After 40 years, the City of Charleston will have a new mayor. Our much loved mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., is finally putting down his City Council gavel, leaving behind some pretty big Oxfords to fill.
The City Paper has joined forces with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com for a series of articles featuring the seven men and women who want to replace Joe: Ginny Deerin, William Dudley Gregorie, Toby Smith, Leon Stavrinakis, John Tecklenburg, Paul Tinkler, and Maurice Washington.
The good folks at these organizations, collectively representing a broad base of Charleston residents concerned with local culture, commerce, and livability, came up with a series of questions to ask the candidates, and the candidates kindly answered them. Each week, the City Paper will run one series of answers in print and an additional one online.
This series will culminate in a Sept. 30 forum put on by these organizations. They have invited all mayoral candidates to participate and share their vision for the future of the city in a fast-paced, concise presentation, followed by moderated discussion and audience Q&A. The forum will explore issues related to quality of life and quality of place. You can expect topics like the local economy, the city's growth, and affordability to all be on the agenda.
This forum is free and open to public. Please RSVP at YourCharleston.org. Or you can join the conversations on Twitter during the forum with #YourChs.
With the departure of Mayor Riley, this is a period of transition, change, and opportunity. What changes would you make to the organizational structure to ensure that Charleston remains, at a minimum, a beautiful, livable, and economically vibrant city?
The best predictor of the future is the past. And that's good news for the city's administration, if I am fortunate to become mayor. In the past, I've developed and grown a large and effective organization, WINGS for Kids, which is known for its top talent. I know how to recognize it, recruit it, and develop it. I have a bold leadership style and am able to build diverse coalitions.
Having worked with Mayor Riley for nearly four decades, I have strong knowledge of the staff of the city. The next mayor must retain the top talent in the city, quickly recruit new talent to replace those planning to retire, and identify personnel that are not meeting the needs of a high-performing organization. Leading at a time of transition can be difficult. My past experience with transition predicts that I will lead and manage the 2016 transition with excellence.
Our city has grown rapidly, so its organizational structure must be altered. In a Deerin administration, I would have fewer employees reporting directly to the mayor and would consider creating positions for two deputy mayors, one for planning and one for operations. Departments reporting directly to the mayor would include police, fire, and budget, finance, and revenue.
William Dudley Gregorie
I hesitate to respond to this question at this time for it may disrupt the delicate balance that currently exists in our city government. The transition of a 40-year institution, which created who we are, to one that we may want to be will require unique sets of management skills and experiences. Leadership that embraces who we are, and one that has been a part of the "vision," more than likely will have the best ability to complete it and chart the path for the next century.
To protect the Charleston Brand into the next century, a transition plan will be required. A transition team comprised of city staff, the business community, and, more importantly, our citizenry should participate in the development of the plan. The plan should have "stability" as its core value. Anything short of this may be chaotic and may have a negative impact on preservation, livability, growth, and economic prosperity locally, regionally, and globally. This plan must be Charleston's road map for preservation and sustainable urban development. While the choice of the members of the team will be solely at the discretion of new leadership, it would be wise to include, at a minimum, extensive citizen participation representing our neighborhoods. The plan must embrace regionalism, protect livability, and respect jurisdictional uniqueness.
The ability to complete the Riley Vision while implementing "change" will be a balancing act, and understanding its delicacy and completing it is most important in our evolution as a world-class treasure.
- Jonathan Boncek
During this time of transition I think it's extremely critical for everyone, near and far, to see that the city is working as she always has. Many won't say it out loud, but there is a palpable fear about what's going to happen after Mayor Riley leaves office; it's important for folks to see that everything is OK. Additionally, it's important for city staffers to have time to meet with the new mayor, get to know each other, and exchange ideas. This is a unique time of transition for them as well, many of whom, along with their families, have grown up with Mayor Riley. Some people will leave, and slots will need to be filled. I don't anticipate any wild swings to the left or right. Those first few months will be crucial in establishing that all is well at the helm.
For 40 years we have benefited from Mayor Riley's wisdom and vision. As he leaves office next year, we must identify the steps needed to move our city forward and maintain the quality of life Charlestonians expect and deserve.
As mayor, I will ensure that the Mayor's Office and the city's administrative staff are working from the same playbook and that the policies developed in the Mayor's Office are communicated to the staff who will implement those policies. As a result, the staff will be better prepared to serve our citizens, and the mayor will be accountable for all city operations. I will also review city departments to eliminate inefficiencies and encourage streamlined communication amongst staff, providing similar services with the goal of making it easier to do business with the city.
It is also just as important that the city effectively communicates with its citizens. My goal as mayor is to do a better job of connecting our city's government to the public it serves. For example, I will require department heads to have mandatory office hours open to the public so people in need of help can go directly to the top of each department. In doing so, department heads have a chance to hear directly from the citizens they serve. In addition, we will implement technology advances across all city departments to allow citizens quick, efficient access to every part of their city government using smart phones, computers, and other convenient options.
I plan to begin my administration with a year-long performance audit of city government, which will guide much of our work in this area. However, there are several things that I believe we can do without delay, including the consolidation of our City Ombudsman's Office and Neighborhood Services to create a new Citizens Service Desk that will report directly to me, and the use of technology to make our city government more responsive and more accountable to our citizens.
In addition, I will generally favor a much more collaborative, citizen-focused approach to city government. As a practical matter, what that means is that we will actively seek more opportunities to bring citizens and neighborhood associations into the governing and review processes and to more aggressively utilize existing vehicles for citizen participation, such as the Design Review Board and the Civic Design Center.
In fact, I believe that this kind of transparent, collaborative process with local residents is the key to solving any number of issues facing our city, from public safety to traffic congestion to West Ashley economic redevelopment and more — and I plan to make it a central organizing principle of my administration.
- Jonathan Boncek
I would restructure the executive department so that fewer people would report directly to the mayor. Also I would consolidate the process of permitting into one office. Like Mayor Riley, I would strive for excellence in all aspects of governing. However, I would give greater attention to the suburbs, which have been waiting patiently while the downtown area has been revitalized. I believe a common-sense approach to such a transition would allow for every neighborhood in Charleston to thrive for many years to come.
We have done a great job making Charleston a place where everyone wants to visit. Now is the time we focus our city government on serving the citizens of Charleston directly.
I will evaluate the current organizational structure with the goal of serving our citizens first. This can only be achieved with an organizational structure prioritized on providing core city services that our citizens rely on each day.
In addition, I will look for ways to improve efficiency within the city structure and ensure the citizens across all the various communities within our city are being served adequately.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Candidates responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers. Responses have been placed in alphabetical order.
Cover photo by William Brier