West Columbia, SC (Paul Kirby) The candidate forum for the three candidates vying for the Lexington County Council District 8’s seat was held last night at Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor on Meeting Street. It was organized by Richard Skipper, the Cayce West Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, along with assistance from several others. It was to be an opportunity for challengers Charles Crouch, Glen Conwell, and incumbent Ned Tolar to share their ideas with interested voters about some of the issues facing District 8. The forum went on despite the fact it had to be pushed back 30 minutes due to the incumbent’s campaign schedule and then Tolar cancelled by text message 27 minutes before the forum was to begin because of a family emergency. The two challengers were there and went ahead with the structured forum that included ten questions regarding topics of interest to the people of fast growing Lexington County.
The audience was mixed with some supporters there for each of the two who did show up, interested business leaders from the area, several current council members whose districts border 8, and others. Power-couple Bill and Lou Kennedy of Nephron Pharmaceuticals were also there sitting quietly and listening from the audience. Lou Kennedy had recently been involved in some controversy involving a perfectly legal donation she made to one of the incumbent’s challengers.
At the start of the forum, each candidate had the opportunity to introduce himself. Both Conwell and Crouch are life-long residents of the area, attended Lexington School District Two Schools, and have had successful career paths. They both are family men and are both still employed full-time. Conwell runs his family’s meat market in Columbia and Crouch is a manager with a very large Lexington County based HVAC distributor who deals mostly in finance, credit, and the business expansion issues.
Conwell said that constituent services would be one of his top priorities if he were elected. He said he couldn’t and wouldn’t promise to fix everyone’s problems and acknowledged that some simply weren’t controlled by the county. He would however return phone calls and e-mails promptly and never leave a resident to wonder if he cares about their concerns.
Traffic and infrastructure seemed to be the top topic of conversation as one would expect and certainly on Crouch’s mind. He said he felt the county should put more pressure on the DOT to do something about traffic and council needed to work even harder with other government entities to identify solutions for those issues. He didn’t identify any specific revenue source for traffic relief and later made it clear that since many of the roads are owned by the state, the county council is limited in any direct solution.
Conwell said that he would look at finances of the county from a big picture standpoint and work to make the dollars we have now go as far and bring the most bang for the buck as possible. Crouch agreed that all spending isn’t bad and both acknowledged that money is often needed before any problem can be addressed. Crouch brought up the state’s constant shortfalls when returning money to local governments. To date, Lexington County has been shorted by about $30 million dollars and growing. He said if elected he had a plan that would help Lexington County go after some of that money. “There probably isn’t a courtroom in the state I haven’t been in while collecting debts owed to the company I work for,” Crouch told the audience. “If elected, I plan to pursue some of that state money in new ways.”
Both men agreed that emergency services were a top priority and that they would focus on continuing to work to increase the number of men and women on county streets that respond to crimes, fires, and medical emergencies. Both agreed again that spending is a necessary function of the council, but all spending isn’t bad. They both referred to the first responders and the need for more as an example of good spending. They both agree that spending should be well thought out so that the citizens get the most services for what they spend.
At one point, Crouch pointed out that his home’s taxes had gone up more than 40% after the school district he lives in passed a bond referendum to improve and rebuild its aging and crumbling schools. He said neither he nor his neighbors could take another hit like that and wanting to make sure property taxes increasing weren’t on the county council’s mind if at all possible. That bond was done by the school district and was voted on and approved by the district’s voters, but Crouch doesn’t believe that many understood how much the increase would equate to when they approved it.
Toward the end, Conwell said that working with other councilmembers was important if any member of the body was to get anything done. He believes that each should make his or her point known, stick up for his constituents, but never hold any vote personally.
Crouch touted his experience in finance, problem solving, and growing a business throughout the forum. He said he could bring that skillset to the table if elected and would be willing to work with others when he needed to as well.
In the summation, both candidates have very similar priorities and are open to looking for new solutions. They are also both for working with other councilmembers and with other governing bodies to get things done.
The forum was very civil, informative, and well planned. According to Richard Skipper with the chamber, he hopes to have more of these in the future. He said he was disappointed that Mr. Tolar didn’t attend, but was happy with the size of the crowd for a first of its kind event in that area. He also thanked the owners and staff of Bill’s Pickin’ Parlor for hosting the forum.