Sales Tax Transportation Board Expanded

Left to right, Byars and Chinnis.

County Councilman David Chinnis did his best Monday evening to derail a plan to add two members to the Dorchester County Sales Tax Transportation Authority, the body that oversees the road projects paid through the 1 percent sales tax, but couldn’t persuade council to his point of view.

Instead, council voted 4-3 to expand the membership to nine members from seven and approved the appointments of Randy Patrick and of former member Robby Robbins.

Chinnis argued against the change in the previous two meetings. Councilman Willie Davis has also opposed the change, saying it would dilute his representation on the authority and possibly eliminate it, should council vote against his appointee.

“To me as a minority, this reduces my voting strength,” he said.

Councilman Richard Rosebrock, who had voted in favor of the change at previous meetings, ultimately voted against it in the final reading. He said council shouldn’t change the composition to push the majority’s point of view every time there’s an appointment members don’t like.

“I don’t think it’s the right thing for us to do. It’s too political,” he said.

But other council members said the change was simply to add more people who could help serve the community. Councilman Jay Byars said he was disappointed the change was so divisive.

“This is nothing more than trying to put competent people on the board,” he said.

The bids for the Dorchester Road project recently came back $4 million over budget, he said. Projects have been delayed by permitting issues, he said, and construction costs have increased in the meantime. Extra eyes would provide additional oversight, he said.

After the meeting, he said the over-budget bids are a product of timing, not negligence. But with the three biggest projects ahead – Bacons Bridge Road, Dorchester Road and Berlin G. Myers Parkway – the authority will need all the oversight it can muster, he said.

Before the vote, several residents spoke against the change. They questioned why two new members were needed and whether the authority itself had asked for more hands.

“There’s been no justification provided why nine people are necessary,” said Harshad Vyas.

Councilman Bill Hearn said the speakers railing against “special interests” controlling council don’t seem to understand that they themselves are also a special interest.

He silenced the derisive laughter that followed that statement with a stern look.

“I’m used to the catcalls from these folks. It’s consistent,” he said.

Council Chairman Larry Hargett said he found it unfair that two council members had appointed people who weren’t residents of their districts, meaning two districts were unrepresented on the authority. Therefore, he said, he supported the change.

Before council approved the additional members, Chinnis proposed an amendment that would have expanded to nine members all the county boards and commissions, with the exception of the Planning Commission. That amendment failed, with only Chinnis voting in favor and Davis abstaining.

Chinnis then proposed an amendment that would have made the two new members of the authority ad hoc, non-voting members. Only Davis and Chinnis voted in favor.

Finally, the council approved the addition of two new members, with Davis, Chinnis and Rosebrock voting in opposition.

When it came time to appoint the new members, Councilman George Bailey proposed Randy Patrick, Chinnis proposed Jordan Bryngelson and Byars proposed Robby Robbins, who had served on the authority as the appointee of Chinnis’s predecessor until Chinnis exercised his appointment authority and appointed Jim McGraw.

Robbins was approved with five in favor, Davis abstaining and Rosebrock voting against.

Rosebrock said he couldn’t vote for new members because he didn’t think the addition of two people was a legitimate change.

Bryngelson received the vote only of Chinnis, with Rosebrock and Davis abstaining.

Patrick was then approved with four in favor, Chinnis voting against because he said he’d used his two “aye” votes and Rosebrock and Davis abstaining.