District 8 elects an advocate for the people
By Patra Taylor
While growing up in Camden, S.C., Joe Boykin loved watching Andy Taylor, the widowed but wise sheriff of the small North Carolina town of Mayberry depicted in eight seasons of the Andy Griffith Show. Young Boykin admired how Sheriff Taylor always tried to help people, solve their disputes and keep the peace. “Andy was a great role model for me,” says Boykin, a former officer with the Charleston County Police, now the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, who earned a bachelor of science in criminal justice degree from the University of South Carolina in 1987. “As a county officer, I didn’t believe the only contact law enforcement officers should have with people should be law enforcement contacts, so I’d talk to people, be friendly and let them know I was a real person. Like Andy, people knew my name.”
In 1992, Boykin joined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), an agency under the United States Department of Treasury. His work, while important, became less personal by virtue of its nature. For eight years he focused on the infiltration and dismantling of the armed and violent drug trafficking gangs plaguing communities in metropolitan Charlotte and throughout western North Carolina. From there, his career with ATF ran a course from the secretive to the sensational — dignitary protection to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti during the United Nations 50th Anniversary; scene coordinator at the onset of the Eric Rudolph manhunt in Murphy, N.C.; extensive and long-term infiltration of criminal organizations out of the ATF’s Charleston’s field office; and as a federal first responder in Gulfport, Miss. following Hurricane Katrina. Boykin also worked with colleagues to foil a murder-for-hire plot involving prominent Charleston banker, Chris Latham, and on other high-profile cases in the area.
Throughout his 27-year-long law enforcement career, Boykin earned the highest honors including being the recipient of the prestigious J.P. Strom Award from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in 1989 to ATF Special Agent of the Year in 2000, and numerous other awards and recognitions.
On October 31, 2015, Boykin hung up his law enforcement hat, put on a fedora and settled into his well-earned retirement to enjoy a quiet life on the old family farm on John’s Island with his wife, Lisa Minshew, and their Boykin spaniel, Jigger, content to operate the family’s small commercial embroidery business, Charleston Monograms, LLC.
Six months later, Boykin’s life trajectory changed suddenly when he happened to spot a yellow Charleston County Zoning sign staked in front of the property next to their farm.
“This family farm has been in my wife’s family since roughly 1787,” explains Boykin. “Somehow, some way, her family has managed to hand it down from family member to family member, that is except for a portion of it, about 50 acres, that sits right in the middle of the farm. That belonged to my wife’s uncle and was sold off after his death.”
Using his finely honed investigative skills developed over nearly three decades in law enforcement, Boykin soon discovered the land “next door” was slated to be turned into a wedding venue. “The plan was to hold 150 events a year, each with up to 500 guests, with amplified music, alcohol served, the whole thing. All this is ag-zoned. It’s in the agricultural preservation district, so it’s low density and low impact, as far as what’s allowed to go on here. The owners of were seeking a special exception from the Charleston County Board of Zoning Appeals that would essentially make the wedding venue permanent. To date, the board had approved every single one of these kinds of applications. There had been 13 or 14, and they never denied one. My first thought was that this did not bode well for us.”
Putting a wedding venue off a quiet country road just didn’t make sense to Boykin on many levels, so he turned on his old Andy Taylor persona and went door-knocking. In the end some 400 of his neighbors turned out at the zoning board meeting, evidence and supporting documentation in hand, and convinced the board that a permanent wedding venue would be harmful to the character of the area. To avoid a “whack-a-mole” situation, Boykin later provided input during the review of the Zoning & Land Development Regulations, a rewriting of which now provides a compromise regarding the special exemption clause.
That would have been the end of Boykin’s political activism, but for the many telephone calls asking him to run for the District 8 seat on Charleston County Council. His response was, “I don’t want to run for county council!”
Yet, it occurred to Boykin that something about the experience in preventing the permanent wedding venue from operating on his quiet country road had stuck in his craw: He received no help from the district’s county councilwoman.
“I called, I emailed, I did everything in my power to reach her,” states Boykin. “To me, this was a real impactful matter, and I could not reach my councilwoman. Other people tried to reach her regarding this issue and to my knowledge, they’re still waiting for a call-back. They were all her constituents. For me, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided if I ran and won, the people of District 8 were going to get all of me … every piece of me.”
Boykin ran anything but a typical campaign. He credits, Abe Jenkins, one of his political role models for helping him across the finish line.
According to Boykin, Abe was the grandson of Esau Jenkins, a South Carolina African American human rights leader, businessman, local preacher and community organizer. He was the founder and leader of many organizations and institutions which helped improve the political, educational, housing, health and economic conditions of Sea Island residents.
“Abe was a life-long Democrat, a political director for the S.C. Democratic party,” says Boykin. “I say this because I’m a Republican … I don’t hide that fact. Abe heard me speak at a candidate forum on the island. After he saw me, he reached out to Thomas Legare and asked him to introduce us. We met and talked a while, then he said, “Joe, you got a dollar on you?’ I said, ‘No, but I’ve got a five-dollar bill.’ He said, ‘Hand it here. You just hired your new campaign manager.’
“Imagine the heat he took representing a Republican when they had a Democrat candidate,” continues Boykin. “That was the beginning of an unbelievable journey.”
Boykin didn’t win the first time he ran, but he met all the people he could, with Jenkins’ help. The community lost Jenkins in January to COVID at the young age of 66.
“I think in the end I had near as much support from the African American and Democrat communities as I did from the Republicans,” notes Boykin.
To say Boykin is eager to get started at is job on county council is an understatement. Even before being sworn in, he’s already researching the issues that need to be addressed, most of them related to traffic.
Among the top items on his agenda is the interchange at Main Road and U.S. 17. “That’s
been languishing, but I understand we finally have an approved plan, and the NEPA is done. I think we’ll be sending the project out for bids as early as the beginning of the year. That is bigger than huge to me because it is one of our biggest congestion issues and safety issues for John’s Island. It’s well overdue. I want to find out what, if anything, I can do to help push the project along as fast as possible.”
Boykin is also committed to de-railing the widening of Bohicket Road to five lanes. “That’s just absurd,” says Boykin, who opposes feeding a five-lane road into Main Road and Maybank Highway, both two-lane scenic highways. “In essence, it’s extending the Betsy Kerrison Parkway all the way to Maybank Highway so drivers can run 60 to 70 miles per hour just to come to a complete screeching halt. And in doing so, they’re going to fill wetlands and cut down grand live oaks. They’re going to take people’s property, probably condemn some houses along the way. In the name of what?”
Boykin says he is an advocate of the use of roundabouts — what he refers to as “traffic calming devices” — at critical intersections; and supports completing I-526, provided verifiable funding sources are in place.
“My soon to be teammate on Charleston County Council, Larry Kobrovsky, is in the same situation in his district as I am. We are two peas in a pod … we have much in common because we now represent the two rural bastions that are left in Charleston County. I think we can absolutely have urban and rural, town and country. We can live in harmony since one depends on the other.”