Thursday, March 21, 2013
The lawsuit brought forward by three Sullivan’s Island residents against the town concerning Sullivan’s Island Elementary School will proceed into the courts.
The Town of Sullivan’s Island asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit, but that request was denied. Mayor pro tem Mike Perkis admitted the town’s lawyers considered it a “long shot” to have it dismissed, but said it was worth a try.
A rebuilt Sullivan’s Island Elementary is scheduled to open the fall of 2014. The school, a $26.5 million project, will be 74,000 square feet. The lawsuit is seeking to accomplish a town vote on the school, because the size and design – about twice as big as the former building – have been controversial. A group against the proposed school obtained the necessary number of signatures on a petition for a referendum, but legal counsel representing the town, as well as outside counsel, determined the petition was defective.
“The victory in the court last week was massive,” said James Marianski of Sullivan’s Island a supporter of the plaintiff’s actions and an active member of the Islanders for a Smaller School.
Marianski said the concerned residents of Sullivan’s Island just want to exercise their legal right under South Carolina law. “It is incredible to me that the Mayor Pro Tem and other members of town council seeking elected office are asking us for our vote whilst simultaneously trying to deny us a vote. Why would anybody vote for someone who conspires to take away their most basic right to a vote?”
Will and Kathleen Post are two of the three people signed on to the suit. “We can’t believe that Mike Perkis is still saying that ‘only a few’ residents are against the current design of the school. Our petition for a referendum was signed by over 265 registered voters who live on Sullivan’s Island. He and the rest of town council chose to ignore our petition which was written, signed, and given to council before their vote to approve the lease with the Charleston Co. School Board for the school,” Kathleen told the Moultrie News.
“We were careful to adhere to all laws for our petition and Judge Dennis has agreed with us that we have a right to be heard. We want to have the referendum we legally requested to let the citizens vote privately, anonymously their opinions.”
Marianski pointed out that the S.C. Supreme Court addressed this exact issue in a 1992 case pertaining to the cross-island expressway on Hilton Head.
(The Supreme Court addressed the specific issue of who had the authority to determine the validity of properly initiated citizen petitions, ruling as follows:
We emphasize that these are findings which can be made pursuant to judicial inquiry only, and that a municipality has no power to pass on the validity of an initiated ordinance.
Town of Hilton Head Island v. Coalition of Expressway Opponents et. al., 415 S.E.2d 801, 806 (S.C. 1992)
“This appeared to be an attempt to prevent the lawsuit going forward,” he explained. “One has to ask oneself ‘was this an attempt to prevent damaging evidence or politically toxic information from being exposed to daylight during the discovery process?’
Kathleen said “our Mayor seems to be the only person who can see our points and council ignores him too. We are so proud that Carl Smith has the strength to continue his support for us against the enormous pressure from the rest of Council.”
She was quick to point out that opponents have never said they did not want a school.
“We only want a school that adheres to the laws that apply to every structure built on the island.”
She added that “Mike Perkis surprisingly commented in a different Moultrie News article that getting the petition thrown out was ‘always a long shot.’
Despite this belief, Town Council has publicly maintained that the petition was invalid and have spent thousands of taxpayer dollars defending their position.
“Who cannot call that mendacious? Mr. Perkis stated in his announcement for the race for Mayor that he believes the town places their trust in him. After the rancor involved in this issue, perhaps no one else can imagine working with such a political body as Sullivan’s Island Town Council.”