By Stan Welch
Last week, with less than forty eight hours left for candidates to sign up for mayoral and town council elections there were several questions about the upcoming elections left unanswered. Many of those questions have been answered, although some of the answers are surprising.
In West Pelzer, for the first time in a decade, Peggy Paxton, who has served as mayor, will not be on the ballot, having decided not to file for the race. Instead, two incumbent Council members, Blake Sanders and Jimmy Jeanes will vie for that position. Jeanes’ Council seat is not at risk. If he fails in his bid for mayor, he will retain his seat on Council. If he is elected mayor, his seat will be vacated until a special election is held on the thirteenth Tuesday following his swearing in ceremony. That date falls on March 29, 2016.
Sanders’ Council seat is up for election, and if he fails in his bid for mayor, he will be off the council. Since they are the only two candidates, incumbent Donnie Jeanes and businessman Jim Riddle will occupy the two vacant Council seats without a contest, once they are certified by the municipal election commission. That certification will not occur until the end of a two week period for potential write-in candidates to surface; a period that ends on September 3.
Mayor Paxton, speaking with The Journal, said that the decision to step away from the office was one of the hardest she had ever made. “I’ve been mayor since July of 2003, and I just want to take a little break. Both my children are engaged now, and there is just a lot going on in my life. It’s time to give others a chance to shine.”
While she concedes that the decade long struggle to upgrade the town’s water and sewer infrastructure is probably the biggest single achievement, she says that there have been others too. “I think our town runs much more professionally and smoothly now, and the police department is greatly improved. I have really enjoyed meeting so many people and representing West Pelzer in so many different places.”
She fears that the townspeople don’t fully understand the impacts that being under a DHEC consent order because of their decrepit wastewater system for almost a quarter century. “It almost completely stopped any growth in the town, which means that the tax base couldn’t grow either. All of that has contributed to the town’s financial issues, and frankly, it probably will for some time to come. I guess I’m just tired of all the conflict.”
Two incumbent Council members will compete for the mayor’s job in November, and Paxton has one piece of information for whoever wins. “On the first day in office, you will discover that the responsibility is life changing. Every thing you say or do will be under someone’s eyes. It changes the way you conduct your day to day life. I have to say, it will be nice not to worry about that for a change.”
Still, she remains apprehensive about her decision. “There have been some serious life changes in the last year or so, and I have talked this over with my family for several months. It is time to spend more time and energy with my family. This has been a big part of my life. In a way, I feel like I’m giving away my baby and I just hope somebody will love it as much as I did.”