Hinton: Community and consensus key

Weed & Seed forum

In one of her first and likely final public appearances before succeeding the late Winston Searles on the Rock Hill City Council, Susie Hinton cast herself as a consensus-builder who isn't afraid to admit what she doesn't know.

Speaking to about 50 people at a center-city candidates forum on Monday night, Hinton avoided a number of opportunities to critique city policies or decisions. Instead, she stuck to a conciliatory approach, saying she plans to stay in close touch with neighbors to keep updated on their concerns.

Because she faces no opposition in Ward 1, Hinton will join the council after the Oct. 16 city election. She'll fill the seat that for 27 years belonged to the late Winston Searles, who died in August.

Monday's forum was for candidates whose districts fall in the Weed & Seed area, made up of five neighborhoods where crime rates are among the highest in the city. That includes Councilman Kevin Sutton, who told organizers he couldn't attend because his job required him to be out of town Monday.

Former Rock Hill NAACP President Vince Blackwell, who is running against Sutton as a write-in candidate, took part in the event. Blackwell said he entered the race late because he finds it a "sin and an abomination that anyone would run unopposed."

Succeeding Searles

People in central Rock Hill have complained over the years that their side of town is too often overlooked as the city grows to the north and east.

Hints of that sentiment emerged during Monday's two-hour question and answer session.

Asked about whether police officers ought to be assigned to foot patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, Hinton said she needs to hear more about the issue.

In the years since Rock Hill closed its neighborhood substations, some residents have said a more visible police presence is needed.

"If that is the desire of the community, OK community, come with me," Hinton said. "Let's go present the case. It's not enough to say, 'I feel like it will make a difference.' We have to do some research."

Hinton and Blackwell each said the Weed & Seed program needs to get churches more involved and that more job training programs are needed to address high unemployment rates.

Toward the end, Hinton was asked how voters could be assured that she would be an independent voice versus someone willing to go along with the majority. The questioner mentioned the city's recent controversial decision to ban jaywalking in downtown, in part to help a restaurant get a liquor license.

"I don't think I know," she said. "It is important to me that I honor right. And if right means that I'm all out there by myself, that's what I will be."