We Can, We Will…with a Unified Council

$10,250: the amount the FD requested for one of their wants in 2016: the Fire Safety House.  We exceeded this goal with a #OneSimpsonville effort that included the city, businesses, citizens, and especially Modern Woodmen of America. City Tax $$ spent: $0.00.

$13,466.36: amount raised via the Raise the Roof Fundraiser for a shelter at the Tater Shed Amphitheater.  Also a #OneSimpsonville effort by citizens, businesses, and the city. City tax $$: $0.00.

$10,000: proposed donation from private donor for additional cost of the shelter at the Tater Shed Amphiteater. City tax dollars that will be used for this project: $0.00.

$280,000: Grant funding earned by the City of Simpsonville towards the Swamp Rabbit Trail (thanks, Steve Moore!).  Granted based on a vision, a plan, hard work, and the #OneSimpsonville spirit.  City tax dollars proposed for use in first stretch of SRT: $0.00.

$20,000: Goal for Sensory Playground Equipment. Goal exceeded. City tax contribution: $0.00.

That’s just what I remember off the top of my head. It leaves a lot out. It totals OVER $593,716. For the record, that’s a 1/4 of the proposed initial cost of the Arts Center that some candidates keep claiming we will have to raid the city coffers to fund.And most of that was done in just around a year.

We accomplished all that because we had vision–a Council majority committed to that vision and finding ways to make it happen. And because YOU, your citizens, want these types of projects to be a priority to improve our quality of life here in Simpsonville.  I will work to make sure we continue in this direction. Some candidates have indicated they will too.  Others have said NO. They claim it can’t be done. It’s up to YOU to decide on November 7th who you want working for YOU. Those who say WE CAN. And work to ensure WE WILL. Or those who say WE CAN’T.  Choose wisely.

 

All the Candidates Agree! (No, really!)

I attended the forum at City Park Monday night, where all 6 candidates spoke and answered questions.  And they all agreed on 2 key issues: 1) restore leaf pickup service (no bagging!); and 2) no tax increases.

Yes, that’s right. They all agreed on those two things.  No surprise–they know these things are important to you. They’re important to all of us. So if they all agree on those issues, who should you vote for?

One word: Vision.

Vote for those who have it. Vote for those whose vision of Simpsonville in 5, 10, 15 years most closely aligns with yours.

As I’ve told you before, our Public Works Department ended up in its current state because of a lack of long-term planning and the lack of a cohesive, forward-thinking Council, a Council whose majority lacked vision.  A Council whose majority made decisions–big decisions–absent any long-term plans or vision.  And that’s unacceptable because every decision Council makes should be driven by that long-term plan and vision.

Enough.  We need real leadership. You voted for that in 2015. And you should vote for it again now. I’ve been calling for a long-term strategic plan since 2015. We’ve been stalled at every turn. So January 2018 is the time to make progress on that goal.  We need real leaders with real vision to help us do that.

And as I said previously, we also need people who have a demonstrated ability to work with the current Council.  And people whose experiences will complement those of us currently serving on Council. This is the only way we will make real progress over the next two years.  And I’m ready for that to happen.  I know you are too.  Don’t forget to vote November 7th.

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Happy Trails to Simpsonville!

1200px-us-nationalparkservice-shadedlogo418363100.pngIn my last blog post, I said that if we want to achieve great things, we have to be willing to work not just with each other and other government bodies but also with our city employees, our local businesses, local non-profits and community groups, and the citizens.  It takes all of us working together to make Simpsonville great. That’s what the One Simpsonville vision was all about.

Since I’ve taken office, I’ve seen so many examples of this ideal becoming reality.  One such example is the progress we have made in bringing the Swamp Rabbit Trail to Simpsonville.  This has truly been a One Simpsonville effort.  And no, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer.

Still down a man in the Planning Department since David Dyrhaug had been promoted to City Administrator, the City had struggled to make the Swamp Rabbit Trail a reality.  With the day-to-day planning responsibilities, our one-man Planning Department didn’t have the time to give such a huge project the attention this one required.  Enter former Police Chief, Steve Moore, who stepped up to the plate with his excellent grant-writing abilities. This helped us earn TAP dollars to get the project started.  We had a plan and were ready to go.  Then, there were months and months of negotiating with the Railroad, and we just weren’t able to come to a compromise that would work.  Ultimately, it seemed like all that hard work might be for naught.  Enter local businessman and long-time resident Lou Hutchings, who also stepped up to the plate.  He researched alternative solutions and brought back to the city the idea of working with the National Park Service.  He made the connection and got us started on the path that lead to the recent exciting announcement that we were one of only ten cities to receive an NPS grant.

I am and always will be proud of Simpsonville and the people who love her so much they volunteer their time, effort, and talents to help her keep reaching higher!

 

 

Experiences Help Make Us Who We Are

Once upon a time, I spent 3 months living in a car because I had nowhere else to go. Yes, I had a job. I worked as a waitress every single day (my job for about ten years). And yet, my car became my home. Such is life sometimes. But I am grateful for that experience because it taught or retaught me some valuable life lessons. Here are three:

1. It re-emphasized for me the importance of empathy, which is really the most fundamental “people skill.” The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person is critical to public service. You have to be able to look at things from other people’s perspectives. You have to imagine yourself in their shoes—imagine how you would think, act, or feel if you shared their experience, knowledge, and beliefs. I have found this to be necessary (although often difficult) in my role in education—whether as an instructor or as an administrator. And the same holds true for life in public office. 

2. It also re-emphasized for me the value of interdependence. We can’t do it all alone. Sometimes we need the help of other people, and we need to know that it’s ok to ask for help. We need to be aware of what resources are available to us and not be afraid to use them. In both my full-time job and in my job as a Council member, that’s incredibly important. We are stronger together: that’s why we have a Council with 7 people. The talents, skills, and abilities of each member contribute to the success of the body as a whole. Neither I nor any other Council member can do it alone. You can have all sorts of plans when you come into office, but none of those will ever get accomplished without the support of at least a majority of Council. That requires a great deal of working together. Additionally, so much of what we do at the municipal level is tied in with the County, the State, and even the Federal Government that strong relationships with people at those levels is important. And, really, if we want to achieve great things, we have to be willing to work not just with each other and those other government bodies but also with our city employees, our local businesses, local non-profits and community groups, and the citizens. It takes all of us working together to make Simpsonville great. That’s what the One Simpsonville vision was all about. 

3. During those 3 months, I was robbed 3 times, once at gunpoint. I might have lost my faith in humanity. But the kindness of strangers really helped me pull through. Sometimes, it was just a kind word or smile. At other times, it was people allowing me to crash on a couch or borrow their shower. This solidified for me the importance of giving back to your community. And it’s probably one of the reasons why I have been in public service for my entire career, and one of the reasons I engage in regular community service, such as the time I spent as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for children in foster care or the upcoming Women Build project for Habitat in Simpsonville (more on that soon!). 

I went on to finish college and graduate school, and I worked the entire time: as a waitress, as a bank teller, as a tutor, as an administrative assistant, and in a warehouse assembling actuators and packaging them to ship. I never found myself without a real roof over my head again, but I’ll never forget what I learned from that short time I did.

Growing Downtown with A-Tax Funds

Last night one of the topics Council discussed was the disbursement of A-Tax funds for the upcoming year.  As a reminder, A-tax (or accommodations tax) funds are those that are collected when we go out to local businesses and eat.  There’s an extra 2% tax. Once collected, that money is put into a Special Revenue Fund.  Those funds are restricted by state law to pay for things that serve and attract tourists and benefit those tourists who regularly visit the city. State law also dictates that an A-Tax Committee is appointed by Council to make recommendations regarding disbursement of available funds each year.

The A-Tax Committee receives applications for those funds.  They review them and make recommendations to Council.  Last night, we received their recommendations. One of the items I was most excited about was the awarding of funds for the building of public restrooms downtown.  With the exception of the Councilwoman from Ward 4, we all approved of this item.  Ms. Braswell expressed concern that such a project did not meet the A-tax guidelines. She doesn’t think they’re tourism-related.  I disagree.  So did Councilman Gooch and Mayor Curtis in their comments, and the other 3 councilmembers did by virtue of their votes.  The vote was 6-1.

Last Friday night, I went downtown, and it was hopping! People were everywhere. In large part, I believe this is because we have attracted the right businesses to our downtown area.  In the last several months, we’ve had many new establishments open: What’s on Tap, Sweet Sippin’, Authentique, and now Rail Line Brewing!  The new swings and the rejuvenated park benches all contribute to making downtown a great

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Let’s keep making downtown a great place to visit!

place to hang out.  So it’s not surprising that this is the first time I’ve seen downtown so busy outside of special events.  It was amazing.  And you better believe some of those people were from outside the city limits. Further, every time we hold an event downtown, we bring in people from outside the city.  But there’s no place to use the bathroom unless you visit one of the local businesses. So I don’t see how public restrooms for those people to use is anything other than a facility that will “benefit those tourists who regularly visit the city.”

Since this was a Committee of the Whole Meeting, we will have a final vote at our November Business Meeting.  I hope Council continues to support funding this item. It can only help as we continue to grow our downtown into a place where people want to visit and stay awhile, and that’s something I’ve been focused on since my Campaign Launch. It will also fit in nicely with the plan we submitted for the Hometown Economic Development grant to turn the empty downtown alley into a new dynamic outdoor space. I hope our new Council will share that vision for downtown and support projects like these.

 

Leaves, the Sewer, and This Election

Last August, I told you about the critical situation we faced with our sewer and explained how it related to our decision to contract with ACE for garbage, recycling, and yard debris pickup.  As I told you then, we were only 3% of the way through a critical, mandatory project  would cost us HUGE fines if not completed correctly and on time.   A large part of the reason for this is that our Public Works Department was (and had been for quite some time) seriously under-resourced.  They lacked both the equipment and personnel to do the critical sewer work. Councilman Gooch, who has been on Council longer than I have, has been doing a series of Facebook posts that go into a great deal of detail about the budget decisions made by previous administrations that left our Public Works Department so under-resourced.  These posts are definitely worth a read.

The state of the Public Works Department when we entered office was such that we had no other choice but to contract some of its services.  Doing so opened up resources for other areas within the Public Works Department, such as the necessary and urgent sewer repairs.

Certainly, bagging leaves and bundling debris was no one’s ideal situation, and Council understands that citizens are unhappy and want answers.  This is why in this year’s budget we found a fiscally sustainable way to resume our previous curbside brush pickup.  Leaves are next.

Being a Council member isn’t easy.  And we are often faced with tough decisions like the one we faced with the Public Works Department.  We didn’t create those problems, but it is our responsibility to fix them.  Since January of 2016, we have inspected and cleaned 57% of our sewer lines.  We repaired 32,000 feet of CIPP pipe lining. 15 point repairs have been made.  500 feet of sewer replacement has been completed, and 6 creek crossings have been rebuilt. Those are huge gains. All of that was made possible by reallocating our scarce resources within the Public Works Department.

I know that’s little comfort to those still struggling with leaf bagging.  But I also know this: Council is committed to finding a fiscally sustainable way to get us back to curbside leaf pickup.  When we can, we will.  We’re working on it every day.  And I look forward to working with our new Council members to make it happen.

Listen: it’s an election year, and leaves are the hot topic.  And so, of course, the candidates are all talking about it.  And many of them promise answers.  It’s easy to make promises, especially if you don’t have all the facts.  So when they’re talking to you about leaf vacs, I would encourage you not to accept any easy answers.  If it were easy, I can guarantee you we would’ve done it already. But it’s not.  It’s much more complicated than the going through the budget line by line to find money for trucks.  It’s much more complicated than the need for equipment.  If they’re talking to you about allegedly fiscally sustainable options but not explaining how to do that without sacrificing the critical sewer needs, they’re not giving you real solutions.

Who You Should Vote For, Part II

Previously, I told you that we really need a Council who works together, so we need you to elect people who demonstrate a willingness to work with current council members.

Today, I add to that: We need you to elect candidates whose experiences will complement those of the current Council, candidates who will make us stronger as a body.  Our Council has seven seats, and all seats are elected at-large.  That means each council member represents the entire city.  The 7 council members should work together, and they should be able to debate and make decisions in the best interests of the entire city.  They should represent a wide variety of strengths because no one council member can know it all.

Mr. Gooch has recently started a series of Facebook posts to help citizens better understand the past, present, and future state of the city budget. This got me thinking about how our experiences help us with the city’s budgeting. Mr. Gooch has an MBA and owns his own small business.  He’s constantly whipping out his calculator in meetings and demanding of people, “Show me the numbers!”

Likewise, Mr. Cummings is a bank executive with an MBA.  He’s quick with the calculator, too, and when we talk about bonds or contracts, his input is invaluable.  During budget discussions, he calls upon a vast array of experience, giving us practical examples to help us think creatively about our options.

Mayor Curtis also owns a successful small business.  That’s why she’s such a strong advocate of “living within our means.”  I’ve watched her red pen mark through budget line items and make meticulous annotations detailing why.

As for me, I work for the great state of South Carolina as a Department Head overseeing a $1,000,000+ budget and around 50 employees.  What I know and have experience with is that budgeting in the public sector is very different than budgeting in the private sector.  And this brings another perspective to our budget discussions.

So when you’re considering the candidates running, consider those who will add to the experience and knowledge we already have on Council.  Who will help make your Council, and the City of Simpsonville, stronger? And vote for those candidates.

Although we’ve made a lot of progress, we still have real problems that need real solutions–and we need candidates with real experience to help us continue moving forward.powder