Letter To The Editor: Honey, I Shrunk The Council?

The Isle of Palms Personnel Committee recently recommended an ordinance to the council that the council be reduced from eight council members to six plus the mayor. The only reason given was that six would be more efficient than eight. That is undoubtedly true. Having two less democratically elected members to listen to during debates should shorten the length of debates and make the decision making process more efficient, but why stop there? If efficiency is the goal, let’s go to four council members, or two, or we could just elect a mayor every 4 years and he could rule like a dictator. That would be the most efficient form of government.

We want an efficient city administration. We want efficient garbage collection. We certainly want an efficient Fire Department. But, efficiency in democratic representation should not be a goal. The goal should simply be proper democratic representation. With six council members, a mayor would only need three council friends to go along with his agenda and he could rule like a dictator. With our current eight council members he would need four members to go along with him, a 33% increase in democratically elected representative agreement. That is significantly more. Eight council members may be on the high side of average numbers of council members for a city of our size, but it has served us well since 1953 when we became a city. We are probably around our highest number of residents now, certainly many more than in 1953 and yet now is when we should cut back to six? 

It makes no sense. Also, Isle of Palms needs a larger than average council because we are a bifurcated city with two distinctly different communities which both need representation. We have the Wild Dunes community, a lovely area with regime fees and a Homeowners Association (a whole other level of government to tell you what you can and can not do), and the outside the gate community where you can paint your house as you see fit and keep a boat in your yard if you wish. One community has more controls and the other has more liberty and that is alright. 

Whatever floats your boat, if you have one. That difference in the communities demands a larger than average council so that all citizens can be properly represented. The old adage is that two heads are better than one. The principle behind that thought is that the more heads one has looking at a problem the better chance one has in arriving at the best solution. Ergo, three heads would be better than two and eight council members would be better than six. We could have, perhaps, used 16 council members during the pandemic and maybe one would have brought up the fact that the City of Isle of Palms does not have the legal authority to prevent South Carolina Citizens from driving on South Carolina Highways without the expressed permission of the State of South Carolina, as the SCDOT has been pointing out to us in an awful fashion ever since. 

There is no ground swell of citizens demanding that we cut back to six council members. This whole idea seems silly and smacks of some hidden agenda to reduce the annoying input from democratically elected representation. The Island does not need a referendum or a change from eight to six council members. This scheme needs to be put to bed. 

Phil Bethards 

Isle of Palms

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