I’ve never been a fan of Jim Manning’s short career as a Richland County councilman. In fact, on the day after the 2008 election, I saw Manning’s election as the biggest disappointment of the night. At the time, I was mostly upset that Manning had replaced an excellent incumbent, despite offering no good reasons as to why he would do a better job.It was a monument to party line voting over merit, the starkest that I saw in the 2008 election.
Mr. Manning is a nice, friendly guy, and I’ve only had pleasant interactions with him. But little that he has done since Election Night has caused me to feel better about his election.
Friday, Warren Bolton had a good column on the subject, inspired most immediately by a shocking action by Richland County Council in June:
IT SHOULDN’T come as a shock that Richland County Councilman Jim Manning insisted on raising property taxes in Richland 2 to the maximum allowed under state law against the school board’s wishes.
It’s the kind of thing for which he’s become known. While Mr. Manning characterizes himself as one who’s willing to make bold proposals and stand by them, at times his efforts are misguided, lack sound judgment and trample the tenets of good stewardship and sound policy making…
Mr. Manning utterly failed to justify his action. It was apparently based in vague notions that more should be spent on education (without regard to whether there is any sort of plan for spending it). Some of you — Doug, for instance — probably think I would do just what the councilman did. I wouldn’t. Oh, I might fight for the district’s request, if it seemed justified within the context in which it was presented. But I would never dream of saying, “Oh, here’s some more money you didn’t ask for.”
Of course, the really shocking thing here is that the council went along with him on it. We wouldn’t be talking about this at all if he had not. I don’t know all the dynamics of that; I haven’t spoken with the other council members and for some reason I don’t see the minutes of that meeting on the county website. Here are the minutes of the previous meeting, at which the matter was apparently discussed. They are a bit hard to follow. There were procedural votes that split along party lines, but in the end the vote was unanimous. Under such circumstances, I would have to have been there and heard what was said to fully understand the way it unfolded. But as Warren points out, with Mr. Manning, we have a pattern emerging:
This isn’t the first time Mr. Manning has left people scratching their heads.
He led a misguided effort to weaken the county’s smoking ban by allowing any establishment to operate “a portion of its workplace” as a “designated smoking area” if it is separate from the nonsmoking area and has its own outside entrance and a separate heating and air system; that would have required some employees to work in smoking areas. While the change was sold as an attempt to address concerns of a single bingo operator along Decker Boulevard in Mr. Manning’s district, it would have opened the door to all businesses, including bars and restaurants. The council wisely nixed the measure.
Prior to Mr. Manning taking office, County Council — worried about clutter, among other things — had banned new billboards in unincorporated areas. It later reaffirmed that stance by rebuffing attempts to expand the use of electronic billboards, which many worried would distract drivers. Once Mr. Manning joined the council, he teamed with Councilwoman Gwendolyn Kennedy to revive the electronic billboard issue and turn what once was a slim majority against them into a decided majority in favor….
Warren also cited Mr. Manning’s odd feud with County Administrator Milton Pope. He forgot one memorable incident, though — one I wrote about here, when he tried to get a high-stakes bingo on Decker Boulevard, before backing down in the face of strong community opposition (including from his own pastor).
Warren speculated that thanks to what the Council has done at Mr. Manning’s behest, “Even though it’s not at fault, Richland 2 could feel some backlash from the business community.” Oh, I think you can count on it. Since the Legislature in its “wisdom” relieved homeowners entirely from supporting school with their property taxes, the burden of supporting this whimsy falls heavily on business. And “business” in this case includes owners of rental property — which generally means rents going up for those who can’t afford to own a home.
“People have been reacting to me like that since I was in kindergarten,” he said.
I recently asked him what he meant by that.
“Kindergarten is the first time that I remember that I had to interact with an organized institution,” he said. “Ever since I’ve had to interact with organized institutions I have not toed the line.”
Set aside that he has been elected to represent real people in an organized institution. As Warren points out in the headline, this isn’t kindergarten. And nobody legitimately expects an elected official to “toe the line.” He’s there to use his best judgment in representing the people who elected him.
The key word there is “judgment.”
Warren’s column accompanied an editorial in which The State said:
Mr. Manning acknowledges that he didn’t scour the district’s budget and find holes that needed to be plugged or valuable programs that needed funding. He said district officials didn’t ask him to intervene. He also said he doesn’t care what the money is spent on; he just wants the district to have the money and is sure it will find something worthwhile to spend it on.
Richland 2 officials said they intend to spend the money forced upon them wisely, but they have gone to great pains to make it clear that they didn’t want the increased budget. Over the years, officials in the largest and fastest growing Midlands district have proven responsible and adept at handling their budget — and at asking for what’s needed to operate schools.
With the economy in the state it’s in and only businesses and automobiles being charged school operating taxes, District 2’s elected board — not unlike other conscientious elected officials — understands that keeping businesses open and people employed is crucial. So the board sought to balance the district’s needs with those of taxpaying constituents. But County Council, in its flawed wisdom and for no defensible or even clearly articulable reason, overruled the district.
A fool and other people’s money is soon parted.
By the way, I’m sorry this post isn’t clearer on how this completely unsupported proposal by Mr. Manning obtained majority support — which is key.
Unfortunately, neither the original news story, nor the editorial nor the column, provided any information on how they voted.
And when I tried to refer to the official record for that information, I got stymied. Here’s the problem: The news story said the meeting took place on June 2 (the story is dated “Friday, Jun. 03, 2011,” and it says the action took place on “Thursday.”). If you go to the council’s agendas and minutes page online, you don’t find any reference to a meeting on June 2.
You DO find minutes for a special called meeting on May 26, and then the next meeting is on June 7. I didn’t find anything about this subject in the June 7 minutes.
But the subject DOES come up on May 26. And I THINK that’s when the action officially happened, but exactly who voted for what is difficult to sort out precisely from the minutes. Apparently, you really had to be there.
The ball seems to get rolling at this point: “Mr. Manning moved, seconded by Mr. Jeter, to support public education by taking Richland County Districts One and Two to the funding cap allowable by the South Carolina Legislature.”
Then Val Hutchinson makes a substitute motion, which is voted down. Then the “main motion,” which I GUESS is Manning’s motion, is voted on and is successful, by a 6-5 vote. (FOR: Jackson, Jeter, Livingston, Manning, Kennedy, Washington. AGAINST: Pearce, Malinowski, Hutchinson, Dickerson, Rose)
Then I get confused: “Mr. Manning moved, seconded by Ms. Dickerson, to reconsider this item. The vote in favor was unanimous.”
So… does that mean they decided to make the 6-5 vote unanimous, or that they voted unanimously to reconsider it? The next paragraph goes on to a separate point.
This, by the way, is one reason why an editor sends a reporter to a meeting. Because the editor can ask the reporter to explain what happened, asking questions that help clarify the story. Some of the questions I would have asked the beat reporter back in my assigning editor days would have been, How many readings does such an action require? Was this the critical one? If not, when did it take place? And a bunch of others…
Ask Seth Rose at today’s Rotary….
The news story also says “The final budget package passed on a 10-1 voice vote, with Councilman Bill Malinowski opposed.”
I don’t see a vote on this subject in the May 26 minutes that shows Malinowski as the lone dissenter.
This argues for another meeting, probably a later one, at which this was voted on. Perhaps on June 2 — only the website has no minutes for that date.
Further evidence that there was an ongoing discussion, over more than one meeting, is this reference in the story: “But when it came District 2, Councilman Jim Manning had taken the position…”
Why “had taken” instead of “took?”
By the way, the story also says: “Manning was out of town but joined in by conference call.”
Whatever. Problem is, the only thing that seems clear is the position that Manning took, and that it passed. I don’t know when, or how… If somebody were paying me to spend the day calling everybody in order to reconstruct it, I would. But they’re not.
Yeah, I’ll ask Seth for his version — if I see him, and my brain is still functioning after hearing our governor address us…
When it comes to the government, what you read in the paper and in the official record is rarely the true story.
Admit it – you are just feeling threatened by Manning’s attempt to claim the title of Columbia’s Bowtie King. FYI, it looks better on you than on him. One word comes to mind when I look at his picture. Four letters. Starts with D.
Ha… a mullet and a bowtie.
The ghost of Alvin Greene.
That gentleman looks quite different.
can the school board simply return the money?