Article published October 16, 1988
Redistricting, jail topics dominate council race
The four candidates for two seats on Spartanburg County Council cover the political spectrum. But differences in ideology are not the only things separating the political hopefuls, each setting different priorities among the many issues facing local government.
The candidates include a pair of two-term incumbents: Democrat Danny Allen and Republican David Dennis. The challengers, one from each party, are Democrat Ann Hicks and Republican David Whitener. Despite the differences, all candidates agree on one thing, the two elected to the council will face a busy agenda in their four-year term.
The race, to date, has been a low-key, low-budget affair with each candidate subscribing to an approach of personal contact with voters in the county's communities.
Danny Allen, an eight-year incumbent and its vice chairman, said it is difficult to point to one issue as the most pressing. But he bases his campaign on his record in office, one he said is characterized by "continued progressive growth." Over the past eight years, he said, the council has performed well "when you consider where we came from and where we're going." And much of the changes imposed have been aimed at procedural changes that have allowed the county to better meet its needs and be better prepared for the future.
In public works, Allen said the county has repaired or rebuilt 90 bridges and performed more than 2,000 miles of road work. But more than just the repairs, the county has established a system of inspection and maintenance to provide for planned and regular maintenance of public works systems. By establishing depreciation accounts for vehicles and equipment, he added, the county anticipates replacement cost for equipment and is not faced with unexpected capital outlay, he said. Such procedural and planning changes have been instituted in virtually all departments of county government, he said.
The new County Administrative Building, often a point of criticism, also was a move based on the county's future needs, he said. It will satisfy the county's office needs for the next 30 years by not only providing room for expansion for administration offices but by freeing space in the courthouse for needed courtroom needs. Along the same lines, Allen said, "We realize we've got to build a new jail or some system of incarcerating our criminal element. But that system has to go beyond just brick and mortar. We have to look at all the options. That's why we appointed an extensive study committee. ..." , headed by former Supreme Court Justice Bruce Littlejohn, to study exactly what our needs will be and how best to address those needs going into the 21st century."
In dealing with the county budget, the council also has used a progressive approach, Allen said, to try to keep expenses in line with the growth of the county.
"I think anyone would have a hard time attacking the record of this council," Allen said.
Dennis, the other incumbent in the race, lists single-member districts and the new jail among the top issues the council will face. He said adoption of a single-member district plan is inevitable but said it is important for the council to develop several options from which county voters can chose.
"The NAACP plan (proposed to the County Council last month) has problems, splitting many of the areas with like interests," Dennis said. "The voters need to decide what they want. "Everyone sees the need for additional (jail) space," he said, "but the size, type and location needs to be worked out. We still have a lot to decide. We don't want to overbuild. They are two of the main reasons I chose to run again. We need someone who knows what's going on, who knows how county government operates."
Like Allen, Dennis pointed to accomplishments over his eight years in office, including a multimillion dollar budget reserve fund and sponsorship of a delinquent tax ordinance that "no longer makes it profitable for people not to pay taxes."
"Another issue people are concerned about is law enforcement," Dennis said. He said he has pledged his support to both candidates for sheriff in their efforts to beef up the county police force and combat crime, particularly drug-related offenses.
The county road program, though it took about six years to develop, is at a point where it is addressing the county's needs, he said. One particular improvement is moving away from tar and gravel roads and doing more asphalt resurfacing, which provides a better, longer-lasting and easier-to-maintain road surface.
"I don't see, anytime in the near future, the need to raise taxes. We have a good revenue base and with an adequate reserve fund, unless something unforeseen happens, I see no need for a tax increase."
But he said keeping the budget in check will require work. Last year, county budget heads recommended adding 81 new positions to the county staff. Only nine were approved in the final budget. "Somebody has to be willing to say no."
Dennis noted the County Administrative Building may be a political issue but said he opposed the building. However, he said, the county has committed to the building. "We have to look ahead. We now have to look at trying to buy the building, to get out of the existing lease arrangement. That could cost the county $5 million to $8 million in taxes over the 20-year term of the lease," he said.
Despite the improvements pointed to by the incumbents, challenger Ann Hicks said one glaring deficiency in county government is the lack of long-range planning. She called the County Council "a perfect example of a governmental body managing from one crisis to another. It should operate more like a business. They need to establish needs, set goals and make decisions to accomplish those goals."
"Such a lack of planning demonstrates a lack of leadership abilities. Government and business should come together and plan for growth," she said, noting that a plant manager from the area said he would never recommend other manufacturers locate in Spartanburg County.
Like her opponents, she list single-member districts as a vital issue in the campaign, and she embraces the concept. She said she was the first of the four candidates to support the plan. "There is no representation on the council for the outlying areas of the county," she said. "It's an important issue, and it's mostly about representation. Single-member districts will allow voters to elect someone from their own area, someone who understands their needs." Mrs. Hicks also supports the proposed land use ordinance. There is no protection for residential areas from encroachment by commercial or industrial development, she said. "The Planning Department has been working on this for three years. I understand the reluctance of developers and home builders in supporting the proposal. They fear overregulation," she said. "But we need to enact the ordinance and work out the kinks. We can amend it later if necessary.
"I also advocate, as part of planning for the future, to start a solid waste recycling program," she said. She acknowledged the existing county landfill has several years of additional life, but waste disposal is becoming a problem throughout the county and eventually the county will face stringent and costly state and federal regulation. She said the mechanism for recycling should be implemented now, and money generated from the sale of the recycled materials could help to pay the increased cost.
Mrs. Hicks's opponents, however, note that studies show the recycling program would cost more than five times what the county now pays for its landfill operations. Still, she said, business may be willing to enter into private recycling operations in conjunction with the county, providing future economic opportunity for the county.
An area where privatization should be pursued, she said, is in resolving the need for new jail space. She said county officials have not sufficiently considered other options. "I'm not convinced that we need to go in that direction," she said. More concern is being shown for the criminals than for the victims, said Mrs. Hicks, who as a volunteer worked to help establish local victims assistance programs. She said she understands the overcrowding problems at the jail and the state pressures to relieve those problems, "but do we have to spend $16 million to $18 million for a brand new jail?"
Candidate David Whitener, who once before ran unsuccessfully for a council seat, identifies several priority issues. The first, he said, is better council scrutiny of the county-owned Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. He said he has followed the operations of the hospital closely over the past five years, and its budget has gone from a $27 million surplus to having to increase room rates and maybe ask the council for financial support. Whitener said an investigation of the financial situation at the hospital is needed, and he calls for the resignation of hospital President Charles Boone.
"I want someone appointed that will take the responsibility for public accountability at the hospital," Whitener said.
On the jail issue, he said the proposed cost of the new facility continues to rise, and he calls it typical of a county project. "I don't support a new county jail facility. I propose adding on to the existing jail. I also favor reinstating the prison camps," he said, dismissing state studies that show the camps are more costly to operate than a traditional jail. He said the camps can be used to perform maintenance and other tasks to offset the cost to the county.
Whitener supports the concept of single-member districts but said he is not in favor of the plan proposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He would like to see more districts formed to provide better representation. He said he would like to see the city of Spartanburg comprise one district and other districts formed with a similar total geographical area. He has proposed a nine-district plan for the County Council "to get more input from people in the county.
Whitener remains opposed to the County Administrative Building and said he believes state laws were violated by its construction and in the lease-purchase arrangement. He would not elaborate on what those violations may involve but said the county's powers of eminent domain should not have been used for a building that ultimately became a business opportunity for a private company.
Another issue pointed to by Whitener is the need for more integrity in county government. "I think the County Council needs balance. That's something I know I can add. The two incumbents have been there for eight years and have yet to accomplish much," Whitener said. "The county government is growing tremendously, but that growth is uncontrolled," he said. "We need to look at county expenditures and very diligently scrutinize the budget of the county, which has increased phenomenally over the past eight years."