Citizenscriticize Rozier's funding : Group questions campaign donations fromdevelopers. ByChris Dixon And Yvonne M. Wenger
Edition:FINAL, Section: LOCAL & STATE, Page B1
MONCKSCORNER—Readers of The Berkeley Independent newspaper weresurprised Dec. 7 to find a half-page advertisement headlined"Berkeley County For Sale, Call: James H. Rozier, Sales Agent." Paidfor by a group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Berkeley County,the advertisement documented $21,900 in campaign donations to Rozierfrom December 2004 to September 2005.
The ad went on toaccuse Rozier and Berkeley County Council of being beholden todevelopers who would benefit from new residential growth. Rozier, thetop elected official in the county since 1991, didn't deny he hadreceived the money. In fact, he said he had raised more than $60,000for his next bid for supervisor in June. But he and other councilmembers strongly rebutted any suggestion of influence.
In a review ofRozier's campaign donations during the time period specified in thead, The Post and Courier found that most of the donations to Rozier'scampaign fund had indeed come from individuals and companies withdevelopment interests in Berkeley County. State Ethics CommissionDirector Herb Hayden said that while the donations seemed unusual,they didn't appear illegal.
The largest shareof Rozier's campaign donations came from the family of Ben M.Gramling III of Charleston, the developer of Cane Bay, a 5,000-homesubdivision under construction in Berkeley. From December 2004 toSeptember 2005, 11 Gramling family members or their corporations gaveRozier their legal limit of $1,000 apiece, or nearly half of Rozier's$21,900 total for the period. His additional funds will be reportedon the next quarter's campaign disclosure forms. Early in 2005,Berkeley County began the rezoning process for the Cane Baydevelopment on a 2,000-acre tract close to Carnes Crossroads. InMarch, council gave final approval for the zoning.
As countysupervisor, Rozier votes only in the case of a tie in County Councildecisions, something he has only done eight times in his career. Hedid not vote on development plans for Cane Bay or The Parks ofBerkeley, a 13,000-home development approved by council on Mondaynight. The advertisement in The Berkeley Independent was sparkedafter the Concerned Citizens of Berkeley County requested that theParks decision be postponed, but council went forward with the vote.The ad named council members, gave out their phone numbers and asked,"Is it time for Jim Rozier to resign?"
Rozier stronglydefended his work for the county and called the advertisers "veryvile people." On Monday, prior to the Parks of Berkeley vote, Rozierand council members Judi Spooner and Dennis Fish swore on a Biblethat they were not beholden to developers. "I don't understand thevenom that you spew out," Fish said at the meeting in reply tocriticisms by New Hope resident Elvin Standrich. "I also resent theimplication that my vote could be bought. In the three years I'vebeen on council, not once did Mr. Rozier ask me to vote in aparticular way."
Rozier alsorebutted the claim.
"This issue ofCounty Council members being in my pocket," he said, "is absolutelyridiculous and an absolute insult to those council members."
Other developers,including Ben Marino of Charleston and his LLC called CDM and anassociated group called Carolina Park LLC, also gave Rozier $3,000total while at least three other North and South Carolina donorsassociated with The Parks of Berkeley gave Rozier's campaign lesserdonations totaling at least $1,000.
Although thefiling period for supervisor candidates does not open until March,both Rozier and Bill Fennell, a former Berkeley County municipaljudge, have announced their candidacies for next June's supervisorrace. Fennell, who is making his third run at the seat, has onlyreported $1,500 in campaign contributions since August of 2005.
Fennell said hesent about 2,000 letters out to residents, friends and BerkeleyCounty-based businesses, including developers and real estate agents.While he would accept contributions from local developers, Fennellsaid, he would not accept contributions from developers or realestate professionals from outside of the Berkeley County community.
While Rozier saidthat he couldn't comment on how his campaign contributions would beperceived, he cited his 15 years on the council and his ability toget things done as the main reason for his financial support. "Let metell you why I think I get contributions from developers and fromother people," he said. "If you ask for a meeting with Jim Rozier,you get the meeting. If you call and I'm not there, you get a returnphone call. What developers tell me is that I'm accessible to answertheir questions. Even if I say 'no,' at least they get an answer."
Of the Gramlingdonations, Rozier said, "Before I took the contributions I said, 'Youneed to hear something. Understand one thing; there may be a timewhen I still say no to you.' He said, 'You think I'm trying to stealyour vote?' I said, 'No, but I need to clear the air on that just tobe sure we understand each other.'"
For his part, BenGramling said the kind of money his family had donated was "peanuts"and had been given to support an ethical and well-run council underRozier's guidance. "Berkeley County has been one of the mostsuccessful and best run counties in the daggone state," he said.
Gramling wasequally candid on the subject of Rozier. "It wouldn't matter if yougave him $5 million, he is still going to do what is best forBerkeley County. Jim Rozier is the kind of man you can't buy,period."
Hayden of theState Ethics Commission called the Rozier donations unusual, but saidthat such multiple contributions were sometimes seen among wealthyfamilies. What would be illegal, he said, would be a situation inwhich a family member made a donation to a politician through hiscorporation, and then also took money from that corporation to make apersonal contribution. Similarly, a parent could not legally givemoney to a politician and then give money to a child who turned thatmoney into a donation to the same politician.
"To prove thathappened," he said, "would be very difficult to do, but those are therestrictions in the law."
Elvin Standrich,whose address appeared on the newspaper advertisement without hisname, and his New Hope neighbors stood by their claims. He pointedout that one of the $1,000 Gramling donations had come from BenGramling IV, an 18-year-old student. It didn't matter, he said,whether the donations were technically legal, "the only question is,'Is it ethical?'"
The New Hopegroup also heaped criticism on Rozier after Berkeley County Councilremoved its own planning commission from the decision-making processon subdivision approvals in November 2004.
"I go back to theold adage," Standrich said. "Power corrupts and absolute powercorrupts absolutely.'
Contact Chris Dixonat 745-5855 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Yvonne Wenger at745-5891 or ywenger@postand courier.com.