Felicia Kitzmiller at the Herald-Journal sat down with Councilmen-elect Bob Walker and myself to discuss our approach to the issues that will be coming before county council in the coming months:
Spartanburg County residents voted for change, ousting two incumbents in favor of divergent candidates sure to alter the dynamics of council.
“We’ve had a lot of transitions since we went to single-member districts, but Justin and Bob are a little different, with Bob’s experience and Justin’s youth and new perspective,” said Councilman David Britt who has served on council since 1991.
Newly elected District 5 representative Bob Walker, 71, has decades of political service behind him as he confronts his new post. He was a state representative for 16 years, and he served on Spartanburg School District 1’s board of trustees and is currently a member of the county transportation committee.
District 2 representative-elect Justin Bradley, 26, is two years out of law school and approaching his first foray into elected office. He is eager to serve and shape the political landscape that will govern many elements of his life for decades to come.
Both were selected for office in the June 10 Republican primary, and barring a petition candidate filing for either spot, both will take the oath of office in January.
The six-month lag between the old and new council has advantages and disadvantages for incoming and exiting councilmen, said Britt and Council Chairman Jeff Horton, who was elected in 1995. For Walker and Bradley, it’s a chance to learn about the county and the issues it faces before making decisions, Horton said.
“They’re ahead of the curve because both individuals have been attending our meetings for a few months,” Horton said. “My advice is enjoy it and relax for a little bit because it’s a lot different when you’re in the hot seat.”
In the meantime, Britt and Horton said they hope outgoing council members O’Neal Mintz and Dale Culbreth will stay focused on their responsibilities to the county while they are still in office.
“I’ve told O’Neal and Dale both, hold your head high. The best thing you can do is leave the county better than it was when you got here. That should be the only reason you run for office,” Horton said.
Several large issues, including revisiting land use planning, are set to come before the council in the months before a transition is made. Britt said the decision to move forward with those items despite the impending change to council is part of an effort to maintain the county’s momentum on economic development.
“We’re not going to coast. Whenever you coast, you’re going downhill. I’m hoping we can get some of these initiatives done this year,” Britt said.
Walker and Bradley share similar views on several topics, including a mutual skepticism about council’s impending discussions on land use. Both said the county should use existing tools, including business incentives, to guide long-term planning for the county instead of restrictive ordnances.
“You can do some reasonable restrictions, but my default position is it’s not our property; it’s the property owner’s property,” Bradley said.
The incoming councilmen also share a desire to see important capital needs — including courthouse and jail upgrades — met with the least possible burden on taxpayers. Both said they would investigate partnerships with state government and possibly private individuals to defray costs, but insisted all funding options should be on the table.
While they will be tackling county issues from different vantage points, both said they will be keenly focused on the future of Spartanburg County. For Bradley, it is a matter of protecting his own livelihood and happiness, while Walker is eager to better the community for his three grandchildren.
“I think it’s going to mean not going for the short-term political gain. Maybe not going for the thing that seems like an immediate win,” Bradley said.
Walker and Bradley differ on whether the county should pursue increasing the county millage by inflation and growth as allowed in the state statute. Bradley said the county needs to prioritize spending on core services, while Walker worried that will mean cutting services, and leaving money on the table now will leave taxpayers with a bigger bill down the road.
Regardless of disagreements, Walker and Bradley said they will have amicable relationships with everyone on council. Last year, a series of contentious issues and shifting factions on council created strained relationships that manifested in several votes.
“You’ve got to be open,” Walker said. “There was a perception that when a proposal was suggested by one side or another it was immediately shut down.”
“You can get up and debate and argue with each other and when you get up and walk away, you’re still friends,” he said. “Argue your point, discuss your point, but do it in a professional manner.”
Horton said last year’s bitter budget debate was an anomaly, and one that all remaining council members are committed to moving past.
“Last year was horrible,” Horton said. “It was just a crescendo of declining revenues and mounting needs.”
Britt said he doesn’t anticipate the new council members will change the council’s “balance of power” because in the past six months council has regrouped.
“The five of us remaining have never worked closer together,” Britt said. “I think it sends a signal to the new council members that this isn’t a game. We’ve seen what happens when we don’t do it that way.”
Read the article at GoUpstate.com.