The local messes are really piling up, feeding on each other, with no solutions in sight

There are several festering issues on the metro front that I have neglected to write about in the last few days, probably because of an old prejudice of mine: I don’t like to write about problems for which I can’t think of a good solution.

But at least I can take a moment to catalog the local snafus, and note the way I think they all add to a general lack of confidence in local government, even a feeling of hopelessness on the part of those who wish for something better in the Midlands.

Let’s start with a few points about the Richland County election commission — which, of course, is not a county board at all, since it derives its authority from state legislators who represent portions of the county (but who have rendered themselves powerless to guide the board), something that no doubt confuses folks from more sensible parts of the country, and still makes us South Carolinians, as used to it as we are, want to bang our heads against something. Some of the recent developments on this mess that keeps on giving:

  • The board chose one of its own to be the new interim director — which one wag on Facebook described as “Selph-serving.”
  • The firing of the theoretically permanent director, apparently for, among other things, firing employees he deemed incompetent.
  • The ex-director’s claim that he was warned not to fire an employee because said employee was the brother-in-law of Sen. Joel Lourie.
  • The ex-director’s claim that when he tried to hire a replacement for that employee, the board’s first question about his choice for the job was about the candidate’s race. He also said the board didn’t want to hire a black candidate for the position — which would be a twist on the perception among some in the county that the agency is a sort of black patronage mill.
  • The fact that Lillian McBride still has a job with this public body. Unless I missed some startling news.

OK, I’m running short of time. So instead of doing similar lists of developments on the other local problems, I’ll just list the other local problems:

  • The ongoing mess that is the Columbia Police Department. There will be no charges filed after the lengthy corruption investigation. There will also, apparently, be no answers as to what really happened among ranking cops to lead to the bizarre allegations to begin with.
  • The fact that the process to hire a new chief is sufficiently embroiled in discontent and multidirectional accusations that we hold out little hope of a new broom setting things right any time soon.
  • The possible cost to taxpayers resulting from city Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine’s handling of a federally funded loan.
  • The continuing fallout from Richland County Council’s mishandling of the awarding of a contract to manage the roadwork to be funded by the new penny tax. The council seems to have gone out of its way to maximize public distrust on an issue where public trust most needed to be courted and reinforced.
  • All the hoo-hah over Bull Street and the ball park, which… well, I’ve lost track of where all that is. I just know that something that should be about a big shot in the arm for the community seems to be leaving a bad taste in more and more local mouths.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. But this list will do for starters.

Any thoughts about a way out of this thicket?

27 thoughts on “The local messes are really piling up, feeding on each other, with no solutions in sight

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Just realized I didn’t get to backing up the part of the headline that says “feeding on each other.”

    The point I had meant to make was that it’s harder to solve any one problem, because of all the others. For instance, I was talking with a disillusioned former local officeholder last night who was bemoaning his loss of confidence in county council. Then we shifted to talking about the election commission, and I tried to hold out some hope that the proposal from Lourie and Courson to turn the election body over to the county could fix the problems, if it ever happened — which got me back to my interlocutor’s loss of confidence in the county…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Another point I meant to make… when suspicion of local government is this general, you tend to try to think of some other quarter from which leadership could come to set things right.

    Such as, say, business leadership. That makes the recent loss of Ike McLeese, who never hesitated to take on knotty public policy challenges, hurt even more right now. I can’t think offhand of who would step forward to fill that role right now, and be widely listened to…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, notice how I didn’t use the full, proper name of the county elections board? That’s because identifying the right name can be confusing.

    The law that created it refers to it as “Board of Elections and Voter Registration of Richland County.”

    Richland County refers to it as “the Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration.”

    The board itself has used “Richland County Voter Registration and Election Commission.”

    So call it what you like (and I’m sure you will); just don’t call it late for supper…

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    I have listened to one of the recorded phone calls–Eva Moore posted it on the Free Times site. Santiago sounds rather decent in it. There is normal cuss word use by him, but nothing you would not expect from a cop and former military guy.
    I have heard a much fuller accounting of the loan story from Tameika, and her side makes a lot of sense. She used the checklist provided by the lender and indeed, the only error was a failure to get the security agreement notarized. None of the many people reviewing the documentation found any issues with it, either. Other errors were made by people not supervised by Tameika. The totality of these mistakes is what created to issue in the bankruptcy action. The State’s reporting is inadequate.
    Dan Cook has an excellent editorial on the ballpark on the Free Times site, too. He basically is skeptical of the economic analysis and funding sources provided by the mayor’s camp, but thinks a ballpark/arena could work there. He wishes that taxpayers who are footing 80% of the bill had more say in what was being built than Hughes, who has spent very little, and that there may be better options than a ballpark. Daniel Rickenmann also wrote a great piece in The State where he questions all the jobs numbers being quoted.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I agreed with Daniel many times and worked for his last election, the one where Cameron and his minions introduced dirty politics…
        He is sensible.

  5. Mark Stewart

    Keeping things locally oriented, there is also the legislature’s efforts to excuse the school districts from making up the snow days as they are required to do by the law already made by the legislature. Depriving our children (our future) of their education is hardly the place for Senator Courson et al to offer up a feel good gimme.

    Of course, the school districts are not much better when they make the determination that when the temps are below 35 degrees or it’s drizzling a little that kids cannot go outside to have recess.

    The problem with South Carolina politics in general is that the only sort of leadership that is structurally tolerated is of the back room dealing kind… Is it any wonder that people across the spectrum are demoralized by the stasis?

    1. Doug Ross

      The students could miss 30 days and the outcome long-term would be miniscule if anything at all. School is overrated…too much wasted time spent trying to conform kids to a cookie cutter result.

      1. Mark Stewart

        That is the most defeatist of statements I have seen. Of course education matters. It is the bedrock issue across society. Wow!

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I don’t have Doug’s fatalistic attitude toward schools, but I, too, think the insistence on a particular, precise number of days spent in school each year is rather arbitrary and unnecessary. The idea that if kids don’t have exactly 180 days — or whatever the number is — in class that their education will suffer seems to me like straining at gnats.

        Maybe it’s because of all the school I missed as a kid — asthma, chronic bronchitis kept me out a lot — which didn’t really have much of an impact on my ability to learn the material offered. It just doesn’t seem that critical to me.

        If you cut the number of school days in half, I might be concerned. But dropping to 175 instead of 180 — it just doesn’t seem a big deal.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Then there is the symbolism of the gesture. Actions convey meaning. The exact number of days is not the primary point. Having the state say, nevermind, your education doesn’t really matter makes a statement to kids and to society as a whole that resonates far beyond some strict adherence to the letter of the (previously passed) law.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, Rep. Mia McLeod has ripped into what she terms the Old Guard yet again on the subject of the elections board. It’s written in her usual bombastic style, and includes one of more startling uses of hyperbole I’ve seen on the local scene lately:

    “He dropped a weapon of mass destruction on the Old Guard (“OG”) that was so explosive, only the skeletal remains of what was, are left in this on-going saga that continues to wreak havoc on the integrity of the County’s electoral process and Richland County voters. “

    No… I think there’s a bit more than “skeletal remains” left of the status quo… And that’s the problem.

    Anyway, you might enjoy reading her whole piece. Here’s the link.

    1. Silence

      I hope that Mr. Jackson has some good stuff to provide to SLED, and that it ever sees the light of day.

  7. Juan Caruso

    How many “kids” can read BradWarthen’s blog, MS?

    In my interpretation, Doug’s remark bemoans the statistically sorry state of education for average (and below) students.

    You inject an improbably nuanced stipulation of form over substance. Good, but hardly as good.

    Given SC’s ranking in high school graduation rates and graduate attainment, there is something very inefficient in what public education has cost taxpayers … at least over the last 30 years.

    Education should be apolitical. The quickest fix is probably consultation by educators in a country with stellar achievements. Finland would be an excellent start — not as a destination to send our incompetent
    educational superintendents, but as the source of best practice consultants to our lame leaders.

  8. Doug Ross

    Experience is the greatest teacher. Sitting in a classroom being forcefed a “curriculum” is mostly a waste of time. There are kids for whom 365 days of mandated education wouldn’t make a difference and other kids for whom 90 would be overkill.

    Think back to your own K-12 days. How many days could YOU have missed before it would have had a negative impact on your life? I didn’t attend school for half my senior year as we were in a voke school that allowed us to go to work instead. That half year at work was more influential on the rest of my life than any other time in school.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      The readers of this blog, and especially readers of these comments are quite likely well above average. Of course we could miss a few days. I do not believe this is the case for many of our students.
      The professor is planning on making up at least one of the two class days his classes missed, although the university does not require it. His upper level students need the time to learn the required material. Surely elementary kids struggling to learn to read or high school kids struggling with math can use five days….

    2. Mark Stewart

      Experience is the greatest teacher. One of those experiences is classroom education. It does matter. Of course other things matter as well, such as travel, social connections, affluence (spent wisely). But we can’t as a society provide those equitably. All we can do is provide an opportunity to achieve an education that is relevant to one’s needs – and the needs of our society.

      1. Steve Gordy

        If I recall correctly, there is a statement in Poor Richard’s Almanac to the effect that “Experience keeps a harsh school, but a fool will learn in no other.”

      2. Doug Ross

        How’s that opportunity working out here in South Carolina? Force feeding a curriculum to kids with little interest or aptitude for the subjects is like teaching a fish to ride a bicycle.

        Education works best when it fits the skills and interests of the student. Public education is about the curriculum and not the student.

  9. Ralph Hightower

    There’s something in the water in the Columbia Water System and Richland County that makes people stupid.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I’m what you might call a water man – that’s what I am. And I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there’s nothing wrong with my bodily fluids.

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