Editorial: The picket man will be missed

Utroska picketing Town spending in 2010

Tom Utroska was about as reluctant a candidate as you will find when he ran for Blythewood Town Council in 2012. But that’s not to say he was a political wall flower. Or that he was shy.

Like many in the town in 2010, Utroska was choosing sides about how the town was being run, how it was spending money, how it was changing.

When he objected vehemently to what he considered the town government’s overspending on the town park and Manor, Utroska formed a one-man picket line at the entrance to the park as guests arrived for the park dedication ceremony on a sunny August morning. Along busy Langford Road, residents honked their horns and waved in support of Utroska’s picket. He was an overnight hero of sorts to those who were beginning to look for someone to speak up, to say what they were thinking.

Naturally boistrous with a hearty laugh that could shake a room, he sallied forth in his quest to do right by his community. He attended town government meetings, spoke up, wrote op eds in The Voice and volunteered to serve on the Planning Commission of which he soon found himself elected chairman.

While the town government mostly regarded Utroska as a trouble maker, others saw him as merely dogged in his demand for a fiscally responsible government.

After he was handily elected to Town Council in 2012, Utroska put his money where his mouth was and lived up to his campaign promises.

He did not take the $500 monthly Town Council salary ($24,000) and, at the end of his four years in office, he did not run for a second term, just as he had promised his wife, Kathy, when he ran for office.

As a Councilman, Utroska did not just show up at meetings, unseal his agenda packet and cast an uninformed vote. He saw his office as a job to make the town a better place. He went right to work.

While he had opposed construction of The Manor as too expensive, it was finished but in a financial nose dive when Utroska took office. He and  former Councilman  (and former political foe) Paul Moscoti forged what turned out to be a close working relationship to finalize contracts on the Manor, establish usage rates, add a security system, establish a reserve fund for future replacement of the a/c, roof and other big ticket items and add restrooms to the park. He and Moscati oversaw contracts for grading and sodding the ball fields and more.

It is much to Utroska’s credit that, this year, it looks like the Manor might break even on operating expenses and reserves.

During his four years in office, Utroska always kept an eye on whether the hospitality and accommodation tax funds were used to actually bring people to town. He was not afraid to challenge the spending of the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce when needed or to challenge the need for expensive DHEC regulations for the town that he felt were not needed.

Utroska’s four years on Council are over, and he’ll be missed by many, but he promise to remain involved as a citizen and maybe, if the need arises, to even show up with a picket.