With the job of mayor and all 10 council seats up for election, the voters of North Charleston must decide if they are ready for a change. Since 1994, Mayor Keith Summey has guided the city, but perhaps no year has drawn more scrutiny to North Charleston than 2015. Allegations of police misconduct have continued to divide the community following the shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. For two of Summey's fellow candidates, John Singletary and Rev. Chris Collins, a change is needed when it comes to running the city.
"We've got some good police out there, and their reputations are being tarnished by the few that are bad. The present administration is unwilling to make the hard decisions to get rid of the bad cops," says John Singletary. "They cover up for them, and as a result, when it becomes public, the reputation of all of them suffer. We have to go back and we have to look at retraining not only the police department, but also the chief as well as the administration on what is acceptable and what is not."
Collins agrees that training for law enforcement must be insufficient in some way and he believes that officers should receive more guidance in serving the community while in the academy.
For Summey, poor training isn't the issue, even in the case of Michael Slager.
"If you looked at the film of the stop, the training was perfect. He did exactly what he was supposed to do," says Summey. "Something happened when the confrontation occurred that we haven't seen on video, and it really doesn't matter what it is. Nothing that happened would justify shooting someone in the back running away from you."
According to Summey, the city will focus on more community policing efforts that allow individual officers to focus on specific neighborhoods.
"We just got a grant for 15 new police officers that will do nothing but community policing. This will give us 22 officers assigned to individual neighborhoods, and they go through these neighborhoods developing friendships and relationships," says Summey.
In addition to perceived problems with officer training, Singletary says that the improper distribution of public resources has created a negative image for North Charleston and creates tension between residents and the city.
"It's not that the people in North Charleston are racist or discriminatory. It is the way that the city is administrating and administering the resources that are causing that to be the thing that people focus on," he says. "When we take a look at the city of North Charleston and a majority are getting fewer resources, it causes strife between the races. And that strife between the races is only because of the way that the resources are disproportionately managed."
When it comes to providing more public resources for the citizens of North Charleston, Collins calls for more funding to be devoted to community centers, public complexes, and senior citizen facilities, especially in the southern part of the city. As mayor, he also promises to provide higher wages for city employees.
"We have North Charleston city employees who have been working 15 years, and they're only making $13 an hour, $14 at the most," says Collins. "If a man is earning $13 an hour after 15 years, how is he going to purchase a home, a car payment, pay for his children's education, and save money for retirement? We enslave people with low-paying jobs in North Charleston."
After more than 20 years as mayor, Summey is confident in the city's economic strength, but his main focus will be continuing to attract more jobs to the area. According to Summey, the key to improving employment is creating respect for the community, which he says was a major problem for the city when he took office.
"I think the main thing is to continue to try to grow the economy. We just were notified that of all the cities in the country between 100,000 and 300,000, we ranked 10th in economic growth," he says of a recent WalletHub study comparing economic growth in mid-size U.S. cities.
In order to attract more workers and improve the quality of life in North Charleston, Summey is working to complete more public projects that are underway, such as two new senior facilities and a new fire station. The mayor says he has been pushing for a gas tax to go toward road improvements and is lobbying state legislators so that 75 percent of funds generated by the tax in any particular county remain in that county, while the other 25 percent is used to subsidize more rural counties and interstates.
While better roads and facilities are always welcome, Singletary and Collins both agree that the most important thing is that resources are distributed evenly throughout the community, especially after the massive flooding that devastated portions of the city.
According to Singletary, "We can't put all of the resources up on the north end of town and then expect when disaster happens the infrastructure is going to hold up."
Note: Candidate Clifford Smith did not return numerous emails and phone calls.