||Last Updated: Oct 16, 2013 - 9:31:09 AM
Imagine for a moment Daniel Island circa 1999.
There was no Publix, no Daniel Island School, no library, no Smythe Lake, no Governors Park, and no houses north of I-526. In fact, there were fewer than 200 homes on the island at the time and Tecklenburg’s, formerly located at the corner of River Landing and Island Park Drive, was the only place to buy grocery necessities and gas. But just three years into the island’s development, you could also find something else – a pocket of dissatisfaction with Berkeley County.
“We didn’t have any really good services,” recalled Bob Uhler, who is among the island’s first residents. “…Anything we had to get done with Berkeley County, we had to drive to Moncks Corner to do, which is about 40 minutes away.”
Local attorney Nancy Bloodgood, a former Daniel Island resident who now lives in a community off Clements Ferry Road, wondered if the island could be better served by Charleston County. She took the idea to the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) and was invited to head an effort to investigate the pros and cons of annexation.
“In the beginning, there was a lot of interest,” she told The Daniel Island News in a 2006 interview. “But there was really only a small group of people supporting the idea of secession.”
Uhler was one of them. He joined one of Bloodgood’s committees to explore EMS services in both counties. Other committees were tasked with comparing taxes, schools, and library services.
“Education was one of the deciding points,” Uhler said in a 2006 article. “I had heard lots of complaints about the Berkeley County schools. People were saying that transportation was the problem. Then I heard stories from people who were happy with the schools. It was pretty much split.”
In 1999, Daniel Island students attended Hanahan Elementary School, Hanahan Middle School and Hanahan High School. Resident Lisa Potts, the mother of two young children at the time, was interested in exploring Mount Pleasant schools because her family “felt more socially connected” to the town across the Wando.
“It would have saved us a lot of money not to have to drive to Hanahan,” she told The Daniel Island News. “And Hanahan didn’t really feel like our school.”
But as Bloodgood, Uhler and others exploring annexation soon discovered, not everyone was in favor of the idea.
“I did not support it back then,” said Codner’s Ferry resident Mac McBride, former three-term president of DINA. “…It just sort of came out of the blue and got blown up.”
According to McBride, the 1999 effort was “poorly conceived and poorly done,” because the process was not conducted per the requirements set forth by the South Carolina annexation law.
“There was never a petition,” he added. “(It was just) a loose rambling thing that caused a lot of dissention on the island…It didn’t really gain any sound footing.”
But Bloodgood and Uhler were hopeful that Daniel Island residents would at least consider the idea. They invited members of county councils and school boards from both counties to come and conduct presentations for residents. Charleston County and City of Charleston officials reportedly elected to declare their neutrality on the issue and let the people decide. But Berkeley County came out in full force to demonstrate its affinity for the island.
“I put on a show that Barnum and Bailey would have liked,” said former Berkeley County Supervisor, Jim Rozier, who led the charge to keep Daniel Island in 1999.
Rozier brought his entire council to the island and pitched the benefits of remaining in the county, as well as the history of the area and its future. Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Chester Floyd also wowed the crowd with an impressive power point presentation that emphasized the district’s achievements, and its plan to build a new public school on the island.
“We were trying to let folks know it was an unwavering commitment that, as soon as we could find a way to fund it, there would be a school on Daniel Island,” Floyd told The Daniel Island News in 2006. “I hope they had a grasp of the sincerity of the administration and the board, and I’m happy to be able to say we followed through.”
The former Mayor of Mount Pleasant, Cheryl Wood Flowers, was also invited to speak with residents as part of the annexation discussion. She told Daniel Islanders that public schools in Mount Pleasant were already overcrowded and expressed uncertainty about where Daniel Island students would attend school if the island merged with Charleston County. In the end, the collective presentations convinced island residents that Daniel Island should remain in Berkeley County. In a DINA straw poll, residents voted 124-27 to end the annexation attempt and a petition was never initiated. Uhler was disappointed that he and other committee members were never given an opportunity to present the facts they had collected comparing county services. He also expressed dismay at the way things were handled.
“Some who were in opposition really didn’t want it to go forward,” Uhler said recently. “…We didn’t have very many people, maybe 10 or 15, that were very vocal. And they accused people on the committees of trying to railroad the thing through, which was not the case at all. We were just trying to find out what the better county was…and we were never given a chance to give our presentation.”
“(Annexation) would have been very easy back then because there were so few of us,” added Bloodgood, who supports the idea of Daniel Island and the Clements Ferry Road corridor joining Charleston County. “But it was quashed by Berkeley County.”
Fast forward 14 years. The idea of switching counties has surfaced again. Only this time, the island is comprised of some 9,000 residents and 3,506 households (including single family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and apartments). Today, residents are asking the same questions, but going about the process differently.
McBride suggested in 2006 that the island secede from Berkeley County and join with Mount Pleasant to form a new “Wando County,” but the idea never got any traction. He is now in full support of the current Charleston County annexation process underway on the island. By law, approximately 10 percent of registered voters must sign a petition in support of a merger to begin exploring the idea. A successful petition (which has already been achieved on Daniel Island with more than 650 signatures) initiates the appointment of an annexation commission by Governor Nikki Haley to study the pros and cons in detail. Residents will then have an opportunity to cast their vote on annexation.
“I like what we’re doing now,” said McBride, who believes Berkeley County has been somewhat unresponsive to the island’s needs over the years. “Gather all the facts, lay them out, and people can digest the facts and make an informed decision. I’m very happy to see this one progressing…Either way, we are going to move to Charleston County or we’re going to stop talking about this at cocktail parties forever.”
McBride said he is especially interested in hearing how Charleston County may be able to enhance the island’s parks and recreation offerings. He also likes the fact that property taxes may be lower in Charleston County, and the distance to county services much closer than Moncks Corner.
But at least one person who believes strongly that Daniel Island should stay in its home county is Rozier.
“I think the people of Daniel Island, rather than jumping on the bandwagon on annexation, (they should be) jumping on the bandwagon of dealing with their county officials and forcing them to talk with them,” he said recently. “They should encourage their elected officials to do that…Not just because of the money…I think they are an intricate part of our county and bring a wonderful network of people to Berkeley County and the City of Charleston.”
Last month, current Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis told The Daniel Island News that he was taking a “wait and see” approach to the island’s annexation initiative, adding that if the island does vote to secede, “so be it.”
“That’s a very foolish attitude,” said Rozier, of Davis’ comments. “…If he doesn’t understand the quality of people he has on Daniel Island, the importance of Daniel Island to Berkeley County, then he hasn’t been paying attention.”
When contacted last week, Davis said he never meant to imply that he wasn’t concerned about residents’ interests on Daniel Island and added that he has yet to be contacted by individuals or organizations on the island concerning possible annexation. He further stated that he joined the Daniel Island Rotary in 2007, shortly after taking office, “with the intention to bridge the perceived divide between Berkeley County and the island.”
“Be assured that Daniel Island and its residents are very important to me and Berkeley County,” he said, in an email response. “As their County Supervisor, I am available anytime to discuss their concerns.”
ANNEXATION PETITION SIGNATURES ACQUIRED, NOW WHAT?
The Daniel Island Neighborhood Association (DINA) has obtained the required number of signatures on a petition to initiate a process to explore the impacts of a possible annexation of the island into Charleston County. But the organization has yet to file the petition with Governor Nikki Haley’s office.
Through their signatures, some 750 registered Daniel Island voters out of 5,000 have expressed their initial support of annexation, representing well more than the required 10 percent to jumpstart the process. DINA President Dave Williams indicated two weeks ago that the association would wait until after a planned Berkeley County School District session on area school site selections, held on September 30, before moving forward with the petition.
The issue of annexation has become closely linked with discussions on where a planned new school to serve the Daniel Island and Cainhoy areas will be built. On one side are those who favor keeping grades K-8 on Daniel Island, and building a new facility here to alleviate overcrowding at Daniel Island School, and on the other are those who argue a school equidistant from the two communities in the Clements Ferry Road area makes the most sense.
“The annexation petition…kind of got kicked off by you guys,” stated Williams, while addressing Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson at the September 30 community meeting. “We’ve had issues that have been going on for a while. But part of that, one of the reasons this became front and center, was because of this movement to break up the school…I think anything we build, it doesn’t matter where the brick and mortar is, it’s the parents that are involved in that school that make it a great school and you’re threatening to break up the parents and the community here….That’s what we’re really fighting for.”
Williams wrote in an email to DINA members and the community that they would “evaluate their position on annexation” following the September 30 meeting. A DINA meeting is planned for Daniel Island residents on October 15 at 7 pm at Pierce Park Pavilion to discuss the matter and determine next steps.
“I think we all need to take stock in our current position and understand exactly what got us here before we can move forward,” Williams said. “People forget that we need a 67 percent majority to switch counties in an election, and we won’t get that if people feel rushed or misled. At the same time, there are approximately 750 registered voters who think we have raised some very valid questions and are curious to the answers…I think it is important that we continue to push forward, but at the same time do so in a very transparent and deliberate way so that our residents feel involved in the process.”
Based on the South Carolina law (SC 4-5-120), the procedure for annexing part of a county into another begins with presenting a petition in writing to the Governor, as well as the depositing with the Charleston County Clerk of Court an amount of money sufficient to cover the expenses of surveys and plats, annexation commission fees, and the election to determine whether or not the annexation is approved. Lawyers representing DINA and the Daniel Island Property Owners Association announced at a September 12 meeting on annexation that costs could range from $25,000 to $100,000. To date, no funds have been deposited towards this effort, stated Williams.
If and when the process is initiated, the Governor will have 30 days to appoint a commission of four persons, two from Daniel Island proper and two from Berkeley County. According to Governor Haley’s spokesperson Doug Mayer, no candidates for the commission are vetted until the Governor’s office receives an official notice of the petition. When appointing candidates, the Governor takes a variety of factors under consideration. Many recommendations come from local legislative delegations, added Mayer. Community leaders wishing to nominate themselves can do so by contacting the Governor’s Director of Boards and Commissions, John Carroll, at email@example.com. After the Governor nominates candidates, they will be subject to background and credit checks.