Candidates Politely Make Their Cases

Blythewood, on Tuesday you vote here: Blythewood Recreation Center, 126 Boney Road.

Blythewood, on Tuesday you vote here: Blythewood Recreation Center, 126 Boney Road.

BLYTHEWOOD (Oct. 29, 2015) – Last week’s Town Council candidate forum, sponsored by the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce at The Manor, was a low-key exercise in polite comments when compared to the heated debates in past years that featured unretouched questions from the audience and candidates who took out after each other as well as the non-candidate members of Town Council and Council members from past years who were no longer even in office. At the end of those two hours, there were no misunderstandings.

Leading up to the Oct. 20 forum, questions were submitted by citizens online to the Chamber whose members first narrowed them to six, then, according to one chamber member, massaged the six queries before posing them to the candidates.

Chamber board chairman Ed Garrison, a former member of the Town Council, momentarily upstaged the candidates as he opened the forum by lobbying for the establishment of a millage in the town and expressing frustration that state law (Act 388) has virtually precluded the Town from being able to levy a property tax since a previous Town Council abolished the Town’s millage more than 10 years ago. The resulting formula, Garrison said, amounts to ‘new millage x 0 = 0 millage’.

Once the introductions and lobbying ended, the questioning began, moderated by Blythewood High School students Ansley Hagenbarger and K.J. Mack. Patrick Kelly, BHS AP government teacher, served as official time keeper.

Candidates for the single two-year vacancy are Larry D. Griffin, a native Blythewoodian, and Michelle Kiedrowski, a newcomer. Candidates for the two four-year seats are incumbent Eddie Baughman; longtime Blythewood resident Bryan Franklin who is retired from the Army; Malcolm Gordge, a 12-year Blythewood resident who serves as the Chairman of the Town’s Planning Commission and Robert Rue, an Army veteran who moved to Blythewood about a year ago.

Asked what they considered to be the two or three key issues facing Town Council, each candidate offered some combination of problems caused by increased traffic, increased growth and the critical need for infrastructure prior to any further increase in traffic and growth.

Two-year candidates

Griffin said growth and the lack of infrastructure are key. “I’m proactive, not reactive. I look at situations before they happen and try to make sure we have a solution to the problem. Our government has a plan in place but COG (Central Midlands Council of Government) issued a report that said we are going to have 1,500 houses built in the next couple of years. Growth has to be structured. Blythewood is looking to the Penny Tax to provide funds to restructure the roads. Whatever our plan looks like, we need to be looking at that situation right now and see where we’re going and structure those funds that are going to be coming to us to make it happen.”

Kiedrowski agreed that growth is the number one issue. “My concern is that we need to grow with the future in mind. It’s important to respect history and the historical society, but we also need to grow and create a history for those yet to come and create a place for them to thrive. People can grow and find their place. We need to build a community. If I’m going to be on Town Council I want to know what you are all thinking. I want to know how to hear back from the constituents. How do you feel? I feel there’s not a whole diversified population that’s always expressing their opinions. I think it’s super important that communication between everyone in the town needs to be considered.”

Four-year candidates

Baughman named infrastructure or the lack of it and the lack of storm water management in the town as prime concerns. “The state and SCDOT are working on this, but we have to address it. We also need to look to the economic development of the town. We’re sitting on some of the best property in the county. We need to use it to attract more businesses that will fund improvements to our town. But as growth and more homes and businesses come, we need to look at how we can protect our town’s investment and how to protect your investment as a home owner. Right now we’re dependent on Richland County for our services, so it’s important that we be a better partner with Richland County. We need to make this happen for you.”

Franklin emphasized the importance of cautious growth and preserving the rural character of Blythewood, calling traffic, rezoning and annexation the top three issues for the town. “Traffic. We don’t control road funds here in the town. The state allocates those to the county. So it’s all about collaboration, speaking with the voice of Blythewood to our officials at the county and state level. We need to improve our roads and utilize such things as traffic circles at places like the Food Lion, Community Road and on Blythewood Road. We must work closely with our representatives to make this happen. Rezoning. We all moved out here to have a farm and a garden and now a new subdivision moves in your back door. We need to listen to the people who are affected by the rezoning before we allow it. Annexation. Absolutely no more annexation unless the property owners say they want it.”

Gordge said the top three issues are: 1) the needs of the town, 2 the needs of the town and 3) the needs of the town. “There is a raft of things to take care of and we need to find a way of prioritizing them. There are the immediate issues of the day that need to be addressed. The next level of issues are those you can plan and address in meetings, committees, etc. The third level is long term projects where you’re planning for the major objectives that might take several years to complete. The Council needs to be agile so it can make decisions quickly as well as be sure the long term goals are achieved. Growth is unavoidable. Because Richland County owns the surrounding land, that growth will come whether we like it or not.”

Rue said he sees expansion, fiscal responsibility and education as the three top issues in Blythewood. “This is a great place, but there are a lot of homes going up. You can’t have it both ways. We need an infrastructure plan to manage the growth. We need to be fiscally responsible. We need to look at how we’re spending the Town’s money, watch what we take in and what we do with it once we take it in. Myself (if elected) and other council members will make the decisions on how that’s handled. And we must place a priority on education, how we’re assisting with the education of our children and how we as a council can influence the powers that be who educate our children.”

The election for three new Town Council members is 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 3 at the Blythewood Recreation Center, 126 Boney Road, Blythewood.