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Community : Top Stories Last Updated: Jan 16, 2013 - 9:05:06 AM


Berkeley County Council transitions power, adopts new rules
By Elizabeth Bush
Jan 16, 2013 - 9:03:48 AM

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Daniel Island resident Tim Callanan had one top New Year’s resolution for starting his third term as a Berkeley County Councilman – to shift from a council that he described as an argumentative and often divisive governing body to one that is functional, deliberate, and more communicative to the constituents it serves. At the first 2013 council meeting, held on January 7, Callanan believes the newly reorganized council took steps to do just that, adopting in a 5-2 vote revamped governing rules.
“I think this session has a lot of potential and for the first time in a long time there is a willingness on council to get things done,” Callanan said.
Callanan worked to replace what he called “the hodgepodge of existing rules that govern council” by placing them into one document that eliminated overlaps and contradictions. The end result is a streamlined guidebook that he hopes will be easier for both councilmembers and the public to understand. One issue that Callanan said led to much “acrimony” on council over the last two years was the fact that not all councilmembers could vote on committees. The new rules change that.
“It’s time to reverse this action and go back to committees of the whole and give each member a right to sit and vote on every committee,” he added.
The other additions to the rule documents adopted at the meeting involve open government, a cause Callanan has been especially passionate about. Two years ago, at Callanan’s urging, the council voted to post salaries, expenditures, and meeting notices online, as well as to broadcast videos of meetings.
“Like it or not, much of the public does not trust government,” said Callanan, at the January 7 meeting.  “…And I can say after five years of serving on council that their misgivings do have some legitimate grounding. I believe that the best way to start restoring trust is by embracing policies that make us more open, accountable and accessible.”
Thanks to new rules adopted by council this year, meetings will now begin at 6:30 pm instead of 6 pm to increase attendance. For the first time, citizens will have an opportunity to address council on any issue of concern at the beginning of the meeting (previously, all public comments were to be made at the end of the meeting). Agenda items must also now include a written explanation that is “clear and unambiguous” so the public can understand what council is voting on that evening, added Callanan.
This is just the start, he said. There will be much more to come.
“I hope to take it even further. The goal is to make Berkeley County the highest rated county in the state in terms of openness and transparency. One thing that I know we will be looking at is FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) reform.”
Another difference to be noted on council this year is a clear shift of power. In years past, Callanan and fellow councilmembers Cathy Davis, Dennis Fish, and Phillip Farley often voted together on measures, while councilmembers Bob Call, Caldwell Pinckney, Jack Schurlknight and Steve Davis voted the opposite. The resulting split vote was typically broken by Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis, who often sided with Call and crew. Last year, Call lost his council seat after being defeated in a Republican Primary by newcomer Kenneth Gunn, who is expected to vote alongside Callanan.
 “It has been extremely difficult as we (Callanan, Cathy Davis, Dennis Fish and Phillip Farley) were essentially shut out of the process,” said Callanan. “I hope that we’ve proven that a strategy of working with the minimum number of councilmen to achieve the minimum number votes needed to get your agenda passed and ignoring the rest is a recipe for dysfunctional government.”
Callanan is hopeful the new majority will lead to some positive changes.
“I hope to work with the supervisor to implement some common sense ideas, for instance, reopening the Goose Creek satellite office, returning property tax rebate money back to the citizens, and expanding our open government initiatives.”
For information on the next Berkeley County Council meeting, visit the website www.berkeleycountysc.gov.
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