John Gettys said he feels like he hasn’t yet awakened from a whirlwind since being elected as Rock Hill’s next mayor. He’s taken congratulatory calls from residents across the city, he said, all promising to work together on shared concerns.
The Herald interviewed Gettys Friday morning at the Lowenstein Building, the site of what is planned to be part of a massive change in the city’s downtown area. Gettys, 49, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Erskine College and his law degree and master’s degree from the University of South Carolina.
He will take over his new post during Rock Hill’s first city council meeting in January. Here’s what Gettys had to say.
Throughout the campaign, you often spoke about similarities between yourself and outgoing Mayor Doug Echols. How do you differ from Echols?
The city, I think, is in good shape for its future. I think Doug and the members of the council should be commended for all of the work to get us to this point and beyond, because there’s a lot of things to come from the hard work that they put in to get to this point.
If we feel like holding on to the status quo is a governing philosophy, we’re never gonna get to where we need to get to. So we have to look at how to change, what we’ve done as a community to get to this point, and why and what we need to do to get us to the point. The belief that we can hold onto the status quo is a falsity. We’ll never get to where we need to go if we hold onto the status quo.
What’s the one action you might take on your first official day in office?
I don’t know if there’s a big splash, so to speak. The things I hope to tackle in the community are literacy and a living wage. With those, you have to build consensus.
The proper role of a mayor that I’ve seen is that you work with a community to build up a consensus going forward. That’s why the parks system has been so successful over the past 30 years. Initially, it wasn’t like that, but now, people sort of expect us to do certain things in our community. So that’s why we need a consensus of who we are and who we want to be.
Literacy isn’t historically within the city mangagement purview, a living wage isn’t necessarily something that’s within the city management purview. That’s not running the city. But I think as mayor, we need to have those conversations and put people in a situation where that can occur.
As far as city issues, affordable housing is an issue we need to tackle more than we have in the past. I think the city is further along than people realize, so we need to start to get a belief that we’re moving forward.
How do you build a relationship with the people who either didn’t vote for you or those who chose not to vote in the election?
I can’t speak for those who didn’t vote. I don’t know why they wouldn’t vote. But for those who voted for my opponent, they obviously believed in him and his message. I don’t know that ours were very far apart in a lot of ways. I’m not sure that there’s really anything that would keep me from representing all the interests of Rock Hill.
When we get through the process of an election, most people will realize we’re all in this together.”
What would a successful Rock Hill look like to you?
Five years from now, it will continue to have a lot of commercial growth. We will continue to see new opportunities in the community, (University Center) will be up on its legs, I hope. It’ll be really booming.
There’s a lot of work that’s going on in infrastructure that we won’t necessarily see the benefits of, with the wastewater and water plant improvements. But we will see our roads tore up to help with that. So, I think we’ll be primed five years from now for better days to come because of the investment coming from our infrastructure.
Ten years from now, I don’t think anybody will be able to recognize Rock Hill. I think that we’re on a trajectory that is lights out right now. We will always maintain our charm, we will always keep Charlotte close enough to keep us warm, but not so close that we get burned. That river between us needs to stay there. We need to protect our identity, and we will.
What we’ll see in Rock Hill in the next 10 years will be amazing.
How do you envision the growth of Knowledge Park impacting homeowners who currently live around the Lowenstein Building or other nearby areas?
The growth here is something we’ve been wishing for at this site for over 20 years now. It’s been a lot of work to this point. It took a lot of risk to get here, so we do need to see the rewards for that investment.
It’s gonna be a wonderful thing to see all this development come out. When you talk about residential, you’re mainly talking about across the railroad tracks which, by and large, is investor property, not homeowner owned. So that will have an impact, but I don’t know how many investors will be hurt or worried about their property values rising.
But there will be some homeowners, and that’s something we have to keep an eye on. I don’t know how you cure that problem. I’m not sure how widespread that issue may be. I’m interested in finding out truly if that’s an issue or not, because there is a difference between a house with an investor or someone’s home where they raise children and family. It’ll be uncharted waters for us.
What’s your position on public transit, specifically the proposed four-route, seven-bus transit system - in Rock Hill?
That’s one of the great things we have to do in the community, so more people will have opportunities that they don’t have now. They can have access to transportation, but also it’s an economic development argument for the buses.
They’ll go out in four different routes, bring people from community to the (University Center), and if we run the routes properly, they won’t tear up our roads.
I hope people that come will recognize how convenient it will be to see on an app when the bus will show up, play at the arena, then ride back out, and not have to worry about parking or congestion.
But I do think we have to look at the finances on it, to see if we can knock it down more than was planned. I know that the city has said that the growth of the city, these new tax revenues that are coming in, are going to pay the city’s allotment, the share of that transportation system.
How would you describe your leadership style?
That’s probably a better question for people around me than me. I’ve always seen myself as a team player. I truly have no problem with people getting credit for what we do as long as we’re moving forward.
I’ll use my law firm as an example. I do like attracting very high-quality, highly motivated and bright people around. It’s just a wonderful thing to teach people something and they run with it and make it happen. I’m looking forward to working with the city manager and the management team and the city council.
I’m a consensus builder. I’m excited to see what we’ll do here.
What has surprised you in the days since the election?
“It’s been two days, I haven’t woken up yet.
I don’t know if anything’s surprised me, but I’m really thankful for the support around town. Even those that did not support me in the election, reaching out and talking about how we move forward, just like we always have, that’s been very comforting.
It’s been exciting, but it’s just two days. I’m still sort of wiped out, but I’m looking forward to it.”
At a glance
▪ 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.