Fort Mill Times

Editorial: Our picks for Fort Mill mayor, Tega Cay City Council

For the first time in nearly a decade, Fort Mill in 2016 will have someone new in the mayor’s seat. In Fort Mill’s town manager style of government, the elected position of mayor typically does not carry any more weight than any of the six town council members. They all get one vote.

The main perk is presiding over the best in-the-state S.C. Strawberry Festival and other signature events. Policy wise, Fort Mill’s mayor has a seat on an important and influential regional transportation committee, but other than that and representing a potential tie-breaker on town council votes, the title is mostly ceremonial.

That has become critically important.

An almost unprecedented animosity has developed between the town council and the Fort Mill School District and a good deal of the blame has to be laid at the feet of out-going Mayor Danny Funderburk. With that in mind, we had to make a difficult choice between two equally qualified candidates to succeed him – incumbent council members Tom Adams and Guynn Savage.

We endorse Savage.

Both candidates have stated the need to mend fences with the school district, which bears the brunt of unbridled residential growth. We feel certain that Savage, with her deeper Fort Mill roots and past service to the district leading a bond campaign, is best suited to accomplish that critical goal.

Side-by-side, it’s evident that both Adams and Savage are capable council members. Both are intelligent, sincere and hard-working. They understand the issues and the town’s needs from infrastructure, to services ranging from public safety to recreation.

One key area where they differ is the impact fees the council enacted on a 4-3 vote earlier this year. Savage was one of the no votes. Those opposed fear it will deter commercial growth that is desperately needed to offset the flood of new home construction. Adams, who voted for the fees, points out a recent announcement by Harris-Teeter to build a new store in the Dobys Bridge Road area. He also said those who opposed the school district’s collection of impact fees years ago said the fees would choke residential development, but clearly the opposite occurred.

Those arguments are built on a false premise. It was wrong to expect the school district’s impact fees to slow residential growth because builders simply pass the cost to buyers. Those fees are collected solely to help pay for the new schools the district knew it would have to build. Nor is the new Harris-Teeter an apt comparison. Supermarkets use precise formulas to decide where to build. That’s why we have multiple Harris-Teeters, Food Lions, Publix and Walmarts in Fort Mill Township, but not a single Trader Joe’s – which many residents desire. It’s likely Teeter corporate had that new Fort Mill location staked out at least a couple of years before town-imposed impact fees came up for discussion.

Although both Savage and Adams would serve with dedication and honor and represent the town well, Savage has the best opportunity to re-open lines of communication with the school district and develop the sense of partnership both municipalities need. That’s why she deserves your vote.

Tega Cay City Council

Like Fort Mill, the city of Tega Cay has doubled its footprint and population during the past decade and continues to grow. A major difference, however, is that due to a lack of contiguous land to annex, Tega Cay will reach the limits of its physical size much sooner than its neighboring town and that means managing growth is vitally important.

Next week’s election will decide which of seven candidates will win two city council seats and help guide that effort to the end of this decade. Out of a crowded field of qualified candidates, we support incumbent Chris Larsen and challenger David O’Neal.

Among the rest of the field, it was a wrenching decision to not endorse incumbent Ron Kirby. As a resident and neighbor, there’s no one finer. He’s a real gentleman with an easy wit and seems like someone who never met a stranger. Kirby has been a reliable, if unremarkable, council member, but we feel strongly Tega Cay City Council needs a shot of new blood and O’Neal is just what the doctor ordered.

The four other candidates represent a variety of backgrounds and experience and two have been active on the city’s zoning board of appeals, although that body only met a couple of times in the past year. Three of them have lived in the city for five years or fewer. We would love to see all of them stay active, attend at least half the council meetings and make another run for office down the road.

O’Neal, a retired U.S. Army officer, ran for council two years ago. Since then, he became involved in residents’ successful fight against an unpopular water utility. O’Neal was elected vice commander of the Tega Cay Veteran’s Association and was appointed by Gov. Haley to the S.C. Board of Medical Examiners.

One of the things we like best about O’Neal is his steadfast belief that public officials should conduct business in public and not behind closed doors in executive session. He vows to resist executive sessions and to do his best to convince a majority of members to do the same. We can’t imagine he would succeed often – if at all – but he’s the only candidate committed to trying. Further, O’Neal said he would, at every opportunity, encourage public discussion before council votes and shed as much light as possible on discussions held behind closed doors.

He stands out among all candidates as the most passionate when it comes to controlling growth. What O’Neal lacks in experience holding office, he makes up for with a record of leadership and a can-do attitude.

We have faith he’ll get things done.

Larsen is a two-term incumbent who makes a living as an insurance estimator. His background includes finance, construction and marketing. Although not the most eloquent speaker at times, one thing we like about him is what you see is what you get. Larsen is not cut from the politician’s cloth and that’s a good thing. He’s knowledgeable and prepared when attending to city business and has been a part of a string of city successes, including parks development and helping steer the city toward solid financial footing.

He impressed us by admitting it was a mistake to dissolve most of the city’s committees of residents and saying he’s open to bringing some back.

In an election year that drew a number of quality candidates for just two seats, we urge you to vote for O’Neal and Larsen for Tega Cay City Council.