By Stan Welch
There are six candidates, including incumbents, seeking four seats on the Pelzer Town Council. Five of them were hand to meet the voters and answer questions Tuesday night. The five that participated were David Hatley, Gary Pridmore, Margaret Jamison, Eddie Waits and Will Ragland. Rick Haynes did not.
Town attorney Jimmy King was the moderator. Eight of the twenty two citizens present signed up to ask a question, and each candidate answered every question. Not surprisingly, most of the questions centered around recreation, downtown revitalization, economic development and maintaining the town’s mill heritage and history.
In response to a question by Mayor pro tem Mike Matthews, who was not on the panel, none of the candidates expressed interest in returning to a previous arrangement with neighboring West Pelzer to operate the town’s water system. All of them decried the high water bills, and Will Ragland pointed out the decrepit status of the aged system. “I worry about the day when we have a major break and can’t afford to fix it. We have to address these issues.”
Wayne Hughey addressed the proverbial elephant in the room, when he asked what the Council intended to do about Mayor Roger Scott’s medical condition and its impact on his role as mayor. “The town needs a full time mayor, and while I hope Mr. Scott recovers, it’s time to take some action.” Gary Pridmore expressed his complete support for Scott, adding that he would back whatever decision Scott makes. Ms. Jamison conceded that the town needs a full time mayor, as did David Hatley. Eddie Waits expressed sympathy for the mayor’s circumstances, but offered no action to be taken. Ragland said it might be as simple as speaking to Scott and asking what his wishes are.
While the Governor can remove a mayor from office for official misconduct, there is no provision in state law to vacate a mayoral office for health reasons.
In response to Hughey’s additional question about plans to revitalize the town, Waits said that it will take just one significant investor to get the ball rolling. “We have to prove that as a town we are worth investing in. We haven’t proved anything to anyone yet. I would like to see us assemble a list of commercial properties that are available. The county will work with us, but they won’t do our work for us. They won’t sell Pelzer if we don’t sell Pelzer.”
Ragland said that the corridor from the dam to the traffic light at Highway 20 is key. “We all know that Highway 8 right through our town is the real southern connector. And a lot of other people know it too.” Ragland, who is the director of the Mill Town Players, said that people come from Easley, Anderson, Greenville and even further away to attend plays and events. “We have attracted thirty thousand patrons each of the last three years. I never dreamed we would be so successful. People are always asking me where they can eat, especially later in the evening after the show is over. We have people coming here. We need to give them a place to spend their money.”
Most candidates agreed that the old hospital is a unique aspect of the town, and should be the starting point in any restoration or face lift projects. Gilbert Garrett asked if the candidates support the master plan presented earlier this year. Most did, but Pridmore pointed out that the council had approved a veteran’s park for a portion of the gym parking lot, that the master plan suggests for a common area, with playground and picnic facilities.
The next questioner, Vicki King, tossed a bombshell into the gathering. She raised the issue of sex offenders, and insisted that one of the candidates had allowed at least one sex offender to live in his home. She began to rail against this candidate and stormed around the room throwing sheaves of documents at people. Moderator Jimmy King tried to stop her but she would not be deterred. King finally asked someone to call 911. Shortly after, Ms. King stormed out, still yelling.
Candidate David Hatley addressed the room, conceding that his son had served ten years in prison for a sex crime. “He got out of prison with no money, no prospects, no food, nothing. I am not proud of what he did, but he is my son. I cannot abandon him. And yes, he brought a friend with him, who also served time for a similar crime. But he helped protect my son in prison and I felt obliged to help him. I set down some rules and this fellow couldn’t obey them. He is back in prison. And my son is locked up again due to unfounded accusations made by the woman who just left.”
The other candidates were clearly shocked by the unexpected and barely restrained attack, but most expressed understanding of the parental impulse to support one’s child, regardless of circumstances.
The election will be held on November 5.