Landscaping designs in North Charleston are receiving extensive scrutiny — not because they’re unattractive, but because there are whispers of cronyism in the air. The city has spent approximately $37,000 on landscaping and other home improvements for the home of Elliott Summey — the mayor’s son, as well as vice chairman of Charleston County council.
The landscaping was performed by city work crews, and this questionable use of city funds has many residents raising eyebrows. City officials are claiming that the work was not aesthetic in nature — rather, it involved public safety. Sidewalks are public spaces, and the landscaping work included removing brush and trees, landscaping with new trees and various plants, including a rose bush, and replacing a brick retaining wall.
“We would have done that for anybody’s (home),” claims Jim Hutto, the North Charleston Public Works Director. Summey said he did not request that the city landscape his property, and that, in fact, by venturing onto his property without permission, they destroyed heirloom plants, and caused sewage backup.
“They destroyed $40,000 of landscaping,” said Summey. Residents such as Erin Sharpe, however, still see cronyism at work. After watching the work over the course of several weeks, Sharpe says that it went above and beyond what a normal resident would receive, saying that they would never come and trim her bushes at the city’s expense.
“If my yard looked like that, code enforcement would have been all over me,” said Sharpe in an interview with The Post and Courier.
“Landscaping is comparable to owning an automobile, it must be properly maintained to get value and life out of it,” says Don Saunders, President of Saunders Landscape Supply. “City landscaping is important because it increases values of properties and maintains curb appeal for cities.”
According to Summey, it was a matter of ownership. In 2007, he attempted to obtain a permit to replace the retaining wall, but was told that it was on city property. For this reason, the city took over the landscaping work after residents complained about the sidewalk conditions along Summey’s property this year.
“The same people complaining about the yard being landscaped were complaining about the public safety issue,” said North Charleston’s mayor, Keith Summey. “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, when you’re a politician.”