With little fanfare, we have moved Summerville forward to meet some of the challenges of the next decade.
We have completed the Summerville Nexton interchange to help traffic circulation and we are extending Maple Street to steer traffic away from Main Street and to service the growing area around Knightsville.
We have put phase three of the Berlin G Myers Parkway back on track after years of delays.
We have completed a total renovation of the old Armory into a new community center, and we have completed the restoration of Hutchinson Square to its pride of place in the center of town.
During my time in office, I have been working hard to increase government transparency and participation by our citizens.
We have revamped our town website to include extensive and current information on what we are doing for you.
A new app for smart phones allows citizens to report all sorts of problems to the Town in a much more efficient manner.
We have live-streamed webcasts of our meetings so you do not have to leave home to know what is happening in Town Hall.
Meeting agenda packages and minutes are now available on-line for all meetings, and I would like to expand this feature to all boards and committees.
We have had numerous workshops to allow council to have more input to town staff. We have initiated a renewal of our zoning ordinances with the intention of improving residential and business interaction with our government.
I believe my role as mayor is to build consensus on the council and to present new ideas and projects for council’s consideration. I have voted with my colleagues 82 percent of the time on ordinances, resolutions and policy issues. Of course, there have been some differences with my council colleagues.
Disagreements have occurred over removal of the mayor’s traditional authority to appoint citizen committee members, the limiting of public comments at our meetings, and a censure of me for what other council members do far more frequently.
I am not proud of our budget, which I voted against each of the last two years because, as prepared by the Town Administrator, without council’s participation, it contained not only wasteful deficit spending but an unsustainable method of balancing the budget. Last year’s budget also included an unnecessary property tax increase. I voted against both. The council has also made several changes to the traditional role of the mayor’s office that I believe leaves the town without the necessary leadership to take on the challenges that rapid growth places upon us.
A healthy government is one where elected officials set policy and transmit it down to citizen committees and employees. When we hire new staff members, we should hire experts with the training, experience, and innovative ideas a town of our size deserves.
For the same reason, we need to recruit new members with fresh perspectives to our citizen committees. Ideas for the improvement of the town should be brought forward by council members and staff. We have got to become more proactive in our planning. Staff, council members, and citizens are now working to update our Comprehensive Plan that will provide a roadmap for the future.
This plan should be followed as the town grows and develops and should not be put on the shelf once it is adopted. The most stinging comment at our last budget meeting came from the town staff. The statement was that “forward thinking seems to be stymied by Council.” That may indeed be true. I have often said that council members need to bring ideas to the table for staff to work on. I believe that council and staff should work together to formulate plans for the future. We need to avoid ideas presented that may be good ideas for other places but not for Summerville. After all, it is the council member’s job to listen to the people and propose new ideas for Summerville. Not all council members share this philosophy.
Council must adopt a more forward thinking proactive approach to government or we will lose much that is precious about Summerville. Small town southern charm is a unique and precious commodity that is increasingly threatened throughout the South by excessive residential development.
Much remains to be accomplished. Summerville will see thousands of new homes surrounding it in the next few years. The only way we can keep up with traffic is by finishing our road projects like phase three of Berlin G. and Maple St. and by working with the counties to improve Parsons Road, Central Avenue, Orangeburg Road, and Highway 78. Regionally we need to prepare for the arrival of a new rapid transit link to Charleston by constructing a bus transfer station close to downtown and not out in Nexton as some proposed.
I would like to see us adopt an effective impact fee program that makes development pay for itself, instead of taxpayers having to subsidize infrastructure requirements left behind by developers. An adequate facilities ordinance will also help to slow growth and reduce additional taxation. We need to seek better cooperation among the three counties included in our town boundaries. We recently held our first joint council meeting with Dorchester County that promises closer planning and cooperation. We should improve our influence with our state delegation to insure we get back the sales tax money we send to Columbia and demand that the legislature adhere to the Home Rule law passed in the mid 1970s.
We need to take further steps to protect the best features of our Historic District including the Farmers Market, historic architecture, and landmark buildings. and its. Once we lose our small town charm, as so many other towns have realized to their great regret, you cannot recover them.
An essential part of this plan involves increasing pedestrian access, safety and circulation so that folks can enjoy strolling around our downtown without the worry of traffic and the perils of crossing major streets. Parking is and will continue to be a problem if the down town area is to continue to grow.
I am concerned that as we grow and develop we are removing tree cover, infilling wetlands and paving over soil that percolates stormwater. A regional flood mitigation plan that sets aside vulnerable wetland habitats to control future flooding caused by development would be a great insurance policy against future flooding. As part of this plan, we need to protect and grow a precious asset that blesses Summerville — the Ashley River corridor. We should work with Dorchester County to combine and connect our recreational facility along this corridor. We have world-class natural assets that few other towns or cities can offer.
Let’s protect and promote these assets. As an example, our Bend on the Ashley property is an ideal place to build a recreation center and restaurant on the river.
Summerville is ready for the next chapter in its 200-year history. The challenge it faces is the requirement for fresh leadership and ideas to “protect our past while planning for our future.”
Four Council seats will be on the November ballot, including mayor. I am optimistic that with citizen participation and guidance we can meet the challenge of shaping our future.