With less than two weeks before Rock Hill elects a new mayor and three members of city council, candidates were eager to appeal to voters during a recent political forum at Winthrop University.
While the three-way race for mayor has so far attracted the most headlines, candidates for city council worked hard to establish themselves in front of around 200 possible voters on Oct. 3 at Winthrop’s Richardson Ballroom.
The city’s general election will be Oct. 17, with a possible runoff coming two weeks later on Oct. 31.
3-way race in Ward 5
The race for Ward 5 pits incumbent Ann Williamson against challengers Nikita Jackson and Brandon Smith.
Williamson, who serves as mayor pro tempore on city council, said it is critical to “continue the journey” as she seeks a second term. Jackson and Smith pitched themselves as agents of change, bringing youth and new ideas to council.
Ward 5 represents the southernmost portion of Rock Hill, including neighborhoods throughout Albright Road and Saluda Street.
Jackson, who also ran against Williamson in 2013, works as a volunteer manager at Agape Hospice in Rock Hill. Smith is a residential home builder and youth pastor.
Jackson and Smith said they are wary of an approved bus transit system that would populate Rock Hill with seven buses responsible for four routes through city. They say the proposed routes only dip into a small portion of Ward 5 and wouldn’t be able to fully reach those living in the area bounded by Dave Lyle Boulevard, Saluda Street and Heckle Boulevard in southern Rock Hill.
A 2015 transportation study found that many of those living between Dave Lyle Boulevard, Saluda Street and Heckle Boulevard were without a vehicle.
A 2015 transportation study found that many of those living between Dave Lyle Boulevard, Saluda Street and Heckle Boulevard were without a vehicle. The routes are subject to adjustments, city officials say.
If none of the candidates get more than 50 percent of the vote, the race will go to an Oct. 31 runoff between the top two finishers.
Maners, Reno in Ward 6
Jim Reno, who has served on the Rock Hill City Council for the past 20 years, faces real estate analyst Barrett Maners in the race for the Ward 6 seat.
Maners offered the crowd a fresh-faced vision to “open a new chapter” on the city council. The 32-year-old fully endorsed the bus transit plan, arguing what’s good for Winthrop University is good for Rock Hill.
20 Jim Reno has served on the Rock Hill City Council for the past 20 years
Reno said he voted against the second reading of the bus transit plan because he had concerns over the transit system’s viability and ridership.
Reno said he has a long-proven career of “one-on one” service with constituents. He said he sees transportation problems as a key issue in the city and vowed to “break down barriers” between York County and Rock Hill, saying turfism was a problem.
Maners said he would be in favor of working with York County officials to construct a new library in Rock Hill.
Black unopposed in Ward 4
Rock Hill Council member John Black is running unopposed in Ward 4.
He is seeking his third term on council on a platform of creating business-friendly laws, promoting job opportunities and strengthening the bond between Rock Hill and York County.
Running for mayor
All three mayoral candidates continued to court votes ahead of a long-anticipated election that will decide the successor to longtime Mayor Doug Echols.
Rock Hill Sports Commission chair and local attorney John Gettys, York County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey and veteran landscape architect Duane Christopher are fighting to become the city’s next leader after Echols’ 20-year tenure.
Roddey jumped on the offensive, asserting he would immediately rein in spending and slash rates for the city’s utility customers.
He argued that the city profited more than $17 million in 2016 from utilities payments and called it a regressive tax.
“I know how to get things done,” Roddey said. “There are some people that are walking around with their heads in the sand, but we should be fiscally responsible.”
Echols pushed back last month against Roddey’s statements.
Echols said the statements don’t take into account cash-funded projects, principal paid on debt or transfers in a June 2016 financial report. In an editorial published in The Herald, Echols said all revenues are then fully invested in the utilities systems. Rock Hill rates are about average in residential electric, water and wastewater costs compared to other cities around the Carolinas, according to the city’s transparency portal.
Rock Hill’s residential water rate ($20 per 6,000 gallons) is the lowest in York County.
Gettys said he agreed with Echols and insisted the city’s finances are strong. Rock Hill has received two credit rating upgrades in the last decade, Gettys said.
Christopher said he also held concerns over the city’s financial health, arguing that investing in sports tourism was a temporary answer and not a permanent fix.
Gettys said he would focus on promoting literacy and job opportunities. Opening the door for startup businesses to beta-test ideas and concepts in Rock Hill would be an easy way to attract smart minds to the area, he said.
“We can’t get the good jobs if we can’t do the good jobs,” Gettys said.
Christopher promised to work with several municipalities ranging from Fort Mill to Pineville on transportation issues like light rail or a bus system.
Building the city’s coffers requires having a larger and more diverse tax base, he argued. While he admitted sports tourism was thriving in the city, Christopher argued it could not be sustainable for the long-term.
Currently, the city estimates sports tourism is responsible for a direct impact of around $21 million annually. A new indoor sports arena in the University Center is projected to bring in another $13-14 million a year in tourism dollars.