FEATURE ‌ Round Three for District 7 

Bitter West Ashley election fight still not over

It's the battle that just won't seem to go away, Colleen Condon vs. Joey Douan, and it's gotten so intense that Charleston County Council Chairman Leon Stavrinakis is publicly calling Douan "incredibly selfish."

Earlier this year, the two were embroiled in two tough campaigns for the Dist. 7 County Council seat vacated by the late Barrett Lawrimore.

In the first election, Douan won, narrowly. But the courts, supplied with a list of citizens who were not allowed to vote in the election but should have, and a list of voters who did but weren't supposed to vote in Dist. 7, threw out the results and ordered a special election.

In that one, Condon won, and by a margin substantially higher than Douan's first win. Since taking office, Condon nominated Aubrey Alexander to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and Charlie Smith to the Planning Commission, and Council then voted them in.

But, in his short tenure on Council, Douan was able to nominate his own supporters to spots on the Planning Commission and the BZA, as well as to a host of other county commissions, councils, and boards.

There has long been a tradition on Council that each member gets to name "one of their men" to the Planning Commission and the BZA. And for an equally long time, there has been a "gentleman's agreement" that when a Councilmember leaves, or resigns, or is voted down, or passes away, all of their appointees go with them.

The fancy word for it is "coterminous."

But the Planning Commission and the BZA are different than the other boards and committees because a state law, created two years ago, protects nominees that are appointed by Council in a full vote.

State law requires that any nominee voted onto either one of those two bodies shall be allowed to complete their full four-year term. The thinking was that, since those two commissions make decisions that could have long-lasting effects on the community, stability was a goal worth codifying.

Last week, a local judge said he agreed with arguments that Samm McConnell, the brother of state Sen. President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell (R-Chas.) and the man Douan tapped for the BZA, should be returned to office for the duration of his four-year term.

In order to avoid an ugly public fight, Alexander agreed to step down and get out of McConnell's way.

In a related move, Paul Speights, Douan's man, showed up at a Planning Commission meeting last week to demand the removal of Charlie Smith, the man Condon nominated to the commission.

Speights claims to have received no response to a letter he sent to the commission a few weeks ago laying out his intentions to fight for his seat.

Neither McConnell nor Alexander could be reached for comment for this story.

Regardless of the legality of the situation, Condon, a local attorney, was clearly disappointed last week.

"I certainly think Mr. Speights will try to dismantle the ZLDR (Zoning and Land Development Regulations) once he's back on the Planning Commission," says Condon, referring to the county's comprehensive land use plan, which Douan has adamantly opposed.

"But the good news is that he's only one vote," says Condon, trying to make lemonade out of lemons.

Condon, who sees little problem with Judge Young's position and little reason to challenge any ruling in court, did allow that the issue will be brought up at the next County Council meeting.

Council Chair Stavrinakis will wait until he speaks again with Condon, a fellow Democrat, and "gets the pulse of Council" before deciding whether or not he'll push to appeal.

Stavrinakis may already know where his fellow Councilmembers stand on this issue, as they have all discussed it several times in closed-door executive sessions over the last few months, mindful of the McConnelllawsuit.

"Basically, I think Colleen is just tired of fighting Mr. Douan," Stavrinakis says. "Council has a recent history of wasting a lot of county resources on legal cases, and I don't know if we want to do that as the party in charge."

Clearly, Stavrinakis believes that this latest twist is the next round in the Dist. 7 fight. "And if we continue to challenge them in it, we may continue to play right into their hands."

Stavrinakis, who apparently has a dim view of Douan, describes Douan as a "unique" individual, who is being "incredibly selfish" by continuing to support the fight.

"The thing about them, is that I didn't appoint them," says Douan, trying to clear up what he fears is a commonly-held misconception. "I just nominated them, and then all of Council voted them in."

Douan laughs at the thought of Council challenging McConnell and Speights' return to public service. "I don't know, they may waste taxpayer money fighting that one."

Douan wishes all of his nominees could be returned to the seats they were forced to vacate when Condon was finally installed.

Speights has declined to name the lawyer he has contacted, claiming he does not want to "threaten" Council or further inflame the situation.

"But, let's face it, Ms. Condon used the letter of the law to obtain her position; I'm just trying to use the letter of the law to keep my position," says Speights.

Charlie Smith, who's lost two successive campaigns against state Rep. John Graham Altman III, was clearly disappointed he will probably have to give up his spot on the Planning Commission in the near future.

"We had all developed a wonderful rapport, and had gotten so much work accomplished since I got on," says Smith, a local realtor who once served in Miami municipal government as an urban planner.

Adding fuel to a growing fire, East Cooper Councilman Charles Wallace has announced he will resign from Council next month because he no longer lives in the area, having recently sold two pieces of property. A special election will have to be held in January to fill his spot.

Stavrinakis says it's ironic that Douan's crew is using state law to get around the coterminus gentleman's agreement that allowed them to get on the Planning Commission and the BZA in the first place. Both McConnell and Speights replaced seated officials nominated by the late Lawrimore, a longtime member and chair of Council.

"It just seems a little hypocritical to me," says Stavrinakis. "I didn't hear them feeling sorry for those people they replaced."

It galls Stavrinakis that Alexander was placed in the position that he had to agree to recuse himself until the matter was resolved because, ironically, he's a Republican executive committee member in the local party structure.

"Colleen went out of her way to appoint a Republican to the [BZA] to ease the transition, and Douan and his core group are so self-centered it doesn't seem to concern them that they are hurting a fellow Republican."


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