RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Richland County Council appears to have reversed course on a plan for a citizens-only watchdog committee for the new transportation sales tax.
Two council members will be given non-voting seats on the committee. They have not been named yet.
In the run-up to the Nov. 6 referendum, council told voters elected officials would not be eligible to serve on the 15-member citizen advisory committee, which would ensure the $1.07 billion was spent as promised.
Chairman Kelvin Washington said Thursday council wasnt going back on its word, because the two wont be voting members. Councilman Paul Livingston said theyll merely serve as a direct line of communication to council.
The citizen committee is supposed to advise council on which road, public transit and trail projects among hundreds identified should be done first. The council maintains final authority on decisions.
Still, Councilman Seth Rose said hes afraid having council members in the room will influence the groups work.
I want this to be a true citizens committee, Rose said. When something comes to us, I want to know its not tainted by council members.
And Ike McLeese, head of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which campaigned for the tax, said Thursday he was disappointed.
Its inconsistent with at least the spirit of the message prior to the referendum, McLeese said. But if theyre non-voting members, and they stick to their role as messengers and not influencers I guess it is what it is.
The advisory committee is scheduled for an orientation session next week.
Merchants start collecting the extra penny-on-the-dollar in May.
The Tuesday vote was 7-3, with Rose, Torrey Rush and Bill Malinowski opposed. Councilman Jim Manning was absent.
Washington also suggested the county consider adding the S.C. Department of Transportations district maintenance engineer to the committee. No decision was reached.
Livingston said council members hold liaison positions on several public boards and commissions.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.