Rock Hill residents will elect a new mayor Oct. 17 for the first time in two decades.
Longtime Mayor Doug Echols is stepping aside after 28 years of public service.
His successor will likely chart Rock Hill’s course for decades to come. As South Carolina’s fifth-largest city, Rock Hill has invested millions of dollars to help bolster its standing as a major economic and tourist destination in the Southeast. The election could have a profound impact on nearly 75,000 people who live and work in Rock Hill.
Rock Hill’s new leader will emerge from a three-way race between Rock Hill Sports Commission chair John Gettys, York County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey and veteran landscape architect Duane Christopher.
The Herald spoke with all three of the candidates to learn their thoughts ontopics and issues facing Rock Hill. Here is a selection of their responses and positions culled from interviews earlier this month. The responses are organized alphabetically by last name.
All three candidates have toured the city, speaking to voters and hearing their concerns. Who have you spoken to, and what have you heard as their top issues?
DUANE CHRISTOPHER: Christopher said he’s identifying and reaching out to reliable conservative voters through social media, his campaign website and by door-to-door canvassing. He said most people are concerned about jobs and infrastructure. Most people don’t like driving to their jobs in Charlotte, he said. He offers bringing “diversity and density” within the city that he says would increase tax revenue without having to raise utility rates.
QUOTABLE: “I think downtown is very key. Rather than spread our tentacles further and further out, we can develop things closer to downtown and build on that.”
JOHN GETTYS: Gettys says he’s reached out to groups and residents around town, and says he’s been busy campaigning since mid-July. He says most people feel happy with Rock Hill’s status, chiefly due to sports tourism and commercial growth. He says the downtown area is “past the tipping point” for growthand wants to put more focus on Saluda Street and other areas of the community. He said he wants to ensure infrastructure continues to be bolstered as Rock Hill gains more residents.
QUOTABLE: “We need to get to Saluda Street a lot stronger. We’ve done a lot on Saluda and Main streets and others, but they’re not quite at the maturity level that downtown is.”
WILLIAM “BUMP” RODDEY: Roddey said since early April, he has been reaching out to different neighborhoods for constituents of all backgrounds, especially the working class. He said the listening tour has allowed him to build a platform to help address people’s concerns, which he says includes small business regulations, high utilities bills and neighborhood crime.
Given this summer’s high-profile BMX World Championships event and the opening of a $24 million indoor sports center near Winthrop University, what do you see as the future of sports tourism in Rock Hill?
DUANE CHRISTOPHER: Christopher said he supports sports tourism, but argues it needs to be a base for more diversity. He said making the city more business-friendly would turn tourists into residents, thereby generating more tax revenue. He said sports tourism can be “up and down” and doesn’t directly bring enough money into the city’s coffers on a yearly basis.
QUOTABLE: “I’m all for sports if we’ve got the mechanisms to help pay for it. It supplements what’s going on, and that’s great, but we need to have that additional base to help keep that going.”
JOHN GETTYS: Gettys said during the last decade, sports tourism has developed into a “model for the state and the region.” While sports tourism is a strong base, he credits the development of several new hotels and more planned in Rock Hill in the next few years as capital investment in the community. He says the future is bright for new investment in sports tourism. He says the city will see more revenue once the debt service on Glencairn Garden and Manchester Meadows drops off in the next four or five years. By using accommodations tax money on sports tourism, that will keep property tax rates low for local residents, he said.
WILLIAM “BUMP” RODDEY: Roddey said Rock Hill and York County have done an “outstanding job” branding themselves as sports destinations. He said the sports complex has the potential to be a game-changer. Roddey said he wants to ensure a “diverse mixture” of retail, hotels and other amenities that would service the week-in, week-out tourists. He said those new tourists would need to also move around to other Rock Hill spots, including Winthrop University, Hagins-Fewell community and Saluda Street corridor.
QUOTABLE: “I’m willing to think of the whole picture of what it means for Rock Hill and not just keep everything in Knowledge Park.”
Affordable and low-income housing has become a pressing need for the community. What do you think is the best solution to ensure no residents are priced out of the area?
DUANE CHRISTOPHER: Christopher said he wants to bring diversity and density to all aspects of the community, including low-income housing. He said he is a proponent of tiny houses, and promises he will work with Council to lobby for more construction of those homes if elected. He said he’s for “freedom of housing.”
JOHN GETTYS: Gettys said he has in-depth knowledge of Rock Hill’s affordable housing situation from his service in the city’s Housing & Neighborhood Services department following his two terms on city council. He said the city has done good work removing dilapidated houses and replacing them with up-to-code homes for low-income residents. He said he’d like to “change the dynamic” and give builders more incentive to build affordable housing.
QUOTABLE: “It’s not something that’s a catchphrase. It requires a commitment.”
WILLIAM “BUMP” RODDEY: Roddey said he wants to seek out and incentivize local builders willing to build homes at modest price ranges from $85-$115,000. He said he wants to create a program to support building affordable housing to make it easier to live in Rock Hill. Roddey said he wantsto be mindful that homeowners in Rock Hill are not priced out of the market if they live near the incoming indoor sports arena near the Bleachery on White Street. Avoiding gentrification, he said, would be a key concern moving forward.
Residents are always concerned about their roads and infrastructure. How would you choose to address the crumbling roads in Rock Hill?
DUANE CHRISTOPHER: Christopher said the best way to improve infrastructure in the city without raising property taxes is to bring more people into Rock Hill. He said he would be in favor of looking at new road designs that could be more sustainable and last longer. Without a larger revenue stream, he said, the city would not be able to best take care of roads.
JOHN GETTYS: Gettys said when he began serving on city council in 2002, the city put aside $100-200,000 to spend on roads fixes. Under Mayor Doug Echols’ leadership, he said, that annual line item has swelled to about $1 million. He said he was optimistic Rock Hill would receive money from the newly-passed gas tax, but admitted it is unclear at this point how that money will be distributed. He said it is extremely important for residents to vote later this fall to approve the latest version of Pennies for Progress. He said he fought for the inclusion of Neely Road near South Pointe High School on the list of roads to undergo maintenance.
WILLIAM “BUMP” RODDEY: Roddey said he’s glad the latest Pennies for Project 4 plan includes a substantial maintenance repaving component. He said while Rock Hill’s major thoroughfares may be able to be repaved and improved, the smaller neighborhoods may be left behind.
QUOTABLE: “Those roads haven’t been paved in 25 to 30 years, and it’s really causing an issue with the taxpayers.”
At a glance
▪ Veteran landscape architect in Rock Hill, owner of Duane Christopher & Associates firm, serves on the city of Rock Hill Planning Commission.
▪ Married to wife Karen Christopher with one daughter, Michelle Taylor, 25.
▪ Founding partner of Morton & Gettys Law Firm in Rock Hill, chairman of Rock Hill's Sports Commission, served two terms on Rock Hill City Council.
▪ Married to wife Christi Gettys with three sons, Jack , 17, Grier, 15, and Evan, 13.
William “Bump” Roddey
▪ York County Council member, finished products specialist for Resolute Forest Products (formerly Bowwater).
▪ Married to wife Jarilyn with two children, Trey, 10, and Kaniya, 21.