Standing-room-only chamber crowd causes another Summerville council split

VIDEO: Standing-room-only chamber crowd causes another Summerville council split

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - Another hot topic issue divides Summerville Town Council as they prepare to meet Wednesday night.

Recent decisions on the developments of the bear island intersection and determining Mayor Wiley Johnson's administrative powers have drawn standing-room-only crowds to recent meetings.

"It's been fiery. It's been going on a long time," Council member Christine Czarnik, representing district 2, said. "But that is the venue for folks to address their local government. So we need to make sure everyone is accommodated, and everyone who wants to address council has the opportunity to do that."

But officials say the support has caused some council members to worry about fire hazards. According to the council's agenda, the town finance committee will discuss "public safety concerns relating to occupancy of council chambers."

Councilman Aaron Brown says this could deter people from coming and believes other members are trying to save face. On the other hand, Councilman Bob Jackson says "the law is the law." He says if they're over their 190 person capacity, then there is no conversation.

Some locals say limiting how many people can attend meetings hampers the public's right to weigh in.

"I think when you give push back or suddenly say 'fire safety hazard' it makes people feel a little suspicious and like they're not part of the decision making process," Shayla Toliver, a Summerville resident, said.

Town rooms are now newly marked with capacity signs. On Wednesday night, town council will deliberate what to do with overflow crowds, one proposed solution being seating extra people in the downstairs training room to watch the meeting via live stream.

"If that's still not enough, we need to take a look at finding another place," Czarnik said. "We absolutely need to find a way to accommodate folks. We're absolutely going to be doing our business in public. It's not going to happen behind closed doors."

"It should be open to everyone," Toliver said. "If it's two people or 500 people, it shouldn't matter. They should accommodate those people because it is a public meeting."

Mayor Wiley Johnson said that council shouldn't restrict people from voicing their opinions, but fire safety can't be ignored either. The mayor says he'd like to see all council meeting streamed online so anyone can watch.

As for the fire department, Chief Warring isn't worried about politics. He says he is concerned about safety and will enforce the chamber's occupant capacity.

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