existing beach re-nourishment efforts. Council voted to approve $118,000 for post-project monitoring services, professional services and ongoing monitoring of the entire beach.
The pace of the meeting picked up at this point.
$11,000 was approved for IOP staff appreciation, and up to $50,000 was approved to hire McCay, Kiddy and Associates to review the financial statements of marina tenants. Council concluded the Ways and Means report by approving an additional $1,500 for the in-car cameras of police vehicles (the vendor miscalculated the tax, but the total was still “in” budget).
Councilmember and chair of the Public Safety Committee, Susan Hill Smith reported her committee met on Sept. 5. She said the IOP Coyote Coalition reported concerns about sightings, pups and food waste from homes, construction sites and restaurants attracting the varmints. Hill Smith said Jim Rye addressed the committee about improving handicapped access to the beach. She said the topics of parking and traffic issues are planned for the October meeting of the committee, and included expansion of paid parking beyond the front beach.
Coyote management has been having trouble confirming stories of the animals harassing residents and pets, and the City is talking to a second trapper to see if it can improve its capture rate, Smith continued. She concluded her report by saying the committee will be looking at ways to restructure the City’s parking pass management. Miscellaneous items reported by Smith include potential changes to the City’s dog leash ordinance, golf carts on the beach for the handicapped and more. For details, read the Public Safety Committee meeting minutes available at IOP. net.
The Public Works Committee reported less solid waste, but more yard debris than last year. The idea was floated for Public Works to handle dog waste containers instead of animal control, which should free up some time. The committee also reported pumping water out of streets from 46th to 51st, which is a problem every time it rains.
The Personnel Committee is dealing with a number of vacancies, and has hired the Mercer Group to assist with finding talent. Council voted in favor of issuing an RFP to aid in the search for an attorney, and for an assistant attorney. The committee is also looking for ways to compensate employees who have qualified for merit increases, but have reached the top of their salary range.
Turning to new business, the Mayor said, “we used to read new bills in title only, but tonight we’re going to change all that by making a motion to approve with discussion,” as he introduced ordinance 2018- 16. IOP currently requires residents and visitors to have a written permit proving their dog is vaccinated against rabies. Residents pay $5 and visitors pay $10 for the permit, which includes a tag confirming compliance. There was quite a bit of debate about changes to the motion; exceptions for dogs on/ off leash, in/outside the dog park, visitor/non-visitor, etc. However, the motion to send the measure back to committee won the day.
The same new “motion to approve with discussion” was applied to the first reading of ordinance 2018-17, except there was no discussion. The measure passed unanimously and changes visitor daily parking passes to annual passes by replacing the expiration and tag number with a link to the number on the pass booklet. It also provides 2 free visitors pass booklets to each household per year.
Mayor Carroll announced the formation of and his participation in the Lowcountry Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund. He asked for $5,000 in seed money from the City to benefit SC townships, but possibly even some locations in North Carolina. The motion was approved unanimously.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting of the IOP City Council will be Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m.