Town Council candidates have their say

BLYTHEWOOD – Managing growth, maintaining fiscal responsibility, and ensuring transparency highlighted the topics four candidates for Blythewood Town Council addressed during a recent candidate forum at Doko Manor.

Incumbent council members Eddie Baughman and Donald Brock as well as challengers Andrea Fripp and Trisha Hovis spent about 90 minutes Tuesday night, Oct. 24, answering questions about the issues provided to them in advance.

The election will be held Nov. 7, with the top two vote getters serving four-year terms.

The Blythewood Chamber of Commerce organized the event, which was moderated by Christine Keefer. Keefer spent about an hour reading questions, with the final 30 minutes devoted to audience questions. Those submitting questions were not named.

Each candidate was allowed two minutes to answer a particular question.

The two mayoral candidates (Bryan Franklin and Sloan Griffin) were also set to participate in the forum. On the day of the forum, Griffin said Franklin invited him to join him in a separate mayoral forum, which was held at Doko Manor from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1 after The Voice’s press deadline.

Questions from the forum:

  1. Why are you running for office and what is your leadership vision?
  2. Do you support the Scout Motors project, and if so, to what extent and why?
  3. As the Town of Blythewood proceeds with improving the current Doko Meadows Park facilities and expanding into the newly acquired properties on McLean Road and Sandfield Road, what are your plans to enhance public use and revenue productivity?
  4. With the industrial, commercial, and residential growth and the resulting traffic issues that Blythewood is currently experiencing, what is your plan for addressing Blythewood’s ongoing need for improved road infrastructure?
  5. What is your plan for economic development in Blythewood, specifically in enhancing current local businesses and industries as well as recruiting new business and industry to Blythewood?

Eddie Baughman

  1. I’ve given most of my adult life to the service of others first in the United States navy then as a professional firefighter here in Columbia.  Those two professions encompass 32 years of my life.  As I retired in 2010 I continued to serve our community by working for the South Carolina Baptist convention for ten years serving our area churches statewide not just locally.  In between that I ended up getting elected in 2014 so for the last 10 years I’ve served the town of Blythewood to the best of my ability.  I work closely with town staff and my knowledge of how the town works and operates is essential as mayor pro-tem I have the experience and the leadership and the capacities to move this town forward to stay engaged with business owners their employees as well as to support and respect our town staff.  It’s been an honor and a privilege these last ten years and with the community support on November 7th I’ll continue to provide that service to the best of my God-given abilities.  I followed this navy motto all of my life.  It’s inscribed above the door on the chapel of the United States navy academy, others and not self but others first and not yourself and I’ll stick to that motto whether I’m elected or not because I’ve been serving all my life and I will continue to serve. Thank you. 
  2. I support the scout motors program.  For me to stand up in front of you tonight and tell you otherwise would be ludicrous.  My voting record speaks for itself on this matter.  The commitment from scout and the state of south Carolina to invest two billion dollars in this project shows their commitment  they are willing to invest in the green energy, the infrastructure upgrades it is going to take for all these new road and rail projects and then to talk about our existing fire station here which is much needed and not only that but maybe with the possibility of building a new fire station that will house a ladder truck which will not only enhance their facility but will be a safety issue for our schools here and all our neighborhoods.  So it won’t just benefit them but this project once complete is promising to improve the quality of life for years to come. This is a huge investment offering thousands of jobs and huge economic impact for this community and beyond. For myself if reelected I look forward to working closely with our partners and community leaders and other stakeholders to make this project a success.      
  3. With the addition of the McLean Road property and the Sanfield property that brings us to another 42 acres give or take to expand on.  The purchase is one thing development is going to be another.  As you know, we don’t have a tax base here in Blythewood. We don’t tax our property owners so we don’t have that flow of income to come in to do that so we need to find those funds elsewhere so the town has hired or is soon to have under contract, the landscape architectural firm Woods and Partners. They along with the Doko Meadows Park Foundation are going to be entrusted into coming up with a plan for this new property. We are going to have charrettes and public involvement to see what the wants.  That’s what’s going to be the driving influence. They gave us a lot of ideas and you’ll see the ideas.  We have everything from a dedicated farmers market a splash pad, more athletic fields, walking trails. There’s so many ideas but it costs. It’s going to take money but we need the public input and those things will be advertised so the public can come and then we can follow up on it and try and make that happen.  You know we want the athletic fields, we want the biking and walking paths, we want the landscape, we want it to be beautiful. Our youth team fields are nonprofit.  We can’t really charge a rental fee. We don’t have the property I wish we did to come up with a truly dedicated sports complex to where we could host events. Right now we’re just going to have to do what we can but the public is going to have to drive us. 
  4. I think we are lucky to know with the town center district that our industrials located in one area and our commercial is expanding out. Now you see we have a new business that’s coming on 21 and we are going to have a new business right here between the church and Doko Smoke, but years ago the town council addressed the residential growth in the town by rezoning all existing lots to R20 so meaning no longer can we have an R5 R8 or R12 lot, meaning bigger lots, nicer houses, less houses in a subdivision. But it’s the idea to work closely with SDOT, Richland County and Scout Motors to make all these upgrades to our infrastructure possible.  As everybody else has alluded to that new exit 26, I truly believe that it’s going to be a benefit and take the congestion off Blythewood Road and Highway 21 not only is it going to benefit the scout facility but all the employees that work over in Northpointe. They should utilize that so that should free up a lot of the traffic around here so I think it’s going to be a blessing to them. We are working on the first penny tax project which is right now from 77 north out to syrup mill. Creech Rd will be extended out to Hwy 21 and from McNulty over to Blythewood Rd to over to Main Street again and when that gets street scaped and made walkable and passable, it’s going to be very nice and then of course the next one would be from the Muller Road.
  5. The greater Blythewood chamber of commerce does a great job of promoting our local businesses.  We see that in the local newspapers the ads asking us to shop local. We can partner with them to ensure the success of all these small businesses. They all struggled during Covid and I think this  community rallied around each one of those restaurants and kept them open getting take out and taking it home but if you go I encourage you to go over and enjoy a youth baseball game and look at the outfield fence over there and look at all the sponsors that sponsor our youth and how they invest in our youth and then I encourage you to go shop with those local people who they invest in our children they invest in our youth our youth are the future here so we look at all those local businesses you know and we should support them, not the big box stores.  We need a solid economic plan carefully and strategically built for the long term.  Something that will handle the divisiveness and the challenging situations that are going to arise and we need to assemble a team of stakeholders that are committed to an economic plan and our plan should include but not be limited to our values our visions our mission strategies objectives, and the implementation strategy to make this happen. 

Donald Brock

Donald Brock
  1. I’m not an expert on everything. I’m not a civil engineer. I’m not a traffic engineer. I’m not going to be able to tell you the best way to alleviate traffic.  These are not my areas of expertise. But I do bring certain skills to the table that other people don’t have. I have a Masters in Accounting and 25 years or so of professional finance and accounting experience.  In the last year and a half – especially this fiscal year – this council has made tremendous strides in tightening up its budget.  We have put policies in place that limit the amount of money that’s freely given to organizations. We’ve established caps and we’ve established capital improvement funds. We’ve established funds that is allowing us to purchase the property across the street (Tom Boney’s cow pasture).  We don’t have a millage, so we have to work with the money that we have.  That’s my role to help with this. I want to continue to promote transparency. The lights in town hall have been very dark.  We’ve got to turn those lights back up. The local government – all of us – need to be held accountable if we’ve done something wrong.  Again, fiscal responsibility is a big thing, and we’ve taken tremendous strides. But we have to keep going.  I want to foster a sense of community so that everyone feels equal and welcomed in this community and we have to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. We have got to expand our town borders through annexation or we are just going to run out of room.  If we want to increase our budgets and increase our coffers we’ve got to look outside our borders. 
  2. I support Scout. I grew up in Gaffney South Carolina and the biggest economic development in the state at the time was the BMW plant in Greenville. To say it was transformational is an understatement. There are people all over who travel to Greer to work at BMW. And that will happen here.  This will attract multiple people of different backgrounds and skill levels to this community.  It will enhance this community.   I currently serve on the design review committee as the Blythewood representative with Richland County economic development and I have been responsible for drafting and submitting the covenants and restrictions for the property and it has been quite an experience.  This project will be truly transformational for our community but it does not come without risks.  We have to keep the lines of communication open between local county and state officials so that we can ensure that all citizens whether they are pro or against Scout are informed with what’s going on and how it’s going on and when it’s going to evolve. 
  3. If you walk around the park in Doko Meadow today it looks a lot different than it did four years ago.  We have security gates, turf on the playground, new playground equipment, a sun shade. All of that was put together by this council.  I feel like I played a larger role in that. I specifically asked for the turf grass and so we’ve been able to secure the financing (i.e.) earmarks from the state government to enhance and beautify our park.  Councilman Sloan Griffin and I, prior to this, walked this park and pointed out things that needed to be improved.  I believe prior to these improvements it had been 10 years or so since we had had any major investments in this park.  We were actively looking for ways to improve, enhance, and repair our greatest asset which is this park.  Now as far as the development of the acreage across the street, It has to be a mixed use development. If it’s 100% recreational, then that’s going to generate zero dollars. We don’t have a mileage and I’m not looking to pass one. Our taxes in the county are some of the highest in the state, and we don’t need any additional taxes.  What we need to do is to stop giving our money away to individuals who can afford to pay for themselves and to attorneys that we don’t need.  Blythewood has a good stream of income it will continue with the addition of Scout and the other economic projects that come into this town. We are in good financial health.  The piece of property across the street is on a 7-year payment plan.  Councilman McKenrick and I developed a policy that will allow us to pay for that project.  I pretty much wrote the policy to pay for that – it won’t cost us any additional monies, and once that property is paid for, it frees up over half a million dollars. 
  4. The town of Blythewood is rather small, comprised mostly of neighborhoods with a small downtown business district. It has very few tools in its shed to manage industrial commercial and residential growth and the traffic issues that come along with it. Zoning is our biggest tool.  However, I believe an equally good option is for the town to strengthen the relationship we have with county and state officials.  As the Scout Motors project is bringing multi-billion dollar investments into our community.  The governor, the department of commerce, Richland County – they are going to do everything to ensure that that project does not fail and with that project comes the spoils. We are getting a new interchange at exit 26, widening Community Rd to 4 lanes. We’re getting new roundabouts, and some of the improvements are with the Richland penny project. Some are not.  The focus will be on Blythewood and as problems arise with the amount of economic investment that the county and the state are making in this area, I believe if you pull the right strings and talk to the right people you can have these things. Let’s just call them infrastructure needs. We can have these needs addressed but we you just have to establish the relationships with those who control the purse.  Thank you.
  5. The chamber is in the community and that’s their job, that is their mission to serve the membership and the businesses of the town.  As far as recruiting businesses we can zone the undeveloped property in town to allow businesses but our town is still – and I cannot emphasize this enough – small. The largest track of property that is going to be developed is Scout Motors. If you want an economic plan we got it.  Scout’s our catalyst that is going to attract.  Scout promised 4,000 jobs. It’s going to probably swell to eight to ten thousand jobs by the time you factor in the rest of the jobs in Fairfield, in Richland, in Lexington, and the OEM’s that are coming.  That’s our economic plan. How do we enhance it and capture all the benefits and amenities? It takes a team. One council member can’t do anything by themselves. Outside of a few issues, our council has gotten a lot of good things done in the last four years. Yes, we have some infighting. Yes, we don’t always agree in regards to the park and some other things, but we have done some really good things.  But one thing we haven’t done yet and that we can really spark the catalyst in Blythewood is annexation. We have to expand the town’s borders or we are just going to run out of property and then once all the property’s developed we’ve got what we’ve got.  Just like forest acres. 

Andrea Fripp

Andrea Fripp
  1. I’m running for office because I believe that the residents deserve a council that is transparent and communicates effectively with our neighbors on a more consistent basis.  I bring a business owner mindset coupled with a government financial background, and that’s crucial at this time while our town is experiencing exponential growth.  As a resident, I too want to maintain the small town feel of Blythewood. That’s why I came here seven years ago. That’s important to me. But I understand that growth happens and Blythewood is growing. Blythewood is becoming more diverse and I believe the council should be more reflective of the community that it serves. I also believe that the residents need to know who the town council members are those council members need to be accessible. I can remember when Scout Motors came. I was in this room and it was filled with people with all different types of backgrounds and political affiliations. But at that particular moment it was all about being a resident of Blythewood that resonated with me. That’s what our local politics should be about. It should be about us, the people of Blythewood, not about infighting or looking at our differences. It should about the entire community that we serve. 
  2. Scout Motors is here and we need to support it. It is certainly not a project that at this point we would want to fail. We need to come together and discuss what we need to do to move forward to make this a positive impact on the community.  I am a certified government finance officer, and the former CFO of a county agency that had a $50M budget. I also managed a $50M capitol project budget, so I come to this role understanding how Scout and the ensuing economic development it will bring can help our community prosper. Knocking on doors, I have been speaking to people who initially were not in favor of the project and I think that that had a lot to do with the initial roll out. The messaging was not there for a lot of people. They didn’t know what was going on.  I am in support of scout because I believe that the economic impact is just going to be phenomenal, bringing in new jobs, making existing businesses flourish as new people come to town. It’s going to be a snowball effect in terms of all the numbers of course. I am in favor of the economic impact Scout Motors will have on our community. 
  3. So this one hits close to home for me. In a past life I was a professional fundraiser for the Richland County Recreation Commission at the time when the $50 million dollar capitol bond project was in effect. It was my responsibility to come up with ways to raise money to generate revenue for that particular project, so I think that I could definitely bring that skill set to something like that for Blythewood. I don’t have all the details of this project but I certainly could look at things such as naming rights. I can at least look at the situation and figure out ways that we can generate money that would help with this particular project. 
  4. As a finance person my first question would be who is going to pay for this infrastructure we need. We need to leverage the relationship – to Councilman Brock’s point – with those who have the purse strings so that would be the county and the state. In terms of addressing it, we first have to determine how it will be paid for, and then we can move forward with a plan that would alleviate some of the traffic and some of the pressure because, again, Blythewood is an area that is apparently very appealing to people. Businesses are coming, families are coming – so we have an issue with growth so I just think that it is something that we all just have to come together and figure out how to move forward and improve the traffic flow and the infrastructure.  This is something that will be ongoing, and many more conversations are going to be had in order to figure it out. The Richland county penny tax was approved many years ago. I’m not sure that they knew what was coming to Blythewood at that time, but I can tell you that I’m appreciative when I see Blythewood Road expanding, so again I just think it’s a matter of leveraging the relationships that we have with those who have the ability to fund them. 
  5. Whether you’re for Scout Motors or against it, you know it will naturally bring an influx of people. It is going to bring in new business and its going to enhance the existing businesses. I would encourage current businesses to prepare for the growth. I think that it’s a good thing, but when we talk about leveraging that’s where the chamber could play a big part. The state chamber can help bring in new business and the local chamber could help to enhance our current businesses. It’s through our businesses that we are going to see the biggest economic development.

Trisha Hovis

Trisha Hovis
  1. I am running for office because it is the time in my life to serve and I am a lifelong server. I was in law enforcement. I work for a technical college and I’m not sure you are familiar with the mission of a technical college but it’s student success. I can take a student who worked at Toys R Us, who’s now a secret service agent. I do that through listening. I do that through hard work. I do that through good teaching skills. I do that through good advising, and I do that through support through their career at the school and after they leave and after they graduate. I’m still in touch with many of my students who are very successful. We are open enrollment. You don’t need high test scores. You don’t even need a high school diploma. We’ll help you with that. We’ll help you get a GED. We take everybody. We are a very diverse population so I think I’m pretty good at that. I have a lot of common sense. I am really a firm believer in professional behavior. Just stay off of Facebook. Town business should happen here and with the people in communication either on the phone or maybe an email, but all the other stuff to me is noise and nonsense. So, I think we need to up it a little bit in terms of professionalism and make sure how we are conducting ourselves. I’m sure we can disagree. That’s fine. I disagree with people all the time but we still get along just fine. I think few can do that here and I think we can do that with Scout Motors. I think few can do that amongst ourselves and be successful. It’s time for me to serve. 
  2. At first I did not [support Scout], and I think I can echo my fellow candidate here who said that it was perhaps due to the rollout, I didn’t understand at the time that local government may not be included in a press release to that magnitude so that when I found out about it I thought my gosh how did out local government not know about that and not tell us about it and I have learned a lot since then. I have come up the education curve and I have come to accept the fact that they are here and I believe that the approach at this point is to get on board and to be positive and to have a professional relationship and a reciprocal relationship with Scout Motors so that we can take advantage of the offers that they have made to us to help improve infrastructure.  I work for the South Carolina technical college  system and I have for 13 years and I am the program manager for the criminal justice department,  manage a budget and I also have a great deal of experience in grant writing. I don’t know if you have ever done grant writing but it is not anything I would choose to do as an extracurricular activity but I do have that experience and that is one of the reasons why I was so hesitant and how the county was able to move so fast, clear the land and get the bids out there. When I tried to write a bid in my job we had to get three different offers and it takes a long time. It is quite a monumental effort so at this point I am a proponent of Scout. I think that we can be professional. We can have a partnership and also stay informed so that we don’t find ourselves in the situation that I found myself in which was that if you don’t give people information then it’s human nature to want to maybe make it up so I don’t want to be like that.
  3. I think we could learn from Phil Fry the chair of the chamber of commerce who just hosted the most successful October fest of some ideas and some ways to have some revenue to support Doko even further.  I had some ideas about what to do with the new property at McLean and Sandfield Rd. I’m not sure what the acreage is. My sister lives in James Island in Charleston and she goes to the low country senior center which is a cooperative between the city of Charleston and Roper St Francis Hospital so I think it would be great considering the demographics in Blythewood and there is a demographic of an age range of over 55 and getting older obviously that would like to have something like a senior citizens center where you can go and do activities and take classes and get a flu shot and take dance classes and things like that so that might be one opportunity in conjunction with Lexington Medical if I’m correct in  assuming that they are going to be here. To help support and fund a facility like that would be a good idea for the new property. I know we need more walking trails so again I wish I did know the acreage of the facility but if we could create some type of walking trails I know also that Fairfield county got a grant from the EPA to further establish the palmetto trail which I do believe runs through Blythewood so maybe there is an opportunity to partner with Winnsboro or Fairfield county and develop that so that people could come here and it would be a place where they could come and get honey and they could also walk on the walking trail.  So those are some of ideas.  I also thought about youth soccer because I think soccer has a very low overhead in terms of having kids come out and play. 
  4. I think we have done a lot of work already if you look at the town council website and I’m sure that the two town council folks next to me can attest to the 2020 thru 2030 master plan that the town council has put together in accordance with the South Carolina state planning act which was passed and requires municipalities such as our self to come up with a plan well in advance. So the Blythewood Rd penny tax (I think maybe it should be a 1% tax) but it’s a penny tax designed in 2015, and I think that council, if I read it correctly, did something really smart and that was not to have the widening to extend from I-77 to Fulmer road which is where I turn and take that left over money which if you don’t have to extend out to Winnsboro Highway you have that money left over. If you look at the plan they’ve already considered the fact that the key areas that need to be addressed are Creech Road – I don’t know if you have tried to take a left out of San Jose – but it is each man for himself. I’m also an AARP safe driver instructor and I can tell you that taking a left turn is probably one of the most dangerous things that you can do, but as far as the infrastructure goes, the identification has been made for Creech Road, Syrup Mill, Blythewood Road, and also the addition of roundabouts which I am a huge proponent of because they do slow traffic down. We know that speed kills. I’m also a proponent of artificial intelligence which if you get a system that can deploy and you use AI to monitor your traffic routes, you can do it in real time. SCDOT can actually control traffic signals depending on conditions.
  5. Looking at the website today, it seems like healthcare is a large representation of the members of the chamber of commerce. I read that Lexington Medical center is going to purchase 15 acres near Scout Motors to bring some sort of healthcare facility in, so I think that a health care facility is economic development. It brings people that work there. I think that’s a wonderful opportunity to look at any kind of health care facility that we can get. I would think maybe the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Business would have a lot of studies that are going on and I think they would be willing to partner with somebody like the Town of Blythewood. I also think that we need to have creative ideas and new ideas and not always think about what is the next kind of chain restaurant. I’ll admit I like to go to places where I can buy things that are less expensive so I would like to encourage any kind of unique ideas. I think the farmers market is a great opportunity for economic development, and I also had the thought of having a beekeeper business set up in Blythewood this weekend and so we could sell honey and have something that other people don’t. Then they would say let’s go to Blythewood this weekend because that’s where we can purchase honey.

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