On Monday, for the fourth time in history, James Island became a town. S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond traveled from Columbia to present a certificate of incorporation, and dozens of James Islanders packed into the once and present James Island Town Hall to see it happen.
"Is the fourth time the charm?" Hammond asked by way of introduction, standing at a lectern once the applause had died down. The last three times James Island declared itself a town, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and the City of Charleston filed lawsuits alleging that James Island was not a geographic whole, and the S.C. Supreme Court ruled in Charleston's favor, dismantling the fledgling town each time. Meanwhile, Charleston has been annexing parts of the island, one piece of property at a time, into city limits. Often at City Council meetings, the council approves the annexation of dozens of residential and business properties, all owned by people who opted to join the city and receive its public services.
James Island IV is more compact than the previous iterations (see PDF map), in which parts of the proposed town were surrounded by land that was under the jurisdiction of the City of Charleston or Charleston County. Charleston has not filed a lawsuit challenging the incorporation yet, and supporters of James Island's independence say the smaller, more cohesive town footprint will be more likely to hold up in court. In April, voters there overwhelmingly supported incorporation.
Inez Brown Crouch, a member of the advocacy group Free James Island and commissioner for the James Island Public Service District, stuck around after the brief ceremony to have her picture taken with Hammond. "It's important because we can determine our own destination," Crouch said of the incorporation. "We don't have anybody else telling us what to do."
She added, "James Island is a unique little place. People here love the island, and they don't want development coming in and destroying the sanctity of the island."
Bill Woolsey, the last person to be elected mayor of James Island, confirmed that he would be running again for the office. He said one of the first orders of business for the new mayor and council will have to be to appoint a planning commission and board of zoning appeals. He also said he would push to hold annexation elections soon to add areas including Riverland Terrace, Woodland Shores, Sol Legare Road, Battery Island, and parts of Secessionville into the town.
Charleston's Mayor Riley has said that James Island will need its own police department if it is going to be its own town, but Woolsey said the Charleston County Sheriff's Office should be able to provide law-enforcement coverage. "Generally, people think that they already pay taxes to the county and they should continue to get the sheriff's office for those taxes," Woolsey said. Firefighting, trash pickup, and sewage in James Island will continue to be run by the James Island Public Service District, which is funded by property taxes.
An election will be held on July 31 to fill the mayor's office and four at-large council seats. A representative from the James Island Election Commission said Monday that two candidates had picked up the paperwork to run for an office so far.