By Al Dozier

The Irmo Town Council Tuesday approved amendments to local ordinances designed to address decorum at council meetings that often involve heated arguments among council members and pointed attacks by citizens attending the meetings.

Council meetings often involve clashes between council members, most frequently between Mayor Hardy King and Councilman Barry Walker Sr., who is seeking the mayor’s office in November. There have also been heated comments from citizens, who at times become so boisterous they have to be approached by police officers.

The new rules of decorum approved by the council are based on Roberts Rules of Order, but are designed to simplify procedures and make the rules easy to follow.

The amendments specifically address what should not be allowed at council meetings, such as interruption of a speaker, failure to be recognized by presiding officer, name-calling, shouting, booing and clapping.

It also calls for a limitation of three minutes for citizen comments, which are often prolonged.

Walker blasted the proposal for its series of “nots” and accused the council of “creating a dictatorship” instead of promoting civil meetings.

Speaking out on issues is a “first amendment right” and should not be denied, he said. “We are not military.”

Councilman Julius Waites said the measure is “a step in the right direction.”

Councilman Mark Pouliot said the council meetings should be conducted as a business meeting and people should be allowed to come to meetings and address the council.

During the public comment session, Irmo resident Mike Ward said his recent observations of poorly conducted council meetings indicate the new rules won’t help.

“What we’ve seen gives me no hope for their being followed,” he said of the proposed rules.

In other action, the council gave third and final reading to an ordinance to rezone a property at 7407 Carlisle Street from Neighborhood Commercial to General Commercial, clearing the way for a retail outlet that may include a coffee shop.

Walker opposed the change, complaining there are many questions about the development that have not been answered. He said he has tried to reach the developer but has received no response.

His main concern is “a traffic nightmare” on Lake Murray Boulevard and chemical problems in the soil that could create safety issues.

Town officials said DHEC would address any soil contamination problems at the site, which is the former location of a laundry operation.

Walker proposed a traffic study for the site, but it was rejected after other council members pointed out that the state officials would review the development for any traffic problems.

The council approved a $22,000 contract with Sister Hazel and a contract with Patrick Davis Acoustic Trio in the amount of $7,500 to perform at the Okra Strut Festival.

The council approved a contract with Keep the Midlands Beautiful in the amount of $3,500 to co-host a recycling event in Irmo over the next 12 months, and provide waste-wise recycling at Irmo community events.

The contract was unanimously approved after a presentation by Keep the Midlands Beautiful executive director Jaqueline Buck, who pointed out the various benefits Irmo receives from her organization

The council also heard a presentation from Brian Pena, a long-time Irmo resident, who asked the council to consider setting up a historic marker in Irmo recalling the Volkswagen Rabbit patrol car once used by the Irmo Police Department.

Pena said he is trying to find one of the original vehicles used by the department, but may have to find a replica. He said he would donate it to the town.

The council also heard a citizen’s complaint that Tyler Sanitation was not only unresponsive to a request to pick up materials, but served an abatement notice on the resident. The council agreed to look into the complaint.