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Analysts: Contested races sign of residents' displeasure

York County Council could have seven new faces for the first time in decades, and some analysts say having challengers for each seat is a reflection on how the county is being run.

There are lawsuits over landfills, not enough money to finish a project voted on 11 years ago and citizens claiming they are being left out of changes that affect them. That's just three of the issues that caused 13 challengers -- most political newcomers -- to fight for a seat.

Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University, said many people are seeing opportunity in the conflict and controversy of this past term that started at the beginning of 2007.

Twenty candidates for seven seats shows an overall dissatisfaction with how the county's being run, said Rick Whisonant, political scientist at York Technical College.

As the area changes, more people are becoming civic-minded, he said. Citizens are concerned about growth, waste management and "Pennies for Progress," the county's 1-cent sales tax for road improvements.

"The council has done a poor job of getting their message across on what progress is going on," Whisonant said. "They obviously want to spend more time being a dysfunctional family than serving the people of York County."

Six seats are challenged in the primary June 10, when three races will be decided: the Lake Wylie/Clover seat held by Tom Smith, the Rock Hill-area seat held by Curwood Chappell and the Rock Hill-area seat held by Buddy Motz.

Rick Lee's Rock Hill seat and the three other seats will be decided in November.

Wanda Hemphill, director of the York County Registration and Elections Office, said this is one of the most active county council ballots she's seen in a long time. Her research indicates all seven council seats haven't been challenged in a general election in the council's more than 30-year existence.

Fighting controversy

Some thought the addition of three new councilmen this term -- Paul Lindemann, Tom Smith and Joe Cox -- would eliminate controversy.

Council Chairman Motz said council members are more settled compared to others he's served with during the last 10 years. County Manager Jim Baker has said he's tried to keep the council on task by giving them researched data to support decisions.

Whisonant agrees the meetings are less theatrical but said the county doesn't look like it's being run by a cohesive body.

"Certainly, people want to see an effective, positive and future-oriented council," he said.

That's why 27-year-old Ashley Martin thinks she can beat 16-year incumbent Chappell. Her campaign is focused on bringing peace to the council and growth.

"My opponent is stuck in the past," Martin told The Herald. "We need new blood in there."

Chappell has said his seat belongs to the people.

"If they want someone in that chair to play a zombie and roll over and play dead and go along to get along, don't elect me," he has said.

On the county's east side in Fort Mill, issues involve impact fees, development rezonings and roads. Lindemann is being challenged by candidates from his own Republican party, the Democrats and the Green Party.

One candidate, Jeff Updike, said he was amazed that all seats are being challenged but said people saw the "circus atmosphere" at the beginning of the term and want change.

Updike was ousted by Lindemann from the District 1 seat in 2006.

Meetings on TV look easy

Motz has joked that televising the meetings could have encouraged more candidates to run because it looks fun and easy.

Whisonant said broadcasting meetings online and on TV have brought the process to people who normally wouldn't attend.

"It's very difficult to get there for some people," he said. "But when they turn it on and see an ineffective or dysfunctional council, it obviously causes the ground to swell in encouraging an individual to run."

Three years ago, then-councilman Updike supported changing terms from two to four years and staggering elections to prevent uprooting the entire council at once.

At that time, Motz opposed the change, calling it "highly unlikely."

Baker said it never dawned on him to ask about staggering terms when he started with the county less than a year ago. Changing the terms requires a vote on a general election ballot.

"Long term, it could be something to fix," he said. "Maybe this will prompt people to take a look at it."

DEADLINE TO REGISTER

The deadline to register to vote in the June 10 primary election is May 9 in person at the E.C. Black Building, 13 S. Congress St., York, or postmarked by May 10.

Mail in applications cane be downloaded at S.C. State Election Commissions' Web site, www.state.sc.us/scsec/vr.html.

For more information, call 684-1242.

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