City Council votes to find new firm to audit Charleston Police Department

Folly Road Overlay Zone met with skepticism

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L-R: Council member James Lewis Jr., council member William Dudley Gregorie, Mayor John Tecklenburg, and council member Perry Waring await the start of Tuesday night's City Council meeting in Daniel Island. - ADAM MANNO
  • Adam Manno
  • L-R: Council member James Lewis Jr., council member William Dudley Gregorie, Mayor John Tecklenburg, and council member Perry Waring await the start of Tuesday night's City Council meeting in Daniel Island.
City Council voted in favor of an independent audit of the Charleston Police Department after more than a year of calls for the effort by activists and members of the African-American community.

Both the agenda and the room were packed at Tuesday night's meeting in Providence Baptist Church on Daniel Island.

During the public comment section, members of Showing Up for Racial Justice and the Charleston Area Justice Ministry spoke in favor of a new request for proposal.

As part of the vote, Mayor Tecklenberg announced his support for a "supercharged council" of council members and activists to review the scope of the police audit before a formal request for an independent firm is issued.

Such a scope had not been outlined before Novak Consulting was hired in February for a city-wide efficiency audit, which included a review of the police department. Activists quickly cited the firm's lack of experience with racial bias as a cause for concern.

Councilman Mike Seekings asked if the removal of the police audit from Novak Consulting's work plan would require adjusting the firm's $250,000 contract with the city. Mayor Tecklenberg said that was to be worked out in the budget workshop later that evening.

"Our contract only included estimates for the nine original items in her work plan," Tecklenburg said. "The one that was more estimative in nature was the police one, because we didn’t know [what sub-contractors] she might bring."

Council member Perry Waring applauded his council's change of heart. However, Waring pointed out that the original contract between the city and Novak Consulting already gave the city the power to unilaterally change the firm's responsibilities.

"I appreciate Ms. [Julia] Novak working with us, but the city had the strength in the contract," Waring said.

Audience members from the Charleston Area Justice Ministry stood up in solidarity with fellow members who spoke during the public comments section.

The room erupted into cheers and applause when the proposals, initially put forth by the Public Safety Committee on Monday, were passed unanimously. About a quarter of the night's attendees then shuffled out.

"It's been a long haul, but we are thankful and grateful for the outcome," said North Charleston resident and CAJM member Kartika Gibson. "We have to keep our foot to the pedal because we are still not complete, but where we've gotten so far has been excellent."

Waring compared the process of getting the city to agree to an independent audit to "the birthing process."

"Anyone who has had the privilege to go in with their wives — it is a strenuous process," he said.

City Council also discussed the proposed Folly Road Overlay Zone earlier in the evening. The zone is a project of the Town of James Island, Charleston County, and the City of Charleston.

The reworked ordinance would lower the number of residential units that can be built on commercial properties to eight per acre, or 12 per acre if affordable workforce housing is included. Most of the properties in the area have a current density of 26.4 units per acre.

Some council members and public speakers expressed concern about the overlay's possible effects on small businesses.

"The truth is that this overlay does not significantly change the impediments to development that would have existed previously, versus in the future," said city planning director Jacob Lindsey after the meeting.

Properties with fewer than eight dwelling units per acre, and commercial buildings under 3,000 square feet, are not currently reviewed by the Design and Review Board.

The plan will come up for a second reading at the next City Council meeting on Dec. 11.

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