By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News
The Isle of Palms City Council is expected to vote in June on a measure that would give island residents the opportunity to decide in a referendum on whether to reduce the size of the Council from nine to seven members. Following a discussion at the Council’s May 24 meeting, the Personnel Committee, chaired by John Bogosian, was directed to prepare an ordinance for the full Council to consider June 28. The city’s governing body must pass two readings of the ordinance to meet the Charleston County Board of Elections & Voter Registration’s August deadline to add the item to the Nov. 8 ballot. At its May 24 meeting, the Council also approved an ordinance to temporarily suspend meetings of all standing committees from July 1 through the end of the year and replace them with workshop meetings that include all Council members. Neither measure passed with the full blessing of the Council. Kevin Popson was adamant in his opposition to both proposed changes. “Since 1953, we’ve had standing committees and nine people on Council,” Popson said. “I must be living on a different island. I’ve lived here for 37 years, and nobody has come up to me and said the Council’s too big; you need to reduce it. And nobody has said get rid of the standing committees.”
“Why are we doing this now?” Popson asked. “Whose idea was it? I’d love to have it on the record. Was it an individual on Council? Was it two individuals on Council? Was it staff? I really would like to know where all this is coming from.” “And just to be clear, I’m not against referendums. I am against reducing it from nine to seven,” he added. “It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s just about changing the way you do business to some extent,” Mayor Phillip Pounds responded. “We’re way out of step with what others are doing. Does that make it right or wrong? Absolutely not. But when 98% of the municipalities of this state are doing it a different way, there must be something to that.”
“I see absolutely no downside in putting that out for a referendum to let our resident speak. We’re not voting on it. All we’re voting on is to take it to a referendum,” Pounds added. Jimmy Ward said he thinks a petition for a referendum should come from the citizens of the island rather than from the Council, while Katie Miars commented that “It would be really interesting to have the residents tell us what they think, one way or the other.” Blair Hahn suggested that there should be a meeting that includes Council members and citizens who have an opinion on the proposed changes.
“What we need is information, both on this Council and with the public so everyone understands and can make an informed decision,” Hahn said. Jan Anderson suggested waiting until the workshop experiment is completed before deciding what to do with the size of the Council, while Scott Pierce said “Being brought to the residents to decide is the best possible outcome.” The Council voted 5-4 in March 2021 to hold a referendum on the size of the Council, but by June, when the measure came up for a vote, then-Mayor Jimmy Carroll had changed his mind. As a result, the vote went 5-4 in the other direction. Last year’s referendum was nonbinding, which means the Council had the option to overrule the will of the electorate. The plan would have been phased in over two election cycles, so the Council would not have been reduced to seven members until 2027.
In other action May 24, the IOP Council approved the budget ordinance for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022; voted unanimously to give the Spirit of the Island Award to Jim Thompson; and approved the Personnel Committee’s recommendations to appoint Chrissy Lorenz, Barb Bergwerf and Chas Akers to the Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee and Jeff Rubin to the Planning Commission. One vacancy remains on the ATAX Committee, following the resignation of four members earlier this year. The Committee is supposed to have two members from the hospitality sector, but only one, Lorenz, filed an application. Bogosian said Bobby Ross withdrew from consideration for a spot on the Committee. Bogosian pointed out that if no additional applications were filed by the end of May, the Personnel Committee would reconsider applications that were submitted previously.
“There’s some flexibility,” Bogosian said. “If no one applies, we’ll revisit some that don’t necessarily fit hospitality.”