Crickentree working toward Council votes

COLUMBIA – When a room full of Crickentree neighborhood residents appeared Tuesday night at Richland County Council to speak out against Texas investment company ECapital’s request to rezone the neighborhood’s golf course from TROS to medium density residential, several Council members pushed back, saying it was not the practice of Council to allow residents to speak twice on an item for which a public hearing would be held.

When sixteen residents were called forward to speak during citizen’s input on a section of the agenda allowing input that ‘Must Pertain to Richland County Matters Not on the Agenda,’ Councilwoman Gwen Kennedy, who represents the Rimer Pond Road area of Blythewood, leaned over to whisper to Chairman Paul Livingston who nodded in response.

Following the first speaker, House Representative for District 77 Kambrell Garvin, Council Vice Chair Dahli Meyers warned speakers that, “If you speak tonight, you will not be allowed to speak at the public hearing. You cannot speak twice [on a public hearing item].”

Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson, who represents the Crickentree neighborhood, quickly agreed.

“If you speak tonight, then when this item comes before us on the fourth Tuesday in April [for a public hearing], you will forfeit your opportunity to speak a second time,” Dickerson told the Crickentree neighbors.

Councilman Bill Malinowski, however, who does not represent the district, asked the parliamentarian to clarify the agenda item.

“It says, ‘Must pertain to Richland County matters not on the agenda,” Malinowski pointed out. “It doesn’t say, ‘…and not on something that in the future would require a public hearing.’ It says if it’s not on the agenda, so why can’t they speak tonight and again at the public hearing? This doesn’t prohibit them from speaking both times,” Malinowski said.

At that point, Dickerson switched her stand in favor of the residents, but called on the county attorney, Larry Smith to clarify the agenda language.

Smith avoided clarifying the language, instead stating what Council had done in the past.

“If they speak to an item that may not be on the agenda, but that does require a public hearing, you usually don’t allow them to speak twice,” Smith said.

Malinowski pushed back.

“That has been the practice but for the sake of the public, we need to clarify our wording a little better so when they see the agenda, they know their options,” Malinowski said.

Meyers then called on Crickentree resident Michael Koska to speak.

“I was advised by staff that we would be able to speak at all the meetings. We’re here. We should be allowed to speak [both times],” Koska said. “I’m begging you to let us speak.”

Meyers said he could speak but did not make it clear whether he could speak again at the public hearing. When Koska sought clarification, Livingston interrupted.

“Thank you for your input,” dismissing Koska who then sat down.

Malinowski interceded, making a motion to wave the rules, since the people, he said, were advised by a County staff person that they could speak at all the meetings.

“They took the time to come down here today. If they wish to come speak a second time, I ask that we allow them to speak tonight and again at the public hearing.

Councilman Jim Manning agreed.

“If the public walks in, looks at the agenda and reads that, they should be able to speak.”

After Malinowski’s motion was seconded, it passed with all voting for the measure except Kennedy, who did not vote, and the speakers were allowed to proceed.

In addition to neighborhood speakers that included former NBA player Xavier McDaniel, Garvin reminded Council that the zoning request for medium density would allow up to 900 homes on 183 acres.

“That would not fit within the character of the Crickentree neighborhood or the surrounding community,” Garvin said. “That would be detrimental to the community.”

A public hearing will be held in Council Chambers at 2020 Hampton Street in downtown Columbia on April 23 at 6 p.m. For information about the rezoning, call Michael Koska (803-719-1242) or Richland County Planning (803-576-2190).