Who You Should Vote For

Back in 2015, I had the honor of being endorsed by one of the pillars of our community: Mr. Ralph Hendricks. I was proud of that endorsement then, and I’m proud of it now.

After all, Mr. Hendricks has a long history of service in Simpsonville. He served for 13 years on the Simpsonville City Council and then for 12 years as the mayor of Simpsonville. That’s experience I value and admire. Hendricks and his wife, Marion, have provided support for many local organizations, including (but not limited to) Greenville Technical College, Marietta Baptist Camp, Meals on Wheels, Greenville Rescue Mission, YMCA, Salvation Army, and the Greenville Literacy Association. The Simpsonville Library was named in his honor. He has been very active in the First Baptist Church, where he has served as deacon and treasurer. He has been honored as Builder of the Year and Citizen of the Year, amongst other awards. This is a man who knows and loves this city, and who knows what it takes for it to be successful.

One of Mr. Hendrick’s frustrations in 2015 was that our city was “being held hostage by political wrangling.” I agreed. Nothing was getting done, we were treading water at best; at worst, we were drowning—all because city leaders were focused on all the wrong things, forgetting to look out for the City’s best interests. Mr. Hendricks said he was looking for the right people with the right plan to get the city moving in the right direction. I shared with him my vision for the future of Simpsonville, and he said he would support me by endorsing me.

In November of 2015, voters elected 4 people to Council who they believed would move this city forward. I was and am honored to be one of those people. And I believe that over the past 2 years, we’ve seen the city get moving in the right direction again. No, things aren’t perfect. There is so much work left to do.

And we need the right people to get that work done. So I’m going to tell you who to vote for:

Vote for the candidates who demonstrate a willingness to work with those of us currently on Council. We have two years left. We do not have time to waste on more political wrangling. We cannot afford it. There were years of that before I got elected, and the effects have been real and long-lasting (see: leaf pickup as one example). We need a Council who works together for the best interests of Simpsonville. We need a Council working collaboratively for long-term strategic planning that will ensure a better, brighter future for everyone.

I won’t tell you who those people are. You’re smart enough to figure it out. You did in 2015. You can get info on the candidates on their Facebook pages, and you can meet them face-to-face at one of the upcoming forums. Read what they have to say, listen to what they tell you about their plans for the future. And then decide: who amongst the 6 candidates is ready to roll up their sleeves in January and do the hard work with the rest of us. Most importantly, get out and vote.

img_20171017_182148516303909.jpg

 

An Election’s Coming!

I spotted my first yard sign today while walking my dogs. Snapped a photo, sent it to a friend and said, “Is it that time, already?!” It is. Even though it seems like we just had an election (for me, at least).

If you haven’t seen a sign yet, I’m sure you will soon as people begin to show support for their candidates of choice.  Don’t have a candidate of choice yet?  New to Simpsonville and not even sure what’s going on?  Here’s the story:

Simpsonville’s City Council is made up of 7 people: one mayor and 6 council members, 1 from each of 6 wards.  All members of Council are elected at large.  That means you have a vote for each member of council.  Council members are elected for 4-year, staggered terms.  That means we have an election every two years. I was elected in 2015, along with 3 other members.

screenshot_20171007-183137426704211.png
Taking the Oath of Office, January 2016

This November 7th, 3 seats will appear on the ballot. And there will be 7 candidates running for those 3 seats. The breakdown is below.  I am providing, strictly for informative purposes, links to the Facebook pages of each candidate.  The linked pages are set up and run by the candidates and have been advertised as such.  There is only one incumbent running, everyone else is new. I provide these links so you can get to know the candidates a little better.  Because this is important. I won’t tell you who to vote for.  All I will tell you is this: 1) Get to know your candidates; and 2) exercise your right to vote.  In addition to the links below, there are two upcoming opportunities to meet the candidates. One is hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on November 2nd.  The other is hosted by the League of Women Voters on October 30th.

Ward 2

Taylor Graham (incumbent)

(Update 10/9/17: Mr. Graham has decided he no longer has the time to devote to council.) 

Stephanie Kelley

Aaron Rupe

Ward 4

Sherry Roche

Blake Whitaker

Ward 6

Lou Hutchings

Jason Wilmoth

If you have questions about the upcoming election, let me know (but note: I will not be answering questions about specific candidates).

Q&A: Heritage Park/Holiday Light Show

Recently, I received a question from a resident regarding Heritage Park.  She wanted to know whether or not the park would be closed again this year for the holiday light show. As she correctly pointed out, “The past two years, the city has closed the entire park for about a three month period to accommodate the holiday light show. Last year, the park closed starting around October 12th and remained closed until about January 15th. This is about a 13-week period, so a full 25% of the calendar year.”

As I told her in my response, “Let me start by saying that I agree with you: closing a public park for a quarter of the year is unacceptable.”  And I’m not the only one. Many residents agree, and they’ve voiced their concern over the past year.  When I reached out to Mr. Robbie Davis, Parks and Recreation Director, he said he’d heard and understood this concern and was already working with TRZ to try to keep the park open to the public as long as possible.  TRZ did its part by negotiating with the company responsible for the light show to try to keep the park open longer, with the goal being to close it no longer than one month.  Ultimately, they were unable to reach an agreement to that end, and TRZ decided to forego the holiday lights show this year.

In the words of Mr. Roger Dickson from TRZ, the “park being closed that long for taxpayers is just not the right thing to do.”  And I agree.  It’s a public park; it’s your park.  If it’s closed to all but paying customers for an entire quarter of the year, you’re not getting to make use of your park.

So unfortunately there will be no holiday light show this year, but the park will be open for you, the public, to use…just as it was intended.

Amphitheatre Improvements

Near the end of last year, members of Council and former City Administrator David Dryhaug met with TRZ staff regarding needed improvements to the Amphitheatre.

Since then, the City has continued to take a hard look at the improvements needed, beginning with replacing existing and adding new restroom facilities.

As a result, at the September 26th Committee of the Whole Meeting, City staff recommended that we remove the current restrooms and replace  them with a new, low maintenance facility that would double the capacity. They also recommended we construct a new restroom near the box office that would not only serve the Amphitheatre, but provide facilities to the athletic fields and eliminate the need for Parks and Recreation to rent port-o-lets. These facilities would be constructed of block and concrete floors with metal roofs, which will improve the maintainability and offer a more permanent facility.

Obviously, the optimal time to make such improvements is during the off-season. The new contract with TRZ and their contract with Live Nation presents a great opportunity for Simpsonville by bringing higher caliber shows to the Amphitheatre. Simpsonville stands to make more money than ever before, and our facilities need to reflect our commitment.

Based on an estimate from the Fire Department General Contractor, the estimated cost of the improvements is $350,000 to $400,000.

Remember that Heritage Park Amphitheatre is funded through Hospitality & Accommodations (H&A) tax dollars (not your property tax dollars).  Those dollars go into our Special Revenue Fund. And those dollars can only, by State law, be used for tourism-related expenditures (i.e. we cannot buy Public Works equipment with H&A funds). We make payments for HP from that Special Revenue account. For example, the upgraded chairs at HP were financed, and each year, we make a payment towards that debt.  The money for that payment comes from H&A (our Special Revenue Fund). Thus, it is important that we always maintain enough of a balance in that account to make all of our necessary payments (to cover our “debt service”).

In consulting with our Finance Director and our Financial Advisor, staff determined that we can use up to $400,000 from the current H&A balance without negatively impacting our credit rating or our ability to pay our debts. This would allow us to make these improvements during this off-season (starting soon!).

Based on all of this information, Council voted unanimously to allow staff to issue an Invitation to Bid to determine whether or not we can make this happen–and happen on time.  If we can, you’ll see this on future agendas because we’ll have to amend the 2017-18 budget ordinance (which takes two readings) to allow for a one-time transfer from the H&A fund balance to pay for these improvements.

 

Meeting Updates

ICYMI: here are some updates from last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting:

Public Works

  • All temporary easements have been sign and work will soon begin on the sidewalks in Woodside Mill area.
  • Engineering work has begun on the headways in Hunters’ Hill road and Powderhorn Dr.
  • Street crews have cleaned 60 storm drains to allow for quicker removal of standing water in roadways.
  • Creek crossing at Grandview repairs are underway. We only have one remaining in Poinsettia.

Police Department

  • Police Department has renewed their traffic safety grant in the amount of $62,000.00. The grant funds the position and benefits for this program.
  • A replacement traffic counter has been ordered to allow us to finish the traffic study in Hunters Woods.

Fire Department

  • Progress is still being made on Station Five.
  • Fire Department personnel will be participating in Fire Safe SC held by the State Fire Marshal Office to address reducing fire deaths within the State.

Parks and Recreation

Parks and Rec have cleaned up the plaza area on North Main Street in front of Shortfields and will continue on South Main in the following weeks.

Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber has requested they be allowed to submit a monthly report as other departments within the City in lieu of appearing monthly. Staff have suggested that they appear quarterly, and they were receptive to this.

Administration

  • Planner I, Ben Hyde’s first day was the day of this meeting: September 26th. We look forward to having him on board and are excited about what he can bring to Simpsonville.
  • We have made some office changes at City Hall to allow for a conference room.
  • Interim City Administrator, Chief Wesley Williams, will be attending the Greenville Administrator meeting on September 20th.

Other new hires for August were:

  • Brandon Davis – Police
  • Diane Kennedy – Police
  • Michael Milam – Fire
  • James Mosley – Police
  • William Preston – Fire
  • Travis Tarrant – Recreation

We welcome these new employees to Team Simpsonville!  It takes all of us working together–One Simpsonville–to make Simpsonville the best it can be!

Safest city in SC will have one of the best concert venues in SC!

“What if we could guarantee you more, bigger, better concerts at the Amphitheater, thus increasing your revenue—without costing you a single penny more?”

That’s the question Roger Dickson of TRZ Entertainment brought to Council several months ago.

But doesn’t that sound too good to be true?  Who gets something for nothing?  No one, of course.  But Mr. Dickson and TRZ weren’t lying: they weren’t asking for a single penny more than we’ve been giving them.

What they did ask was for us to “put a little more skin in the game,” to make a bigger investment—not in cash, but in commitment level.  They asked for a 5-year contract for management of the amphitheater.  Up until now, they’ve been getting a one-year contract every year.

What do we get in return? Exactly what they promised—but we’re not relying on their word for it.  A couple months ago, TRZ presented us with an economic impact study, conducted by an expert third party at their expense, illustrating the huge gains we would receive from a stronger concert schedule.  This data, provided at Council’s request, drove our decision to approve the 5-year contract at last night’s Council meeting. Those bigger, better, more impactful concerts will come because TRZ is investing in a long-term contract with Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in America.  This is something TRZ would be unable to do without a longer term commitment from the City.

 

This new agreement guarantees a better concert schedule—with more big-name entertainers.  This is possible (in part) because, as the largest live entertainment company in the country, Live Nation is able to buy full concert series and schedule whole tours across the country at the various concert venues with whom they contract.  And this means a bigger economic impact for Simpsonville.

This was no overnight decision, nor one we took lightly: it was something that TRZ and the City have been working on for some time.  And last night, we finally arrived at a contract to which both parties agreed. Council unanimously approved the new contract after an Executive Session to review that final contract.

Many thanks to Mr. Roger Dickson from TRZ, Mr. Robbie Davis (Department Head, Simpsonville Parks & Recreation), Mr. Eddie Case (former City Administrator), Mr. Wesley Williams (current City Administrator), and Mr. David Holmes (City Attorney) for all of their hard work on this project.  Thanks to their efforts, the safest city in SC will now have one of the best concert venues in South Carolina—and Simpsonville will reap the rewards of its success.

 

received_10155804986527502

 

 

Hometown Economic Development

What if this empty, rarely used alley downtown were a dynamic outdoor space providing public restrooms and a safe gathering/event space?

Downtown Alley
Alley across from the Ice Cream Station on SE Main St.

That’s our vision! That’s why City staff have applied for a $25,000 Hometown Economic Development grant from the Municipal Association of SC.  Here’s the best part about this grant opportunity: like many grants, it requires a match from the City.  In this case 15%. But it doesn’t have to be in cash–it can be in in-kind contributions.

This project was one our recently passed City Administrator Eddie Case was excited about. And I am glad we are moving forward to try to make this vision a reality.  More details about project costs and potential in-kind contributions will be presented to Council at the next Business Meeting, where we’ll be asked to pass a resolution supporting the grant application.

This is a great opportunity for us to make the most of underutilized public spaces in our historic downtown, which requires attention to pedestrian amenities as it continues to grow. This project will be great for downtown, our residents, and economic development.