ROCK HILL — York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell says when his opponent says the council needs a fresh new face, he agrees. I am that fresh new face.
And Gary Williams, Blackwells opponent in November, says if hes elected and falls short of a promise, voters should respond accordingly.
In two years time, if were not showing extensive economic development, I should not be re-elected, Williams said at a debate Thursday at Winthrop University.
About 100 people many wearing stickers of their preferred candidate attended the debate, featuring the two Republicans who have had several meetings on the campaign trail.
During the debate, sponsored by the John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, the candidates took the usual jabs at one another as Mark Herring, dean of the Dacus Library, moderated the debate.
Blackwell, a Rock Hill eye doctor, questioned Williams role in a failed land deal that left a foundation he serves as a board member owing money on donated land, citing it as evidence Williams shouldnt give advice on managing a line item.
Williams, owner of a Rock Hill debt collection agency, criticized Blackwell for what he sees as poor leadership causing a council paralyzed with inaction, dragging their feet on council decisions and causing embarrassment for the county.
On economic development, Williams said York County was once leading the state in job rates, but now its fallen far behind, Williams said. Thats unacceptable considering the countys proximity to an international airport, train station and interstate among other qualities, he said.
Theres a lot of people looking to grow and theres a lot of opportunities out there weve just got to go out there and find them, Williams said, calling for a more calculated way of recruiting businesses that would be a good fit for York County.
Blackwell said change takes longer than 18 months, the time hes been on the council, and said results are coming. He touted a rise in building permits, jobs announcements, and efforts to reach out to state commerce officials.
Unemployment was extremely high in this county, Blackwell said, noting the hit the construction industry took locally. But its improving. We cant change it overnight, he said.
The two Republicans are vying for the councils District 6 seat representing northern Rock Hill and the Newport area, but Williams will appear as a petition candidate on the Nov. 6 ballot after he filed to run in the GOP primary and was disqualified over improperly filed paperwork along with more than 200 other challengers statewide.
In response to a question about decorum at council meetings, Blackwell said the councils five new members are like wild bucking horses with strong feelings, but they work well as a team.
But Williams said hed be embarrassed to bring business people to the county and to show them the county council meetings, some of which have been criticized for getting out of control.
We need a council that works together. I dont mind a difference of opinion, but respect each other, Williams said.
Williams also challenged Blackwell on dragging his feet on much needed changes to the countys animal laws, saying There should not be 30, 40 dogs in one area and somebody not taking care of them, Williams said.
Blackwell countered that although its taken time, the county staff have now offered a plan that he endorses. The plan, which will come up for vote Monday, calls for restrictions on tethering as a primary means of restraining dogs a topic that has drawn much support and opposition over the years, but on which the council hasnt made a move.
Its something that probably every county kicks down the road, Blackwell said, adding that he hopes the council will support the changes.
For Tim Guilliams of Rock Hill, what Williams said in his closing statement, asking voters to ask themselves who theyd rather send to meet potential businesses Blackwell or Williams hit home, he said.
Guilliams, whose wife works in an office located in the Cotton Factory owned by Williams and the site of his business, sees Williams as a very professional person who will represent York County well, he said.
But for Mike Wallace, Blackwell, his childhood eye doctor, is the better choice.
Things are starting to happen for the county, he said.
Overall, theyre doing a better job than the last council, he said.
Jamie Self 803-329-4062