Don't panic if you're perusing the list of candidates for County Council on the ballot in November and can't put a face with a name; four of the six candidates are newcomers and the third race is a rematch between two rookies that ran in a special election in May. Chair Leon Stavrinakis is running for the state House of Representatives and Ed Fava isn't running again, leaving a few seats to the rookies.
Winners won't have an easy task. Scuffles over the treatment of newly incorporated James Island will continue into early 2007, recommendations on how to spend money from the half-cent sales tax are just around the corner, and the downturn in the housing market isn't fooling anybody — all the candidates recognize growth as the number one priority and the root to worries over schools, parks, roads, etc.
To simplify this piece, please accept the fact that all of the candidates support preserving the quality of life in Charleston County, regional planning, government efficiency, and the recruitment of clean industries that provide well-paying jobs.
McMackin vs. Schweers – District 2
Democrat Jane McMackin enters the race to represent coastal East Cooper and part of the peninsula after serving on the Isle of Palms Town Council for two years.
"My understanding of municipal government gives me the edge," she says.
Winning the struggle with growth will require consistency, says McMackin.
"We need to develop a plan and stick to it, not change it every time a developer comes along," she says.
After leading the fight for bike trails on Isle of Palms, McMackin says that she'll continue her push for family parks and recreation trails in development agreements, while also ensuring that open space preserved through county programs provides practical uses.
"We need interactive greenspace, not just greenspace to look at," she says.
Aside from her experience, she says her ability to devote all of her time to the job will be an advantage.
"I think it's a job that requires full-time effort," she says.
Native Dickie Schweers, a Republican, is a political newcomer, but has recently served on the county's Greenbelt Advisory Board that's shepherding the development of the county's conservation plan. The program that should soon begin preserving properties is paid for through the half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2004. County Council will be faced with important decisions in the next few years on how to spend the money for preservation and the bulk of the tax money that's dedicated to road improvements.
"We need to carefully plan beyond short-term road fixes," he says.
Schweers also notes regional cooperation will be key, including county regionalism with Dorchester, Berkeley, and Georgetown counties, as well as local coordination. Schweers notes that there are seven zoning authorities in his district alone.
"We absolutely cannot view those independently anymore," he says. "We've grown to the extent that we're all interrelated."
The sales tax swap to pay for school operations is providing an opportunity for property tax relief, but Schweers says more needs to be done, including improved efficiency in county spending.
On controlling growth, Schweers says the best medicine may be a healthy dose of restraint when considering where to build or widen roads.
"More and more interstates won't solve our problems," he says.
Age: 56 Family: Married, three children, a grandchild Residence: Isle of Palms Education: Bachelor's from Metropolitan State University Job: Retired advertising and marketing Political Experience: Isle of Palms Town Council since 2004 On Growth: "Sometimes it's controlling us, instead of us controlling it." Website: www.janemcmackin.org
Age: 43 Family: Married, two children Residence: Outside McClellanville Education: Bachelor's at Clemson, Master's at Citadel Job: Santee Cooper Political Experience: None On Growth: "More and more interstates won't solve our problems." Website: www.charlestongop.org/dickie_schweers.htm
Goldberg vs. McKeown – District 1
No, it's not Groundhog Day. You're not reliving the special election that went to Republican Joe McKeown in May. Because of the mess of election calendars, both candidates had to register to run for November's general election in March, two months before anyone went to the polls for the special election to fill the seat for seven months. The race went to McKeown by a 4-percent margin, but Democrat Steven Goldberg says he remains hopeful for a change in November.
Citing a recent letter to the editor in the Post and Courier by mayors critical of the county's plan to spend $6 million in sales tax collections for on-the-job training, Goldberg says there's been a breakdown in communication between county and municipal leaders.
"It shows a big division between the county and the towns," he says. "I haven't seen where (McKeown) has worked with the municipalities in his district."
Libraries have been a concern for Goldberg, particularly the lack of one in northern Mount Pleasant. One is planned in a development agreement, but Goldberg says there's no clear assurances on when residents can expect the doors to open.
"That won't do any good for the people in northern Mt. Pleasant," he says.
That's just one example, Goldberg says, of his opponent looking out for developers, not voters.
"We need someone who represents the values of the community, not the values of the homebuilders," he says.
McKeown, not surprisingly, sees things a little differently.
A member of the Mount Pleasant Town Council for two years before his May election to the county seat, McKeown notes he and other town officials worked with developers to ensure the library would be included in development plans even though libraries are a county responsibility. Development of the library should begin in the next two years and includes $2.5 million from the developer and free land – both things that the county would be hard-pressed to find without the aid.
"Finding $1 million is like finding a needle in a haystack," McKeown says. "Just try finding $2.5 million."
The criticism by the municipal leaders of the county's on-the-job training program shows more work does need to be done in reaching out to municipal leaders before decisions are made so that everyone is in agreement, McKeown says.
"We're not perfect at communicating our position," he says. McKeown has been a vocal opponent of paying for the program through the sales tax because that was not how the tax was presented to voters in 2004.
As for the suggestion that he's pro-development, McKeown says he's against throwing a wide net prohibiting any high-density development. Considering Charleston's workforce is having to drive far off the peninsula for decent housing, high-density development close to where people work could provide much needed workforce housing while eliminating some of the traffic that clogs roads and interstates.
"You can't complain about sprawl and not make allowances for high density," McKeown says. "You've got to pick your poison."
Age: 38 Family: Married, three children Residence: Mt. Pleasant Education: Bachelor's at U of Fla., Law degree from U of SC Job: Steinberg Law Firm LLP Political Experience: None On Growth: "While we welcome new people, we need to make sure our infrastructure is in place." Website: www.goldbergforcountycouncil.com
Age: 43 Family: Married Residence: Mt. Pleasant Education: Bachelor's at University of South Carolina Job: Allstate insurance agent and financial representative Political Experience: County Council since May, Mt. Pleasant Town Council 2004-2006 On Growth: "You can't complain about sprawl and not make allowances for high density. You've got to pick your poison." Website: www.joemckeownforcountycouncil.com
Tempel vs. Thurmond – District 9
Democrat George Tempel says that he's in the race to preserve the quality of life in Charleston County, though he recognizes many development decisions are out of the county's hands.
"County Council can provide a model," he says, noting he can be a consensus builder on issues and work with municipalities to ensure development is responsible, infrastructure is in place, and greenspace is protected.
Though he says he voted against the half-cent sales tax in 2004 because it wasn't adequately presented to voters, Tempel says he supports the road improvement and preservation efforts.
But the recent county report on extending U.S. 526 over Johns Island from the Savannah Highway to the James Island Connector was a "failure," because Tempel says it didn't gauge the impact the highway will have on secondary roads. Those impacts need to be determined and necessary improvements need to be made before the road is built or concurrently, he says.
A proponent for efficiency, Tempel says that he supports the sheriff's suggestion that consolidated law enforcement with municipalities would be a boon, possibly starting with smaller municipalities.
"We've done it with EMS," he says. "I truly believe the effect on law enforcement would be dramatically improved."
A 30-year resident of Charleston County, Tempel is quick to note his opponent's short time in the area and questions Thurmond's reason for running.
"I'm here to stay," Tempel says. "My reason for doing this is not to go to Columbia."
Republican Paul Thurmond doesn't know where the suggestions are coming from that he's in the race looking to a higher office, but it's likely because he's the son of U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who held a number of high profile offices.
"I don't know where it's coming from," he says. "I'm not looking past this."
Thurmond supports the property tax reforms tied to the one-cent increase approved by the legislature to pay for school operations, but he also believes an extra half-penny in sales tax could pull county operations off property tax bills and put some of that responsibility on tourists.
"Tourism is such a huge part of this area," he says. "That's an ideal scenario."
Reforming inefficient parts of the government is an important part of Thurmond's campaign, including bus line CARTA.
"It needs to be run as a business," he says. There has been progress, but he said more needs to be done to make the bus system attractive to more people.
"CARTA is viewed as transportation for people who don't have other transportation," he says.
Thurmond also opposes the fees proposed by the county on James Island.
"I've been very disappointed with the county's handling of the incorporation of James Island," he says. "They should be acting like a big brother instead of an adversary."
Jail overcrowding is also a concern for Thurmond, who wants to see processing time reduced for inmates and compensation from the federal government for holding their prisoners. There's also the potential to put deadbeat dads on a form of house arrest instead of locking them up.
"A lot of this is about putting out ideas," he says.
Age: 62 Family: Married, two children, three grandchildren Residence: James Island Education: Bachelor's at University of California at Berkeley; PhD, Indiana University, and Post Doctoral Fellowship, University of Missouri. Job: Professor and research scientist at Medical University of South Carolina Political Experience: None On Growth: "We need to do something to help ensure that development that occurs here is responsible." Website: www.tempelforcouncil.com
Age: 30 Family: Married, one child Residence: James Island Education: Bachelor's at Vanderbilt, Law degree from USC Job: Law partner at Thurmond, Kirchner and Timbes, ice cream shop owner Political Experience: None On Growth: "We need to make it to where people are not wasting their time sitting in their cars." Website: www.paulthurmond.com