By Stan Welch
Approximately fifty Pelzer residents attended a public forum Tuesday night; a forum designed to introduce several new candidates for town council, as well as the incumbents.
Williamston Town Councilman Rockey Burgess served as moderator, and Pelzer Mayor Steve McGregor, who is not seeking reelection, made a few brief comments to open the evening’s activities.
McGregor reminded the audience that in the not so distant past, the town’s officials were appointed by the mill operators. “This level of involvement in our own affairs is a fairly new thing. This has been sixty five years in the making. Thank you all for coming and taking part.”
Current council members Roger Scott and Kimberley Wilson are running for mayor, and are the only two candidates for that office.
All four council seats are open and six people, including incumbents Will Ragland and Olene Bear, are running. In addition to the incumbents, Sandi Jeanes, Gary ‘Garbo’ Pridemore, Michael Matthews, and Teresa Ramsey are candidates for those seats.
Each candidate made a brief introductory statement and then Burgess began drawing tickets from a cup. Those who wanted to ask questions had received the other half of the raffle style tickets, and when their number was called they were allowed to ask a single question. Every candidate that wished to responded to each question.
The method, and the format, produced some fairly predictable questions, and responses.
Everyone running is aware of the widespread desire for police protection in the newly expanded town.
Some favor using the former town hall as a substation for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, while some still hold out hope that a Pelzer police force is a possibility, albeit one that is well down the road.
Kim Wilson, however, told the audience that she would present a proposal at the next council meeting that would cost the town nothing and would provide an immediate solution to the problem. She offered no details but spoke of building relationships with the ACSO.
Several candidates referred to the town’s lack of a millage, saying that the incumbent council members were apparently unaware of a state law that effectively handcuffs the town in its efforts to establish a tax base.
Incumbent Councilman Will Ragland likened the task that faced the current council when they took office to being presented with the keys to a burning house. “We had no experience at this, only a desire to serve our town. There was a great deal we didn’t know. But when we finished going through this latest budget, line by line, we came up with a surplus of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. So we may be able to afford a dedicated police force in the not too distant future.”
The issue of a rumored possible merger of the town with Williamston was raised by Gilbert Garrett, who asked the incumbents point blank if any of them had been in discussions of such a merger with Williamston Mayor Mack Durham.
Roger Scott conceded that he had met with Durham, but said that he was interested in knowing what the citizens thought.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Scott said. “What matters is what the people think. I will always meet with anyone if I think the town of Pelzer might have something to gain. That’s all I did with Mayor Durham.”
Kim Wilson said she too was approached but had not met with Durham. She was more in favor of continuing the recent cooperative efforts with West Pelzer than becoming involved with Williamston.
That seemed to be the general consensus among the candidates. Teresa Ramsey referred to the two towns as mirror images of each other. “If we can both save money by working together, like we have joined the public works departments, why wouldn’t we?”
Ragland said he could live with a merger with West Pelzer if Pelzer saw real benefits and retained its own identity.
Michael Matthews vehemently opposed any merger with Williamston, saying he would go to his grave opposing such a development.
Pridemore said he just couldn’t see such a merger ever taking place. Sandi Jeanes was opposed to the Williamston proposal but conceded that she could see some real benefits to such an arrangement with West Pelzer.
Vicky Shirley sharply questioned Roger Scott about a rumor that he and local businessman Bill Jeanes had approached the school district and offered to buy the auditorium at the old school site. Scott immediately and adamantly denied the rumor, saying, “That is an absolute lie. I never tried to buy that building. What would I do with it?”
Since each candidate was entitled to respond, several did so, including Councilman Ragland, who is a teacher at Palmetto High School.
“I was told by school officials that Roger and Bill Jeanes had tried to buy the building, which was very upsetting to me. The auditorium is currently used by the Mill Town Players, a community theater group directed by Ragland.
Kim Wilson said she found Scott’s allegations about the school district lying very troublesome.
Again, Scott denied the report, saying that whoever told Ragland that was a liar. “I will go with you and settle this with them any time you want to,” said Scott. “I don’t need anything Pelzer has. I love this town. Pelzer owes me nothing. I owe Pelzer.”
Ms. Bear, a frequent ally of Scott on the council, spoke about the unfairness of spreading what she called gossip. “This is hurtful. This is very upsetting. Sometimes it seems like the only exercise people in Pelzer get is jumping to conclusions and stretching the truth.”
The issue of recreation came up, and the recent efforts of the Davis brothers to restart the program. Scott said he was working with them to restore the recreation program, with no cost to the citizens.
A suggestion came from the audience to explore the possibility of annexing property across the river in Greenville county, and received some support; other candidates seemed to find the idea a bit ambitious, at least at the present time.
Finding the means to finance significant improvements to the town’s antiquated system of water lines was discussed.
Kim Wilson intimated that ongoing discussions with ReWa officials offered some hope that the forty year loan the town assumed to upgrade their sewer system might be negotiable, thereby freeing the town to pursue funding for the water system.
In the West Pelzer election for town council, incumbents Jimmy Jeanes and Johnny Rogers are seeking reelection, along with Vicki Farmer. Jeanes, along with West Pelzer councilman Jim Riddle, were in the audience Tuesday night, though neither asked any questions.