Candidates talk growth, annexation, safety, more

Candidates for Blythewood Mayor: former mayor Keith Bailey, councilman Bryan Franklin and councilman Malcolm Gordge answer questions from the audience during last week’s candidate forum. | Photos: Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – Annexation, traffic and striking a balance between growth and preserving Blythewood’s rural character highlighted a two-hour town hall forum featuring the town’s three mayoral candidates in the first hour and four of five council candidates in the second hour Thursday evening at Doko Manor. 

Former Mayor Keith Bailey and incumbent council members Bryan S. Franklin and Malcolm P. Gordge are all vying for the town’s top elected post. Incumbent councilman Eddie Baughman, planning commission chair Donald Beaton Brock, Jr., planning commissioner Sloan Jarvis Griffin, III and former planning commissioner Marcus Taylor were featured in the hour for council candidates.

Tracy Young Cooper moderated the mayoral town hall. Outgoing Mayor J. Michael Ross moderated the town council debate. Councilman Barry Belville, who’s also running for one of two available council seats, didn’t participate in the panel.

The forum, hosted by The Voice newspaper, was conducted in a town hall format with most questions coming from the audience. Two questions for each group of candidates were prepared by the candidate forum committee.

Mayoral Candidates

During the mayoral forum, the candidates’ answers varied when asked by Lenore Zedowsky to identify Blythewood’s biggest issue.

Gordge said addressing increasing traffic leads his list. He said the town needs to be thinking 10 to 20 years in the future.

“Without a doubt, roads and road improvements are going to be absolutely critical for safety and getting around town,” Gordge said.

Bailey said public safety is a growing issue. He identified increasing breaking and entering and vandalism as the town’s top crimes, but also thinks response times may be too slow, citing the Blythe Creek area as one example.

“They expressed they had trouble with response times from the County. We’ve got a substation less than two miles away,” Bailey said. “We need to improve our relationships with the County Sheriff’s Department.”

Franklin said infrastructure is the town’s most pressing need. He said while the state seems more preoccupied with building roundabouts, he said as mayor he’d work to improve sports facilities, sidewalks and other amenities.

The candidates were asked by Gena Dow, what plans the town has to support youth football.

“I know there’s a big need for baseball but I feel youth football gets forgotten – a lot. I feel like youth football is lost in this town….Also, how can we bridge the disconnect between Blythewood and Westwood high schools? My son will be going to that school and I see a definite deficit in what the town does for Westwood as far as supporting athletics.”

All three candidates agreed that Westwood should be part of Blythewood.

Franklin said he would like to see Blythewood annex all the way down to Westwood.

“As we speak, I’m looking at 40 acres on Muller Road. The county owns property adjoining Blythewood that possibly they would sell and Blythewood could have its own park. Of course we would have to fund the operating expenses. I’m all for that. We could put baseball, football, lacrosse and soccer in there. If elected, I will do that.”

Gordge said that he, too, observes that Westwood High School is not part of the town.

“But it makes perfect sense for it to be incorporated [into the town]. We need to open the door. That should be part of our comprehensive plan. Ball fields of all types are going to be featured in a major way in our plans for the next decade. There’s not going to be anything overnight, but we are following every possible avenue to bring that to life.”

Bailey said that particular subject [youth football] is near and dear to his heart. He said he and another individual helped start the Blythewood Youth Football and Cheer league several years ago.

“And we always had the same problems – where are we going to play. We need to start having partnerships between the youth teams and the high schools. In the past, the high schools actually sponsored some of our regional playoffs. Youth sports is important to me, has always been important to me and will continue to be,” Bailey said.

All three mayoral candidates said they feel annexation of the outlying areas around Blythewood is important.

Bailey said he would like to see the town annex the existing neighborhoods outside the town.

Franklyn said that if he is elected mayor, he will send annexation information to all residents of the unincorporated 29016, “and make it a voluntary decision.” But he said he favored forced annexation on the Blythewood Farms subdivision, “before they put a stick in the ground,” just outside the town limits.

Gordge said he would hold a series of town hall meetings to sound out what the businesses and residents want concerning annexation. He said he would also suggest working to build better relationships with the county in making annexation plans.

Candidates for town council, from left, incumbent Eddie Baughman, Planning Commissioers Donald Brock, Sloan Griffin III and former Planning Commissioner Marcus Taylor.

Town Council Candidates

Growth and infrastructure were common themes during the council candidates’ debate as well, with most of the candidates wanting to boost business without allowing residential growth to overrun the town.

Baughman said as a 35-year resident of the town, he’s in touch with the community. He also touted his leadership and lifetime of service, which includes serving as a petty officer in the U.S. Navy and also a battalion chief in the Columbia Fire Department.

“I think I bring leadership to this council, I’ve been a leader all my life,” Baughman said. “I love Blythewood. I’m vested in the community.”

In the next five to 10 years, he said he wants Blythewood to encourage business development while maintaining its small-town charm.

“We have opportunities to preserve the rural areas, our historic areas,” he said. “But there are threats to that plan. Those threats are poor planning and development that can destroy Blythewood’s sense of identity and sense of purpose we have here in the community.”

Brock touted his experience on the planning commission as well as his financial background working on Wall Street and also the S.C. Retirement System.

He said Blythewood is at a crossroads and that the town needs leaders with experience.

“You need someone with experience, someone who works every day in a field that has an attention to detail. I am that candidate,” he said. “Numbers is what I do. No one is going to work harder for this town to make sure we are fiscally responsible.”

Griffin thinks the town should revamp its comprehensive and master plans, particularly as it relates to public safety partnerships. The town, he said, needs to find ways to improve police, fire and EMS response times.

He also voiced support for “conservation subdivisions,” which preserve greenspace by blending environmental elements into residential developments.

“We need to have smart growth. We need to study these traffic patterns,” he said. “Moving forward, we can have a plan on paper, but we really need to start studying traffic patterns during the right time of the year.”

Taylor touted his previous 13 years of service on the planning commission, which he said would serve him well on the council.

In matters of public policy, Taylor said he’s a good listener and would generally be deferential to what Blythewood residents want.

“The only changes are only what the community comes to us and asks us to change,” Taylor said. “The community has to come out and tell us what they want.”

Audience members posed questions to the panel of candidates.

Forum Committee: Traci Cooper, Jamie Harkness, Michael Watts
Emcee: Mayor J. Michael Ross
Sound/Music: Vance Sharp
Time Keeper: Abhi Sailesha
Lobby volunteers: Hazel Kelly, Margaret Kelly, Saralyn Yarborough
Blythewood Gloriosa Florist – floral
$100 Gift Card Sponsors
Blythewood Oil, Reese’s Plants, Laura’s Tea Room, Pope-Davis Tire Co., IGA/Food Lion and Papa John’s