Piening Puts Residents First


The Isle of Palms has an election coming up on November 7, and Ralph Piening (me) has entered the race.  Why?  I am entering to make sure the voice of the resident is heard loud and clear.  You know, the person who actually lives here all year.  Not the investors, the developers, the real estate cartel, the daytrippers, etc.  The Residents.  You and Me.

This is the Vision Statement taken from the City’s comprehensive plan:

Isle of Palms has developed into a premier barrier island residential
community with a variety of housing styles, commercial uses and
recreational facilities. Despite the natural cycle of beach erosion that is
inherent on barrier islands and the extensive development of the island, the
natural resources that make Isle of Palms such a wonderful place to live and
visit remain intact and in good condition. Measures that will enhance the
existing character of the island as a quality place to live, and protect the
environment both on and around the island, must be taken to guide
development and preserve the quality of life for generations to come.
January 31, 2002 (revised May 26, 2015)
The entire comprehensive plan for the IOP can be found here.

Continue reading

Coyote Conniptions

After reading all the chatter on Isle of Palms Neighborhood page on Facebook this weekend, it appears Wile E Coyote’s days are numbered.  The posters to the site exhibited orgiastic excitement that a new council led by JimDaddy Carroll would solve this problem and decimate the coyote population.  Cats will be once again be free to leave the house and kill birds at will.  Where is the group advocating for the poor birds?  But I digress.

There are comments on Facebook about professional hunters and trappers, bow hunters, traps, psy-ops but alas no space-based laser warfare has been suggested.

Here is my prediction of what will happen.  NOTHING.  Yes, there will be some public comments and then council will do what it and every other council in the history of the world  has done: it will study the issue.

But the residents will feel better because it is their guys now studying the issue and all will be satisfied.

Thoughts on the Run Off Election

Here are a few random thoughts on the candidates running for election on November 21.

John Moye;  A very nice young man and the best head of hair in the race.  He will win a seat on Tuesday.  In fact, had he announced that his wife was pregnant (I don’t know if she is or not), he would have won on Nov 7.  Voters love babies and you can take that to the bank!

Jonathan Gandolfo:  This cat came out of nowhere to finish 5th in the voting on Nov 7.  He  apparently is a successful businessman who now has some legal issues with the city, regarding the cutting down of trees.  Unfortunately, since this is in litigation, the voters do not know the whole story.  Is he running because he is pissed off at the city?  Only he can answer that question.

No other candidate other than Jimmy Carroll has spent the the kind of money Gandolfo has in this race.  It is easily over $10k which is unheard of on the IOP.  A postcard arrived today noting the voting record of Ryan Buckhannon.  Many view this as “going negative” which, in my opinion, is absurd.  The postcard is factually accurate and there is no name calling.  Any current or prior incumbent must be accountable for their voting record.  While some will argue that a millage increase is not a tax increase but the overall collection of taxes does not go up, some individuals’ taxes do go up.  To them it is certainly a tax increase.

The tree cutting incident has been covered in the Post and Courier and on Facebook.  Most who have read the details have already declared him guilty and probably will not vote for him.  How many people does this apply to?  We will find out Tuesday.  If most people are aware of this incident, he is probably toast.

One thing I can say about Gandolfo is this:  he has resolve and perseverance.  More than any other candidate.

Ryan Buckhannon:  Where to start?  Well, look at his campaign announcement.  In this essay he uses the word “I” 20 times!  To read it you would think he is a one man legislating machine.  He single-handedly drove major legislation and the 8 other members on council were superfluous.

And just what was his stance on the marina referendum?  Here is his answer in the October 13 issue of the Island Eye News:

I do support the improvement and maintenance of the marina, I don’t believe that the entire cost should be the burden of the city. Whether the referendum passes or not, the city will still have to move forward and replace the docks around the marina. Improvement of the parking areas belonging to the tenants should be at the expense of those tenants. Common areas within the marina lot should be a cost sharing between all the tenants and the city. That is why I am confused why this council chose to bundle up all the areas into one referendum when the leases explicitly detail who is responsible for what.
Is this the answer of a politician or what?  Were you going to vote yes or no?  Just tell us.  By the way, he was, indeed, 1 of 7 councilmembers to vote to extend the marina lease for 30 years with no other bids accepted.  In my mind this fact alone is reason enough to vote against him.
Finally, I must comment on his love of Dave Ramsey.  He mentions him all the time as a financial model for the city.  In case you do not know, Ramsey is a talk radio guy who deals in personal finance.  He is smart and very entertaining.  His show is geared to lower and middle income people/families with financial discipline problems.  “Debt is dumb and cash is king!”  “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.”  In his world you never use credit because credit is what got all his listeners in trouble.  For this audience, this is great advice.
It is totally stupid advice for a large corporation or a city.  If you can only do something once you have saved the cash, you will never get anything down.  Furthermore, with interests rates this low (the past few years borrowed money has almost been free when you factor in inflation) it would be malpractice not to borrow money.
Not to belabor the Dave Ramsey point too much, but note the following.  He recommends loaded mutual funds to his audience.  Huh?  Yeah, this is crazy.  Stick with Vanguard.  And finally, he tells everyone to avoid bankruptcy.  You’re $200k in debt?  Hey, no problem.  Start eating “beans and rice” and get a second job delivering pizzas!  He rarely mentions that he, himself, went through bankruptcy – and it seems to have worked out fine for him.
Buckhannon has done little to no work in this election cycle.  How he made the cut is beyond me.  Miklas or Williamson would be better in my eyes.

Analysis of City Council Election

City Council

  • Hill-Smith      1049
  • Bell                    896
  • Moye                 803
  • Buckhannon   796
  • Gandolfo          744
  • Loftus               557
  • Bergwerf          548
  • Miklas               449
  • Piening             429
  • Harrington      368
  • Williamson      340

Congratulations to Susan Hill-Smith and Randy Bell!  They had a great day.  HIll-Smith will be a good city council member because she is thoughtful and a good listener.  Her campaign strategy of constantly emphasizing she has 3 kids was a good idea.  Buckhannon used the same strategy when his triplets were younger.  Voters love babies!  Bell will work hard and be a force to be reckoned with and it will be interesting to see if he is a good listener.  The jury is out at this point, but he is someone who has the ability and energy to drive change.

We will now see a run-off on Nov 21 between Moye, Buckhannon and Gandolfo.  I predicted that Moye and Gandolfo had good chances.  Moye is young, friendly, charismatic and is very approachable.  I also predicted Gandolfo would do well.  Many gave/give him little to no chance, but if you get to know him, one thing you will quickly realize is this guy has resolve.  This is an invaluable asset in a political contest.

I totally missed the mark on Buckhannon.  I did not think he had a chance and he was the #4 vote getter.  He was heard remarking to another that he did so well despite putting in very little effort.  It is still not clear to me why he is running.  And just what was his stance on the marina?

As predicted, Bergwerf and Harrington did not survive.  We as a nation are in an anti-incumbent atmosphere and they campaigned totally on their experience.  Their support for the marina was also a killer issue for them.  If they truly thought it would pass, they did little to no campaigning.

Regarding Harrington, he showed up at every event with a gold oval badge with his name and position on it.  If you have been on council for 4 years and no one knows who you are, you are already in trouble.  Furthermore, he is another councilmember I have sent emails to.  Yep, he did not reply to them either.  This is political suicide for an incumbent.

Miklas is a good guy and very thoughtful.  What hurt him was pairing up with Gandolfo.  What was the point of this?  Not only did it not help him, I think it hurt him.

As for Loftus, he worked as hard or harder than any candidate.  What killed him was his waffling on the marina issue.  First he was for it in the paper, then in the debate he said he had not made up his mind, then door-to-door he said he was for it.  He never made it clear why he supported it.  He only took out 1 ad in the paper and the ad and  his mailing both stressed his accomplishments on city council, again, not where I would go in this political environment.

Williamson did not do well, but he did not campaign and he did not spend any money.  It is too bad people did not get to know him better because he is a good guy.

Piening.  He had good ideas but he did not work hard enough.  That will kill you every time.

I will give my analysis of the upcoming election in a future post.

Marina and Mayor’s Race Analysis

Here are the final election results:

Marina referendum

  • For:              598       31%
  • Against:     1316       57%


  • Carroll       1172       59%                                                                                                                Cronin          811     41%

Some random thoughts on the above results:  As predicted, if the marina referendum went down big time, Carroll would win the election.  I sent an email to Dick Cronin warning him of this and suggested he buffer his pro-marina stance by emphasizing he would make sure residents were always given priority at the marina.  He never responded to the email.  Incumbents who do not respond to emails, letters and calls are in big trouble.

Jimmy Carroll used the same playbook to win this race that he used when he was first elected to council.  Find a divisive issue, jump on it, and use it to drive turnout.  The divisive issue when he first ran was the plan for parking pods on Ocean Blvd (you know, the only “sacred” street on the island with no parking) and the plan for greenspace on front beach in the 3300 block of Palm Blvd.  (I still think this would have been a good idea – have you EVER seen anyone enjoying the Carmen Bunch park?  I haven’t. )

Carroll totally outworked Cronin.  Probably by 10 to 1.  And that matters.  A lot.  From what I have seen, the only thing Cronin did was put up some interesting signs.  Rumor on the street is the signs were made by Ted “Boondocker” Kinghorn.  I’m not sure if this is true because he does not look like the kind of guy who gets his hands dirty.

In the end, I just don’t think Cronin had his heart in it.  Carroll genuinely cares for the island and he should be given an open mind and a chance.  He told one of the candidates running that he would only serve one term.  After that he plans to RV around the country.  You read it here first.

Regarding the marina, it is interesting that after several years of study, planning and multiple meetings for resident input, the city did not see what a dog this idea was!  I have heard the city has spent over $300k with the company ATM.  What a waste of money.  Only government looks at $300k as no big deal.  Why?  Because there is an endless supply of cash if they need more.  Unlike a business which must go out and earn it, government, under the threat of force, can demand it from it’s citizens.

Final tidbit:  1,914 votes were cast on the marina question.  1,983 votes were cast on the Mayor’s race.  So 69 people voted for the Mayor but not on the marina issue.  I don’t understand this and something is fishy here.  These 2 races were so closely linked that it is hard to believe 69 people left the marina issue blank.  Any thoughts?

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the election below.

Election predictions

What follows is my total guess of what will happen with this election.


Too close to call, but if the marina referendum goes down big time, it probably sweeps Carroll into the Mayor’s office.  Cronin has been a good mayor, but he comes across as aloof and distant.  Not returning emails is never a good thing when you are an incumbent.  Carroll and his supporters have all the energy right now.  Could this race be a “shy Tory effect’?  I don’t think so.


Bell:  Has a good chance as he knows the issues and has worked very hard, but some are turned off as he comes across as a bit full of himself.  He’s a push.

Bergwerf:  Running a campaign that stresses what she has accomplished on council, when the mood of the electorate everywhere (both sides of the political aisle) is to throw the bums out and “drain the swamp.”  I don’t think she survives.

Buckhannon:  I’m not sure why he is running.  No one has heard a peep out of him and he doesn’t seem to have his heart in it.  Not all clear what his stance is on the marina.  I can’t see him winning.

Gandolfo:  What did this cat come from?  The dude has dropped a ton of money on this race, perhaps more than $10k, but I’m not sure as he has not filed his ethics form.  Some are turned off by his aggressive posture, but he has worked hard.  He definitely has a chance.

Harrington:  See the comments on Bergwerf.  I don’t think he survives.

Loftus:  His chances outside the Wild Dunes gates are less than 50%.  It has never really been clear why he is running and his waffling on the marina has not helped him.  However, the Wild Dunes voters usually support one of their own and this could be enough to give him a win, but it will be close.  If he wins, he can thanks Wild Dunes.

Miklas:  A nice young man who is thoughtful on the issues, but some get lost in all the “process-speak”.  He has a shot as he is new and young.  Put him at 50-50.

Moye:  Young, sincere and the best head of hair in the contest!  This cat has charisma and I think he very well could win a seat.

Piening (me):  Knows the issues well but has served on council and lost a re-election bid.  He runs the best website but voters may feel it is time to move on.  He has worked hard, but probably not hard enough.  50-50 at best.

Hill-Smith:  Played up the 3 kids angle very well and sincerely (reminds me of a younger Buckhannon) and is a fresh face.  She is great at looking at all sides of an issue which is good, but will learn that once you are in the chair you gotta make a decision and the decision will always piss someone off.  I think she wins a seat.

Williamson:  A genuinely nice guy, but not a lot of energy.  He seems to really care about IOP and is a fresh face.  He gets right to the point – some like this, some don’t.  I have no idea how he does but he was the first to enter and is sincere.  His chances are a total mystery to me.

Marina Referendum:

I don’t think there is any way this is going to pass.  Virtually everyone I have talked to is against it.  All the energy is on the side working to defeat the referendum.  The city totally overplayed their hand on this one.  They figured since it would not generate a tax increase, everyone would jump on board.  What they didn’t realize is that many residents are put off by the fact the marina operators don’t seem to know and acknowledge who owns the place.

IOP Dwelling Data

This data comes via Sandy Stone (a former council member who did a great job during his 4 years on council.)

There are 4300 dwellings on the IOP:

Owner occupied         1450

2nd homes                   1350

Rentals                          1500

It goes without saying, but many of the 2nd homes are rented out.

Budget Increases Under Each Councilmember

What follows is a list of those running for city council who currently or previously served on council.   After each person’s name is the number of budget cycles he or she participated in and how much the budget increased during their time in office.  The last column is column #2 divided by column #1.

And just to be clear, no council member can increase the budget by themself.  It takes 5 votes to pass a budget.  I don’t think there is a person on this list who voted against every budget, but I seem to recall Ryan Buckhannon and Jimmy Carroll voting against at least 1 budget (and maybe more.)  Unfortunately I just don’t have the time to go back and review years of council minutes to see who voted no.  If someone would like to do this, I will gladly post the results.

Jimmy Carroll          6 yrs        32.4%      5.4%

Dick Cronin              9 yrs        34.4%      3.8%

Barbara Bergwerf   8 yrs        34.4%      4.3%

Ryan Buckhannon   9 yrs        30.4%      3.4%

Patrick Harrington  4 yrs        17.8%      4.4%

Mike Loftus                8 yrs        28.1%      3.5%

Ralph Piening            4 yrs          5.5%      1.3%

Final comments:  Buckhannon was on council longer than 9 years, but the city website only has the city budget online since fiscal year 2008.  I have only included Cronin’s time as mayor.  I believe he was on council for 3 years before being elected Mayor, but I could be mistaken.


I, like every candidate running for office supports improving transparency in government. No matter who wins, I hope they will take this pledge seriously and actually do something.

City Council met last night and a video of the meeting is posted on iop.net. That is great, but we can do even better. The video is 75 minutes long. Most who have jobs just don’t have the time to watch this.

But anyone can read the minutes very quickly and learn what happened. Our city clerk prepares the minutes and she does an excellent job with the minutes rarely needing any revision. These minutes really “put the cheese on the cracker.”

The problem is, the minutes are not posted until “approved” by council or a committee (if the minutes are from a committee meeting.) So, they are approved a month later and then posted sometime after that. Whatever is in the minutes will already be acted upon at the following meeting before we get a chance to read what is going on. This needs to be more transparent.

When the next council is seated, a motion needs to be made to post the minutes online within 3 (or 5) business days of the meeting. The city must make it as easy as possible for the residents to know what is going on.

Campaign Disclosure

Since one of the tenants of my campaign is transparency, I think I should apply this to myself as well.  So in the interests of full disclosure, I note that I have hired a campaign manager.  His name is KarlDavid Axelrove and he has given me invaluable advice.  I learned above all else, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

To that end the constant fundraising is finally starting to pay off.  I have just hired my first 2 campaign staffers.  Prior to today, they were working for cookies.  Money changes everything!


City Budget

I spent the weekend pouring over the old city budgets.  They are all available online here.

A bit of background before getting to the numbers.  The fiscal year for the city runs July 1 to June 30.  So, city council started working on Fiscal Year 2017-18 in January of this year. In the interest of clarity, I am going to call the current budget we are operating under Fiscal Year 2018, but realize that it started several months ago on July 1, 2017.

What follows is total city expenditures budgeted by city council for each fiscal year.  That is, this is what city council planned to spend.   Spending could, in fact, be more or less because of all kinds of circumstances, but what these numbers represent is the fiscal intent of city council.

Here are the numbers in dollar amounts:

2009                                    8,066,663

2010                                    8,067,982

2011                                    8,347,497

2012                                    8,511,235

2013                                    8,472,581

2014                                    8,914,839

2015                                    9,529,908

2016                                   10,331,061

2017                                   10,873,418

2018                                   11,221,649

From 2009 to 2012 the budget grew by $444,572, or 5.51%.  These are the years I was on council and involved in the budget process.  The budget is the result of the work of 9 members of council, so I don’t want this to sound like this small increase was all because of my efforts.  It wasn’t.

This is pretty much right in line with inflation, maybe even a bit less, depending on whether you are using the CPI (Consumer Price Index) or the Federal Reserve’s preferred PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditure) which is usually lower than the CPI.

From 2013 to 2016 the budget grew by $1,858,480 or 21.9%

Whoa!  What happened to the budget in 2013?  The citizens elected two new members to city council, Jimmy Carroll and Jimmy Ward when they defeated the incumbents Brian Duffy and Ralph Piening in the November 2011 election.  Jimmy Ward, in particular, campaigned incessantly as a “fiscal conservative.”  Carroll and Ward joined Ryan Buckhannon and Mike Loftus who also call themselves “fiscal conservatives.”  Upon joining city council in January 2012 they began work on the 2013 budget and it came in less than the budget for 2012.  The budget for 2014, though, saw quite an increase.

Then, for budget year 2015, the city added two more new city councilmembers in Patrick Harrington and Sandy Ferencz who replaced Sandy Stone and Doug Thomas when the latter two decided not to seek re-election in November 2013.

From 2015 to 2017 the budget grew by $1,343,510 or 14.1%

This budget cycle now had 5 “fiscal conservatives” on city council, a majority! They could have worked together and controlled the spending, but instead the spending continued to increase.

For budget year 2017 council added 2 new members in Ted Kinghorn and Carol Rice when Ryan Buckhannon and Mike Loftus decided not to run for re-election.  Kinghorn and Rice took office in Jan 2016 and started work on the budget for 2018.

With these 2 new members on council the budget grew by$348,231 or 3.2%

Here’s the point: the city is not growing and there have been no disasters but until this fiscal year (2018) the budget is rapidly growing.  In fact, it is growing 2.7 times the rate of inflation when we look at the budget growth from 2013 to 2018.

A lot of this growth is in personnel costs and cannot be scaled back without letting employees go.  I don’t think anyone is advocating that, especially since the IOP has great employees.  It seems to me efforts should be made to contain future increases.