Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston on a former North Charleston police officer sentenced to prison for the shooting death a black man:
Justice was not swift, but it has been served.
On Dec. 8, U.S. District Judge David Norton sentenced former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager to 20 years in prison for the shooting death of Walter Scott, bringing to an end a painful chapter in the city’s history.
Mr. Norton’s decision came on the third day of testimony in a sentencing hearing after Mr. Slager pled guilty in May to federal civil rights charges. Mr. Slager shot Mr. Scott in the back five times in April 2015 as Mr. Scott was running away from police following a routine traffic stop.
Judge Norton had a wide range of sentencing options: Mr. Slager could have received a life sentence or he could have been set free.
It is frustrating that the case could not have been resolved in a state trial, which ended with a hung jury in December. Consequently, Mr. Slager, who is white, was sentenced under a federal civil rights violation of using excessive force to deprive Mr. Scott, a black man, of his rights under the law.
The underlying charge was second-degree murder, according to Judge Norton. The federal prison system does not have parole, meaning that Mr. Slager will have to serve his entire term, barring a successful appeal.
Mr. Slager’s guilty plea and his sentence mark milestones in the ongoing effort to bring greater accountability to police departments and address racial disparities in policing both here in the Lowcountry and nationwide.
It is a particularly critical moment for North Charleston.
The city still struggles with violence — this year has been its deadliest on record — and a strong and effective police department is as important as ever. But the work of keeping North Charleston residents safe will rightly proceed with supportive oversight from citizens who have stepped up to serve on a police review board.
Ever since cellphone video evidence surfaced revealing that Mr. Slager shot Mr. Scott in the back as he was fleeing, the North Charleston Police Department and city officials, including Mayor Keith Summey, acted commendably in condemning Mr. Slager’s actions and working to improve the city’s law enforcement.
The city’s swift and decisive action helped prevent the kind of unrest that has harmed other communities like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. North Charleston set an example that other cities dealing with officer-involved shootings would be wise to follow.
But most importantly, Mr. Slager’s sentencing offers a chance for the Scott family and the North Charleston community as a whole to finally find closure after more than two years of heartbreak and waiting.
“He will never see me play high school football, never see me graduate,” said Miles Scott, Mr. Scott’s youngest son, during the hearing. “My heart is destroyed because the way my father went was wrong.”
Mr. Scott’s mother, Judy, also recounted her painful final conversation with Mr. Scott over the phone at the beginning of his encounter with the police. She forgave Mr. Slager. So did Mr. Scott’s brother, Anthony.
Moving on after the loss of a loved one and neighbor is not easy, particularly under such tragic circumstances. And Mr. Slager’s years in prison will not undo the pain he has caused.
But Mr. Scott’s family and friends, along with the rest of the Charleston area, can go forward in recognition that, finally, justice has been served.
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on development impact fees:
Development impact fees have been used in many places, South Carolina being an exception, to help local governments keep pace with growing populations and their need for expanded infrastructure, including water and sewer lines and connections, roads, school buildings, parks and libraries.
South Carolina law allows such fees, but the S.C. Development Impact Fee Act is quite limiting. Only a handful of S.C. counties and municipalities collect impact fees. Horry County Council has directed the administration to develop recommendations on how the law might be made more workable. “It’s so limited and I believe it was kind of put together that way so we couldn’t use it,” Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said of the current law.
One can understand that point in the comments of Lawrence Langdale, legislative committee chairman for the Horry Georgetown Homebuilders Association, in a Dec. 3 report in The Sun News: “We wouldn’t support anything that would give them free rein in the use of those funds.” Langdale said the association generally supports impact fees under the current law, but he was skeptical about broadening the act. He correctly noted that ultimately homeowners pay developer impact fees.
The current law is so limiting that it does not allow impact fee revenue to pay for anything outside the development where the fees are applied. We understand that Carolina Forest homeowners would be rightly upset if money from their impact fees were used to widen a road in Little River. The current law is far more limiting. For example, impact fees cannot be used to expand a stormwater system that must handle increased volume from a new development. Or to expand access roads to a new development. A minimum capital investment of $100,000 is required, precluding purchase of a police cruiser.
Unincorporated Horry County has more than 53,000 single-family and multifamily residential units approved but not constructed. One huge development is on the former Bay Tree golf complex in Little River. Years after county approval and changes in ownership, preliminary work has been under way and residents are concerned about access to S.C. 9, U.S. 17 and S.C. 90.
At the other side of Little River, the Heather Glen golf course is closing and more housing is to be built on that property. These are only two examples of development that is projected to increase Horry County’s population to 423,000 in 2040, from 322,000 in 2016.
The 53,000 additional housing units in unincorporated Horry County do not include approved-but-not-built units in municipalities such as Aynor, Conway, Loris, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach. The City of Myrtle Beach collects impact fees for water and sanitary sewer connections and stormwater.
Horry County Council has taken a necessary initial step toward making the S.C. Development Impact Fee Act more workable. It’s evident that the 1999 law could be more flexible and we urge area legislators to include this issue in the 2018 session of the General Assembly.
The Index-Journal of Greenwood on a scholarship program for a two-year education at a technical college:
Some promising steps in the education arena are being taken in Abbeville County of late.
In case you missed out, Abbeville County leadership has determined that the Greenwood Promise education scholarship program is a good thing and worthy of pursuing in that county as well.
Under the initiative, students in the county will have an opportunity to get a scholarship to pay their way for a two-year education at Piedmont Technical College. That’s all students, regardless of where they attend school prior to heading off to college. They can be home-schooled and even schooled in private, charter and public school systems.
The Freshwater Coast Community Foundation is leading the charge to amass the funds necessary to ensure the scholarship money is available. Charter board member Lee Logan said the organization is tracking to raise enough dollars, $1.2 million, to begin dispensing scholarship money to 2018 high school graduates.
Perhaps of note is that one of the founders and current chairman of the funding foundation is Brad Evans, who is also chairman of the county’s school board. Evans obviously is keenly aware that what is of paramount concern is getting all of the county’s high school graduates a shot at a degree. He knows that many will benefit from a two-year degree from Piedmont Tech, including those who ultimately aspire to attend a four-year college or university because that degree becomes more affordable under the Promise plan. He is taking the 5,000-foot view, if you will, and not suggesting that only those who attend the public schools his board oversees are worthy of the scholarship funds.
It’s that kind of long-range view that helps build a stronger Abbeville County. We wish the Freshwater Coast Community Foundation much success as it endeavors to raise the necessary dollars to build and keep the Promise viable. And we hope Abbeville County students, and their parents, will see what a great opportunity lies ahead for the future of the county’s children.