Apparent gesture rankles council members

  • Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Audience members attending future Berkeley County Council meetings may have to think twice about which finger to use when scratching their nose. Use the wrong finger and you might get asked to leave …
That’s what happened midway through council’s special budget meeting on July 24 when council member Ken Gunn jumped to his feet and called for security to remove an audience member from the council chambers for making an obscene gesture at council.
At the 55:03 mark of the July 24 council meeting Gunn interrupted budget discussion to stand and point at audience member Don Bailey seated in the front row. “Excuse me, Mr. Chairman?” Gunn said. “That gentleman here is making this gesture with his finger. He had it across his face and I find it unnecessary.”
Tim Callanan, seated next to Gunn, joined in: “Yes, Mr. Chairman, that man just gave me the middle finger right there. And I’m sick and tired of it. I’m going to ask that he be removed.”
“Go ahead and make your comments,” Supervisor Dan Davis said, dismissing the request to have Bailey escorted out of council chambers. “I can’t control what people do in the audience. I don’t see it.”
“He is still doing it right now,” Callanan protested.
Davis then asked Bailey to fold his hands in his lap so there would no longer be any issues about gestures being made. Bailey complied and folded his hands in his lap.
“There, that problem’s solved,” Dan Davis said.
Callanan objected. “I would like to have him escorted out,” Callanan said.
“No, this is my meeting Mr. Callanan,” Davis said. “He has done what I asked him to do. If he was giving you a gesture he’s no longer doing it.”
Bailey complied with the supervisor’s request to sit for the remainder of the meeting with his hands folded in his lap. Bailey is a longtime critic of Callanan’s, and the two have feuded online for the past several years.
Bailey denied making any gestures directed at either Gunn or Callanan.
“I scratched my lip, that’s all,” he said. “If members of county council are going to take offense at members of the audience scratching their lip or nose during a meeting, they’ll be asking everybody to leave.”
The interaction came on a night when council failed to come to an agreement on the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget, and approved a second continuing resolution to extend the current year’s budget through to the end of August so the county can continue doing business as of midnight on Aug. 1.
The meeting, which lasted more than two-hours and included a 45-minute executive session, showed the standing room only crowd filled with county employees that council was nowhere near agreeing on a new budget.
The stalemate over actual expenditures versus budgeted funds requested prompted council member Caldwell Pinckney to apologize to those in attendance, an apology that drew applause from several attendees.
“First, I’d like to apologize to the public here tonight because it appears that we’re having problems staying fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Berkeley County,” Pinckney said. “That’s not the case, it just appears that way…
“After all, the employees of Berkeley County are actually the true servants of Berkeley County. They provide all the services to all our constituents of Berkeley County. If we do our due diligence and do our compensation study fully and be equitable to everybody we wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
Pinckney moved for the second continuing resolution through Aug. 31 “so that council may work together and return before the public with all our ‘I’s’ dotted and ‘T’s crossed.” 
County council now extends its budget problems up to 60 days into the new fiscal year. At issue besides what to do with the 29 percent taxpayer relief money and employee compensation is the proposed reopening of the Goose Creek satellite office.
County council faces a hard deadline of Aug. 31 to approve a new budget as the county tax bills must be mailed by then.
Council meets again to discuss the proposed budget on Aug. 12.

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