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Greenville County Council Elections

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I saw a story tonight on the Greenville News website regarding Greenville County Council elections:

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/apps/pbcs....NEWS03/60613018

I have not really kept up with it, but does this election get us any closer to a more progressive county government? I am not trying to start a political debate here, but with all the discussion in the past about county council I am curious to know if tonight's election helps. Thoughts?

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I saw a story tonight on the Greenville News website regarding Greenville County Council elections:

http://www.greenvilleonline.com/apps/pbcs....NEWS03/60613018

I have not really kept up with it, but does this election get us any closer to a more progressive county government? I am not trying to start a political debate here, but with all the discussion in the past about county council I am curious to know if tonight's election helps. Thoughts?

First of all, let me (try to) correct the link which needs a few extra numbers: http://www.greenvilleonline.com/apps/pbcs....018/1004/NEWS01

My link may very well get truncated for being too long. In that case add this to the link -- the one "Greenville" posted above: /1004/NEWS01

So, at least for the primaries, the incumbents won. And in those districts you'll see that they don't have serious challenges except, perhaps, for Judy Gilstrap. Gilstrap is a Democrat but for the past two years she has been very close to the 5 Republicans from the "old guard" who opposed the King Holiday. One of about 2 key issues where Gilstrap departed from them these past 2 years. (The other was on the vote to create an independent planning commission. EDIT: SEE MY EDIT COMMENT BELOW FOR MORE ABOUT THAT DYNAMIC.) What was odd about her alliance with the old guard Republicans was that she went from being a 7th vote -- the one it takes to make things happen -- for members who (generally, if I may use a broad brushstroke here) support "progress" to being the 6th vote -- the one to stymie measures -- for a group committed to locking in government where it is, essentially (and in my opinion) making the county government of today the high water mark of progress. So, in my eyes, she's been -- more often than not -- the vote of obstruction.

That said, I think all that is likely to change if she's re-elected. Gone from Council will be Scott Case -- who is going to become auditor, making it an 11-member council for a few months. Gone will be Eric Bedingfield, the person who represented a neighboring district and had a magical charm over her and seemed to know how to flatter her enough to convince her to part with her Democratic colleagues. And gone will be Mark Kingsbury, a fellow Realtor, who shared an economic interest with her when it came to certain votes that dealt with growth and the role of government. Her effectiveness in the future rests with the Kirven, Flint and Burns leadership because I don't see her being relevant if she hangs with Joe Dill and Bob Taylor, the vestigial remains of the group she often voted with the past 2 years. More to the point, SHE won't see herself being relevant casting her lot with them and whoever they might team up with from the newcomers. So look for her to pal around with Burns, Kirven and Flint who have learned (from Bedingfield) how to make her feel important at the same time she's asked to get in line behind them.

Another key vote came from the council district Bedingfield is giving up to go to the General Assembly when Dan Herren, another Realtor and buddy of Kingsbury, lost to Fred Payne. Herren was running for Council for the third time and I doubt he's going to throw in the towel as he's come close all three times. First he ran in the Bedingfield district and lost to Bedingfield in the primary. He immediately went to work to help Bedingfield who won a victory over Dan Moravec -- perhaps the most qualified and able person ever to seek county office from what I knew of his record...except that Moravec was a Democrat in a GOP district. (Herren would probably have been slaughtered by Moravec, so in the end that may not have been so close.) Two years later Herren moved to Cort Flint's district and opposed him, losing by a couple or three hundred votes in the General Election -- a gap that was narrowed largely by straight ticket voting in a Presidential election year. And now, two years after that, he returned to the district Bedingfield was giving up in order to try again. He's knowledgeable and has collected (and owes) quite a few chits, mostly from the GOP Old Guard. He vocally supported the King Holiday measure in 2004, but apart from that one issue, I believe he'd have been another Bedingfield or Kingsbury. Payne is an open book to me. He could be no different than Herren, but I'm pretty sure "progress" is better served without Herren who is clearly a career local politician (and a wannabe one at that) and not-so-much a change agent or visionary. Payne has enough gray hair, if you will, to hold some promise. Then again, rigid social conservative Bob Taylor has gray hair, so what do I know?

Naturally, Case is going to be replaced by a social conservative. And Kingsbury's vacant seat will apparently see a highly conservative man step in. But when it comes to real estate development and planning and growth issues that I think you're asking about, their replacements can go nowhere but "up" from where they've been. So that, too, is good.

Will there be some sort of breakthrough -- the 7th vote from a single group committed to progress -- with these elections? I think time will tell, but I wouldn't count on it. What I do see for the future is less contentiousness and petty bickering.

I think the real estate community's iron-fisted grip over county planning is going to be history. Already I believe there are enough votes to pass a measure that's much, much stronger than the one Kirven proposed and failed -- as the deadlock vote on that came from Tony Trout who reviles developers who, he believes, tend to get their way no matter what, when it comes to county government approvals and planning for growth. Trout will help pass the measure, relying a coalition of councilors who will all be returning (assuming Gilstrap holds off her general election challenger) that will be even stronger than the failed measure.

So, yeah, overall I think there's been some progress. But more as a result of key departures from old guard councilors that we've known about for a few months now than because of any particular development yesterday (or in November). It may turn out to be more profound than it seems right now, but we'll only know that come January 2007 when we see how they line up, particularly on the initial votes for a new chair, vice chair and on their own rules.

In fact, I will contend that the departures that are the basis for my conclusion that "progress" wins (if only slightly) are the result of the 2004 election cycle when Kirven beat Dozier Brooks, Burns beat Phyllis Henderson (another one of those marginal improvements, but an upward trend nonetheless) and Tony Trout beat Steve Selby, a "good old boy" and obstructionist official if there ever was one. And Trout's primary victory margin of 18 votes over Selby was challenged by Selby before his buddies in the GOP party where he won a re-vote (that he then lost by several hundred votes).

So, if you get right down to it, the real change came in 2004 when the 3 newcomer Republicans made it not so fun for the old guard Republicans to hang around much longer. Having only enough votes (with the help of Gilstrap) to prevent change isn't any fun at all -- which explains why Case, Kingsbury and Bedingfield looked to greener pastures. And if you REALLY want to get right down to it, the votes that made all the difference were those 18 votes for Trout (and then the votes in the revote of that primary). If that didn't happen, I don't think you'd see those other people leaving. In fact, they'd still be in the cat-bird's seat and -- again, keeping this focused on "the wheels of progress" -- they'd be presiding over a balding and nearly flat tire of progress.

I hope that helps and didn't get too deep into cheerleading for one party or another.

EDIT: I should add that Gilstrap's opponent in November is Dan Rawls, also tightly tied to the real estate industry and one of their biggest supporters on Greenville County's Planning Commission. His election to County Council will create an added vacancy on that body -- which, as it's currently structured -- is where the real changes need to occur if you want to see smart growth and progress. But, while that vacancy could be good and help create change, he'll be one of those who votes on the replacement the following April. And with votes so tight on County Council as it is in terms of keeping real estate developers in line at the Planning Commission, his presence won't help. So, even though she tends to blow with the prevailing wind, Gilstrap's re-election is important. But not just in terms of filling vacancies on the Planning Commission. Remember, her vote was one of those cast in favor of Butch Kirven's modest restructuring proposal that had the staff at the Planning Dept. report to the County Administrator and be subject to employee reviews and evaluations along with the rest of the county employees -- which is needed if we're going to see Planning Commission studies and projects done in coordination with other county departments such as Public Works. The council-appointed citizen volunteers who make up the Planning Commission currently evaluate and set compensation for the Planning STAFF, effectively insulating them from being accountable to the rest of the county government. Rawls opposes such a change and if he were to replace Gilstrap, then the votes won't be there. So the November race between Gilstrap and Rawls (who, quite ironically, is on the Planning Commission only because Gilstrap went to bat for her real estate colleague and convinced a fellow councilor to break a deadlock and vote for him) holds the short-term key to whether there will be meaningful progress made in terms of having county government take the bull by the horns and push for responsible, planned growth across the county. That's the race to watch. And that's the race where campaign donations will go to Rawls from the real estate developers and home builders -- a fact Gilstrap will take note of if she's elected, only making her that much more likely to be a vote for progress in terms of smart planning if she's re-elected (despite her own ties to real estate development).

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Thanks for the great info, Fiddlestix! I appreciate your well-informed analysis, especially since I knew nothing about it. :)

I also appreciate you fixing my link. I have no idea how that happened, unless the Greenville News changed their link sometime after I posed it.

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Interesting analysis Fiddlestix. From I know of the council, which is considerable less than you, you seem on-target.

However, I really think it is too early to say what change will occur. Kingsbury and Bedingfield's replacements will be the key.

It is not certain that Case will win the Auditor post, he does have Dem. opposition. However, he is the strong favorite for sure. Hoefully, if he does win the Auditor seat, his replacement will be a least a LITTLE better.

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