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vicupstate

10 priorities for Columbia for 2005

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These editorials are available online at www.thecolumbiastar.com or in their free print edition. The author is a bit of a gadfly, but he makes some good points.

Ten priorities for the City of Columbia for 2005

1. Get a full–time mayor

By John Temple Ligon

It’s the quality of leadership, not the form of government

Mayor Coble’s proposal

The Rotary lunchtime crowd at Seawell’s last Monday numbered a little over 300, a packed house. The speaker was Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, and the topic was the form of Columbia’s government. In last week’s issue of The Columbia Star the ten priorities for the City of Columbia for 2005 were listed. The first was to get a full–time mayor.

Coble began his speech with the same declaration he began his published op–ed defense of the first convention center headquarters Hilton: “Columbia is experiencing a great renaissance – the greatest in our history.”

The hotel

The hotel was set to cost twice what the market could possibly bear. The cost was as much the fault of government as it was the fault of the development team. The government side of the blame was due to public financing, all the reserves and the insurance required to back up the bonds. When the hotel deal died a natural death, and when developer Edens & Avant had the good sense to beg off, another request for proposals went out and a new Hilton came forward. This time the hotel costs what the market can bear, and this time the hotel is being developed with profitability projected.

If Coble had his strong–mayor form of government, the first hotel deal could go through before legitimate objections gained an audience. Too late to stop the deal, the objections could be overridden by the mayor’s veto.

The bus system

Coble says the transfer of the bus system from SCANA took too long. In fact, SCANA took the city for a long ride with Coble in the front seat. When Coble ran for mayor in 1990, he endorsed the grass–roots efforts to improve the bus system. But once in office, he couldn’t get SCANA to improve service, and he couldn’t get city council to approve any cut–rate escapes by SCANA to get out of the bus business.

SCANA was stuck with the bus business because its forerunner lost to the city in the US Supreme Court in the early 30s. The city had SCANA where it wanted SCANA, but the city had no desire to impose its will. Based on a national survey, SCANA ran a bus system with about half the service of the rest of the country in comparable cities. Half the service couldn’t be what the US Supreme Court had in mind.

Coble and his law firm had too many dealings with SCANA, as did practically every other enterprise in town, so no one on council was ready to play hardball with SCANA. Hence, the bus transfer took too long, and the city got the short end of the stick. We still have about half the service found everywhere else.

If Coble had his strong–mayor form of government, the same bad bus transfer could go through sooner.

AirSouth

Air South was a disaster. Air South was backed by SCANA, The Other Paper , WIS–TV, NationsBank (now Bank of America), USC, and practically every other enterprise of substance in town to include Coble’s law firm.

Air South entered the air transportation market as the 177th attempt to start an airline since deregulation began in 1978. Out of the previous 176 attempts, one (America West) was still around, and it was climbing out of bankruptcy. On schedule, Air South went under and took $60 million in obligations with it.

If Coble had his strong-mayor form of government, Air South could go through probably just as fast. The business expertise in government and in the private sector would be the same. Air South would stiff the same employees, vendors, contractors, and suppliers out of the same $60 million.

Quality leadership

In the end, what really matters is the quality of the personalities we elect, not the form of government we operate. And what also matters is the quality of the private personalities who participate in the decisions with city government. The strong-mayor form of government is well worth investigation, particularly the part where the mayor is full-time.

A full–time mayor should have no conflict, no obligation to bring business to his firm. But we can’t blame our form of government for bad decisions. We have only ourselves to blame.

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Ten priorities for the City of Columbia for 2005 (This is from the website, and it looks incomplete)

2. Sell CanalSide at a profit, if at all possible

By John Temple Ligon

The city is selling CanalSide. What did CanalSide cost the city?

In this year’s first issue we listed ten priorities for the City of Columbia in 2005. Number one: Get a full–time mayor. Number two: Sell CanalSide at a profit, if at all possible.

Columbia bought the CCI property reportedly for almost $3.3 million in 1995. Acting as real estate developers our mayor and city council named the property CanalSide. CanalSide took untold tons of money to develop, and it was never developed. Recently the city received four proposals to buy CanalSide, and only the city knows the four prices offered.

The 18 acres of CanalSide should sell for whatever the market can bear, but unknown is how much the city has in it. Will the city ever get its money back? How much money are we talking about? Who is held accountable? Is there full accounting since the city bought the property?

Here is a letter sent to the city.

I worked for the Dept of Corrections when the sale of the property occurred. I thought the price was like $5million.

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I think the Star's primary use is as bird cage liner. Seriously, the main way the Star stays in business is by publishing public notices. It isn't a legitimate newspaper, IMHO.

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I think the Star's primary use is as bird cage liner. Seriously, the main way the Star stays in business is by publishing public notices. It isn't a legitimate newspaper, IMHO.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You're right about the paper and it's reporting. And there's no question about your point on the public notices. But these posts are editorials, someone's opinion, it's not reporting. If you ask me, he has some valid points. A lot of money has gone into the CCI site, and the site shouldn't be sold for a song. It's time for the city to my a return on it's considerable investment.

As for the Strong-mayor issue, I think I have already expressed my thoughts on that.

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Temple Ligon has a bit of a reputation in Columbia. I think the rep is that his elevator doesn't quite go all the way to the penthouse.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I mentioned that he was considered a gadfly. He does come up with some far-fetched ideas that often are not realistic. However, there tends to be a common thread to them (or at least the ones I have heard). He dreams big, and wants to do unique things rather than just the same old thing every other city has done. Columbia could use more of that. Greenville just did the Liberty bridge and Falls Park, which are unique. Charleston's waterfront park and aquarium were built on what had been eyesores and brownfields.

Columbia scored a home run with Sydney (now Findley) Park, but because of the construction difficulties, they seem less inclined to do that type of risky but unique project. Of course, while everyone enjoys the park now, few can remember the difficulties involved. In other words, it was political difficult but worth it.

I didn't like Ligon's proposal to build a convention center "bridge" over the Congaree for instance, but at least he was calling for a center to be built years before it actually was.

I agree he lacks credibility because of his often far-fetched ideas and his vocalness, but that doesn't mean everything he says is wrong. Even a broke clock is right twice a day. My philosophy is to look at both the merits of what someone says, and also to the speaker's motivations.

P.S. I have never met him personally and am only basing this on his public comments.

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I get the impression that guy is not a fan of Coble......

He has a good point though, as does vicupstate. Columbia is capable of great things, and to see things like switching control over buses cause such problems is something to be concerned with. The strong-mayor system seems good, but I would want to see more information on it first.

I would like to see something developed at Canalside that will rival Riverplace in Greenville. I see no reason why that can't happen.

----I think its called Finlay Park----

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When are the elections held to elect a new mayor. I'm 22 and I can't remember Columbia having another mayor besides Coble. He seems to be okay, but change is good sometimes.

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When are the elections held to elect a new mayor. I'm 22 and I can't remember Columbia having another mayor besides Coble. He seems to be okay, but change is good sometimes.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I think he was first elected in 1990.

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Ten priorities for the City of Columbia for 2005

No. 3: Reduce secrecy at city council

Round up the usual suspects: Air South, Convention Center Headquarters Hotel, and CanalSide

By John Temple Ligon

This priority is not really a solution because the problem is so difficult to identify which makes it even tougher to explain. Point being, such undefined secrecy inside city council brought us Air South, Hotel South, and what may end up being CanalSouth.

When city council moves on a big deal, there has to be secrecy in matters such as negotiating land acquisition and legal agreements, but there has to be input from outside people who are practiced. In other words, as Air South was being put together by council, no one on council knew the basic requirements in structuring a startup company, much less the airline business. An experienced hand in the airline business or even just a startup company consultant would have been a great help.

The convention center headquarters hotel is another case in point, albeit beaten to death in these pages already. No one on council had ever developed a hotel. Then again, neither had the council’s developer. No one on council had any idea how to predict profitability on a new hotel, but the development team told council what it wanted to hear. Mayor Coble, never one to open or run a restaurant, honestly believed the developer’s promised profits from the hotel restaurant/coffee shop would offset the losses upstairs.

CanalSide, a conversion and sale of the CCI property, is about to change hands. In this case council took too much input, but the process was still too much in–house. Maybe we should soon find out, but no one really knows how council let the professional fees disbursement get out of hand.

CanalSide has to be the most studied real estate in town, which sounds like a conscientious effort to produce something superior. All that was produced was invoice after invoice that had to be paid, and only now are we about to find out how much was paid altogether, ten years after council bought the property. Again, a little more openness might have saved us the embarrassment and some of the cost.

Next time, and there’s always a next time pending at city council, a little less secrecy and a little more input might save the city from cost overruns and excessive losses.

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