Pine Ridge, SC (Paul Kirby) – When the people of Pine Ridge went to the polls on November 7, for the first time in more than 20 years they elected a new mayor for the town by writing in a candidate that had not filed back in August like the other candidates had. 82 of the registered voters of the town took the time to write the name Robert Wells in as their choice for mayor. When sworn in, he will replace David Busby, who as I have said a few sentences ago, was the people’s choice for mayor for more than 20 years.
When the votes were counted, many were in shock! Wells had unseated Busby after his son announced just four days prior that there even was a write-in campaign. Shocker, yeah; after all, Wells had served on the council twice. Technically he was still on the town council and had served for what totaled ten years. He was retiring from government, or so everyone thought.
Two people had already filed to run for his council seat, Scott Simms won on Tuesday, and Wells was going to ride off into the sunset so to speak. Heck, I had already written a story that said Busby won again because he was unopposed; a story I had to quickly change Tuesday late when someone called it to my attention that there was even a write-in campaign and candidate.
At first, it looked like a brilliant political ploy. It looked as if Wells’ camp had snuck around, quietly building support, and then in a few short days before the election, they sprung the trap on Busby, given him scant time to mount a defense, much less an offense. If it had been a political “hit job,” it was perfect; The thing is, I really believe Wells when he said it wasn’t.
On Wednesday I spoke with Robert Wells and I asked him why. Certainly, he had had some agenda, some new vision, he had to think Busby had made some missteps, but he denied all of this. In four short words, Wells explained his platform, “They asked me to.”
Surely it had to be more than that! Who were they, and what did they not like about Busby’s leadership? Was there a problem with the community, its direction, some old grudges that had final surfaced, his answer, “no.”
Wells said that after he and his wife had lived and raised a family in Pine Ridge for more than 25 years, they were extremely pleased with their home. They think the town is great and give Busby and his fellow leaders respect for making and keeping it that way. In short, he’s been happy with the job Busby’s done. That brings us back again to why?
Wells says that his move was not a ploy, he’s a retired businessman, not a politician. He made me believe that by the way he gave the interview. He seems honest, sincere, and was generally hurt that some on social media had wondered if he didn’t hold a grudge regarding a land deal he could have made to bring a Pitt Stop convenience store to the town. A deal that the town’s government’s refusal to rezone the property stopped. “I had no problem with what the town did in that situation. They listened to the residents and did what the vast majority asked them to do; that’s what they are supposed to do. It stopped the land sale for the Pitt Stop, but within a few weeks I sold the property to the family of its original owners and I made a few dollars. I think they’re going to build a home on it.” He wanted everyone to know that he wasn’t angry, upset, and certainly harbored no ill feelings over that.
In the end, he said that some citizens, who presented him with no agenda, just felt after more than 20 years with Busby at the helm, the town might benefit from a new set of eyes; a look from a different angle if you will. Nothing sinister, no ploy, just an opportunity to help if he could.
Wells said that he had always worked well with Busby and the council and thought they had done a great job over the years. He thinks that will continue under his leadership. “We didn’t always agree, but we talked it out, sometimes we compromised, and in the end, we were all friends, and I hope we still are now.”
Wells said he plans no changes right now. “I plan to set some regular hours at the town hall now that I am retired,” Wells said. “Then, I’m going to sit in the mayor’s office and invite people to come in and talk. Then, I’ll listen and discuss their ideas and concerns, and if it seems right, I’ll take that to the council.”
By the end of our conversation, he had me believing that this was just as he said, a chance to see things from a slightly different angle. “Pine Ridge is our home, we love it here, and if everyone knew what a great place it was, they’d probably all move here and ruin it,” Wells said. “I’m not upset or unhappy with David (Busby),” he said. “I appreciate all the years he’s done what he’s done. He’s done a great job and I hope he stays around because I value his knowledge and experience in this job.” Talk to him yourself when he’s sworn in and that door is open at the town hall, but he sounds sincere to me.
On one final note let me say, if the group that asked him to run thinks they can now use him as their puppet, I would disagree. This is a smart man, a man who's run multimillion-dollar projects, had hundreds depend on him for guidance and their paychecks. He’s smart, appears to be principled, and seems honest and sincere. If anyone thinks they got a puppet, they better think again. He’ll do what he thinks is right after listening to all sides. And as he pointed out, with Pine Ridge’s form of government, he’s just one vote.