Fort Mill school board chairman Patrick White says he has “a 25-year record of getting things done” – one he hopes will convince voters to choose him over a 20-year incumbent in the race for York County Council.
White, 45, is engaged in a spirited challenge against Councilman Curwood Chappell for Chappell’s District 5 seat, representing rural McConnells and Rock Hill to southeastern Fort Mill. They will face off in the June 12 Republican primary.
White, a Fort Mill native with family ties to the McConnells area, said public service is “obviously something that I’ve always been passionate about and something I’ve always been around.”
When he was 10, White remembers attending a York County Council meeting with his father, who was a councilman then.
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The room was packed with about 200 people, he said. The big issue was a controversial leash law.
“Difficult meetings back then, and difficult meetings now,” White said in a recent interview with The Herald.
The desire to help people and feeling he can “add value to the council” drove White to run, along with a feeling that he has accomplished a lot on the school board over the past decade.
“When you do the same budget, when you work with the same people, when you have the same challenges for 10 years,” he said, “you’ve done about as much good as you can in that position. It’s time to go do something else.”
White said his experience working in management at Springs Industries textile mill for 23 years and now as the vice president of supply chain for Comporium are evidence that he’s qualified.
A conservative, collaborative leadership approach and strategies for economic development are foundations of his campaign.
Henry Surratt, vice president of global quality assurance for Springs, said White would be a positive addition to the council.
Surratt hired White as a recent graduate of The Citadel. He said White moved up through the management ranks, taking a hands-on approach to his work, developing a mastery of the technical side of plant operations, and illustrating the ability to establish a rapport with everyone – from workers on the floor to top management.
“Every job that Patrick was responsible for, he always moved it to the next level,” Surratt said, adding that White was “never satisfied with the status quo, always looking for things to improve.”
What made White a success at Springs, Surratt said, was his ability to develop ways to analyze processes to move toward a desired outcome – a skill not everyone has and one that would be valuable for the county and economic development.
“You can’t just look at the end result you want,” Surratt said. “You have to be smart enough to know the key drivers you need to get that result.”
Vote for the people?
Chappell’s supporters have been most concerned with whether White would support economic development projects for the sake of expanding the tax base, instead of championing their causes as Chappell has over the years.
In debates, some residents of the district have asked White how he would have voted on projects they vehemently opposed, such as CSX’s plan to build a truck and rail terminal in the Catawba area.
White said that, based on his research and current understanding of the project, he would have supported it, but he wasn’t on County Council back then and wasn’t involved in the project.
Whether White would vote “with the people” is an important question in District 5, said Jeff Blair, an engineer who served the county’s planning commission for several years. Blair is also a Chappell supporter who lives in the Lesslie area of Rock Hill.
“We constantly have to fight everybody else’s junk that they don’t want,” Blair told White at a recent political stump meet in Lesslie.
CSX, for example, would have sent truck traffic near many residential areas on a road in need of major repair, Blair said.
There are two ways an elected official can represent the people, Blair later told The Herald: making decisions based one what he thinks is best for the people, or asking the people what’s best for them.
Chappell “has never told (us), ‘I know what’s best for you,’” Blair said.
White said the proximity of his Fort Mill home and Rock Hill workplace would give him ample ability to travel the district and hear the people’s concerns.
He said he would “absolutely” look out for the district’s residents and that he wouldn’t get involved in public service in the county if he felt otherwise.
If elected, his goals would be “sitting down with the people and bringing quality businesses,” he said.
White has spent some time on the campaign trail addressing what he calls false accusations against him.
Chappell has accused White of not being able to prevent the decline of Springs Industries, which both White and Surratt attribute not to anything White did or didn’t do, but to the difficulty of competing with cheap overseas labor.
Chappell has challenged White’s promise of job growth, claiming that White couldn’t save his own job.
Not true, said White, who resigned from Springs, which is still operating, to take another job.
Chappell also has accused White and the school board of using the “Chinese government” to build multiple schools in Fort Mill, another claim White has refuted.
White said a company called China Construction America, a qualified bidder in the state of South Carolina, came in as the lowest bidder to build Nation Ford High School.
The company is based in New Jersey and has an office in Columbia and other major U.S. cities. It is owned by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited, a Chinese government-owned firm that operates in 27 countries.
White and other board members asked about disqualifying the firm’s bid, he said, but they were told by their lawyers that to do so would be illegal and could lead to a lawsuit against the district for “loss of profits” and a $1 million cost to the taxpayers.
That wasn’t a decision the school board was willing to make, White said.
Under White’s leadership, the school board revised its budget process, creating a long-range budget plan and a committee to work with the administration from early on in the budget process.
Those efforts, White said, and helping the school board navigate a $5.4 million drop in revenue, would help him bring positive change to the County Council.
Fort Mill school board member Diane Dasher, who was elected at the same time as White, said she hasn’t agreed with him on every issue. During a tough budget season, board members agreed cuts were necessary, she said, but there was discussion about how best to make the cuts.
But White has provided quality leadership while serving as chairman, she said.
“He has always been very conservative with the taxpayers dollars and making sure we got the best bang for the buck,” Dasher said, and always questioned “why we were doing things.”
White also has criticized the County Council’s level of involvement in economic development, saying the county needs a more aggressive approach to having sites ready for new businesses to move in.
Economic development officials should provide an update to the council at every meeting, White said, and there should be “measurable goals that they’re held accountable for.
“And if they don’t achieve them, then we need to discuss why,” he said.
“There’s no road map right now.”