Andrew Dys

Elections office in Rock Hill a good idea because that’s where the people are

Once in a while, government gets something right. The York County decision to open a satellite voting office in Rock Hill – where most of the people live – is not only smart, but long, long overdue.

And it should be the wave of the future.

Maybe this decision to spend a relative pittance – $10,000 – to open an office in eastern York County will push county leaders to consider moving more government services closer to the people who need and use those services.

That will certainly be a fight. York is the county seat. Western York County people will not lose those offices without an argument, a political fistfight, maybe even real fistfights.

In just the past three years, York County has already moved two departments. The county’s Department of Social Services, which serves mainly the poorest people, moved from York to Rock Hill. The county also moved the coroner’s office from York to Rock Hill, a move that Coroner Sabrina Gast said has been “beneficial in every way we try to serve people.”

The coroner’s office being close to the county’s only hospital has streamlined operations and made the office, in its most important function, better able to serve families of the deceased.

“People don’t have to travel so far – and neither do we,” said Gast. “It makes sense.”

The DSS Rock Hill office has also helped improve the delivery of services to those who need them, said Marilyn Matheus, a DSS spokesperson.

And that is really what government is supposed to be about: serving the public. The customer. That is exactly how businesses operate when researching where to build stores, restaurants, anything, said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, whose regular job is as a developer.

Norman’s company developed the land that turned into Academy Sports, a 73,250-square-foot retailer that brought hundreds of jobs to Rock Hill’s Dave Lyle Boulevard across from the Galleria.

The people of western York County are fine people who are just as important as anyone else. But there is no denying the numbers. There are far fewer people there. Academy Sports did not build there and Sam’s Club is not building there. That’s because the majority of customers are on the other side of York County.

“Retailers do their homework, they study where the customers are, where the traffic is, where they can be to serve customers,” said Norman.

But government doesn’t always work like a business. York is the county seat, and has been since 1785, so the government offices have always been there.

York was chosen because it was an established place and central in York County, said York Mayor Eddie Lee, a Winthrop history professor who besides teaching state history is an outspoken advocate for western York County. York needs to remain the county seat, which means the main government offices need to stay there, Lee said.

“I have no problem with the satellite office for elections because of the population distribution,” Lee said. “But York will remain the county seat and where county business is done. It is not an option to change it, and never will be.”

Further, Lee said, technology and the Internet, used by so many for banking and business that has taken away much of the need to go to an office, is the future of serving most of the public, anyway.

He is absolutely right. But many government functions require an in-person visit. Tens of thousands of others either have no computer access or they are not computer literate.

For in-person government functions and services, it “makes no sense,” said Norman, to require the huge majority of people to go so far to York when the reason for government offices in the first place is to serve the public.

The sheriff’s office and criminal courts are located in York because that’s the county seat. But to accommodate the need for services, satellite offices have been opened where the people actually are – not in a field where the main office is.

Moss Justice Center is one of three court offices in York that are far from the majority of the population. The Family Court in Rock Hill, though, is more easily serving the people of the entire county.

When the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles opened a new office about three years ago, it did not choose York. It chose Fort Mill, where tens of thousands of people have moved in the past decade.

There is a fight to build a new hospital in Fort Mill not because people in eastern York County are sicker. Three hospitals want to build there because people who would use the hospital are right there within a few miles.

Lee, the York mayor, points out that in 1860, Rock Hill had a hundred people and York was an established commercial center.

But it is 2012.

No person in York County is more important than another. But if government is supposed to serve everybody, government ought to be where people are, and where they can get to quickly.

Not where most of them ain’t.