They can't all be thrillers.
Sometimes the debate at a Charleston City Council meeting can get contentious, as when councilmembers and members of the general public got up in arms about exceptions to the city's indoor smoking ban in February. Sometimes the discussion turns technical, as when veterinarians, a professor, and the city's IT specialist weighed in on the placement of thermometers to monitor carriage horses' working conditions in July. But on other nights, like Tuesday night, a City Council meeting can be quick and effortless.
The highlight of the evening was the first order of business, in which Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. declared April 10, 2012, Marguerite Michel Day. Michel, who celebrated her 101st birthday on Tuesday, walked to the front of the historic wood-paneled chamber arm in arm with about a dozen members of her family and her church, Mother Emanuel AME. Riley told the story of her life in about five minutes, his voice echoing off the walls as he spoke into a wireless clip-on microphone: her birth on Radcliffe Street, her career as a school lunchroom manager, her involvement in the lives of seven children and 17 great-great grandchildren, and, just last year, her broken hip that didn't keep her from attending Sunday church services at Mother Emanuel. Michel accepted a key to the city from Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, thanked her family and friends, and then led everyone who would join her in singing two verses of "Thank You Lord."
During the citizen participation period, a few of the regulars stood to speak on their pet topics. One man spoke about defending second-amendment rights and explained Adam Smith's 1776 economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Another speaker urged pastors to spend more time on the sidewalks talking to young men and steering them away from lives of crime. Robert Jenkins, a street peddler, faced City Council in his custom-designed orange-flame shirt and top hat and expounded on the virtues of making products in the United States. Near the end of his speech, he unfurled a fleece blanket on which he had printed photos he had taken around Charleston.
Jenkins says he comes to the meetings as often as he can. "It's an opportunity for free speech and to get my message across about economic empowerment and economic justice," he explained in the lobby afterward. He said too many of the items sold to tourists in Charleston are made overseas.
"I went to the Visitors' Center, and I went to the Market, and the majority of these goods are made in China," he said. "My grandfather was a business owner. My cousin and my neighbors were business owners. Now my neighbors are drug dealers; my neighbors are prostitutes. Those things could be alleviated if there were more economic opportunities and more entrepreneurial opportunities for the citizens of Charleston."
When it came time to approve the committee reports and the bills up for second reading, Council did so unanimously and without discussion. All of the bills were zoning amendments, some to allow single-family home construction, some to annex properties on James Island into the City of Charleston. They had been discussed beforehand. There were no new bills up for a first reading, and so, after just 45 minutes, Riley called the meeting to an end.