A discussion of traffic, growth and government transparency occupied the bulk of the conversation at Tuesday’s election forum hosted by the League of Women Voters. Three of four Summerville mayoral candidates and all five candidates running for town council answered questions from the audience.
This forum was the second to feature Summerville’s mayoral candidates but it was the first forum for town council candidates. Another forum is scheduled for Tuesday and a debate is in the works for Oct. 28.
Mayoral candidates Bill Hearn, Fleming Moore and Ricky Waring were present. Brandon King was absent.
Candidates for the Town Council District 2 seat were incumbent Christine Czarnik and challenger Terry Jenkins. In the District 4 race, incumbent Bill McIntosh sat next to challenger Glenn Zingarino. Bob Jackson, who is running unopposed for District 6 also attended and spoke to various issues.
Moore, a local musician who describes himself as a political novice, questioned fellow candidate Hearn, a Dorchester County Councilman, about a $1,000 campaign contribution that Hearn received from a developer who is currently proposing projects within the town.
Hearn replied saying he has received donations from hundreds of people, and said any elected official should vote with his or her heart and convictions.
“If you’re voting because somebody donated to you, you should not be there,” Hearn said. “I’ve never done that and will not do that.”
Mayoral candidates were asked how they get up to speed with town issues. Hearn said he follows the town meetings by attending them in person, watching the live stream, reading minutes from meetings and reading town ordinances. He cited his experience from two terms as Chairman of Dorchester County Council, and said he knows how to lead meetings, set an agenda and promote morale among employees.
Moore said he planned on asking the advice of others to council him; namely town council member Walter Baily, resident Peter Gorman and Mayor Wiley Johnson.
“I see two people in this room that I would call right away one of them being Mr. Walter Bailey; the other one would be Peter Gorman,” Moore said. “I would weigh the differences of their opinions of what they were thinking and I would use my wisdom and seek council from other people.”
Waring, a former town councilman and fire chief, said he knows the town better than any other candidate. He said he doesn’t need to get up to speed on Summerville’s (issues) because he hasn’t missed a council meeting in more than a year and he attends committee meetings to follow the town’s business, he said he knows all of the department heads and maintains relationships with all of the town’s staff members.
“All we need is a little straightening up and we can move ahead in a great direction,” Waring said.
Each candidate was asked what their top priorities would be on the first day in office.
Moore said he would pray with people who were in jail, establish a council retreat to get comfortable with council members, and he would work on racial reconciliation within Summerville.
Waring said he would spend the day in city hall and get to know the people he’ll be working with as Mayor of Summerville, including connecting with county and regional leaders.
Hearn said he would work to restore civility within town council, town government and constituents, including supporting the town employees by giving them the freedom to act on their great ideas. He said the mayor should have a sense of humility and a servant’s heart.
Candidates were also asked questions about the recently approved Unified Development Ordinance and the town’s public safety priorities.
Town Council candidates
Candidates running for office on the Town Council were asked questions about Summerville’s identity, its relationships with county leaders and how each candidate intends to demonstrate transparency within the government.
One question asked ‘how can we move forward with the growing opportunity within the area and avoid being a bedroom community that misses out on its potential?’
McIntosh said people are moving to Summerville because they are attracted to the Dorchester school districts and relatively low housing prices compared to the Charleston area, but that doesn’t mean Summerville is a bedroom community for Charleston.
“We have our own identity and what I have been doing on council is fighting for Summerville to maintain its identity, its distinctiveness, its true and genuine sense of place amid an onslaught of development, most of which happens outside of the town limits of Summerville,” McIntosh said.
Zingarino said preservation of the historic downtown is extremely important because people need to know about the past. He said while he isn’t a lifelong Summerville resident, he did embrace the town because of its authentic charm.
He said the new Unified Development Ordinance favors more residential districts and that will lead to high density building in the downtown.
“They may leave the facades of the historic downtown there but behind it developers will do what they do best and that is they will retrofit all of those buildings for anything from low income housing to high priced condominiums,” Zingarino said.
Jackson said planning and the UDO will help keep Summerville from becoming a bedroom community. The UDO’s new mixed-use district allows for retail and residential together in the downtown area and that gives people an opportunity to walk instead of drive to nearby businesses.
Czarnik said Summerville is largely residential and the town needs to attract more business and light industry to Dorchester County. She said there are a lot of businesses looking to move into communities that are where their employees want to live.
“What we have in Summerville — our beautiful small town charm with all of the amenities and great recreational opportunities — we are attractive, we just need to market ourselves,” Czarnik said.
Jenkins said he’s watched the town grow from a population of 2,500 people and he has never viewed Summerville as a bedroom community. He said the real challenge is what will Summerville be in the future. He said as the town expands, leaders should work to take the tax burden off of homeowners by working with developers to determine which land should be used for residential, commercial or industrial.
“We’ve got the ability to do that with developers,” Jenkins said. “People want to come to Summerville; it’s a destination, but if you don’t have a council that works with those people, that is not going to happen and it hasn’t. But it will after Nov. 5.”
Zingarino added that it is good to attract businesses and he said he wants to over a seven year period, eliminate business license fees.
Regarding transparency in local government, Jenkins praised his opponent, Czarnik, for her work in making town information more accessible to the public through live streaming meetings and rescheduling some meetings to a time that is easier for members of the public to attend.
Candidates were asked if they agreed that the new UDO zoning will encourage building condos and townhouses in the downtown historic district.
Czarnik said the historic district has its own design guidelines apart from the UDO and those guidelines protect it. She said the UDO is still a work in progress but the town has made great progress on it since the beginning of the year.
Jenkins applauded the council members for their hard work on updating the UDO and said common sense will guide council members and staff through how to apply the UDO. He said he needs to study the 300-page document that has only been approved this month by council members.
McIntosh echoed that the residential historic district has been pulled out of the UDO and he said found the question somewhat troubling because it implied that there is something inherently bad about condos or townhouses in the downtown. He said during the 1940s and 1950s many of the historic homes in Summerville kept boarders and that’s how those homes survived and were not torn down.
Zingarino said he is against the new UDO and he has read through the entire ordinance. He said if you read it carefully, the UDO leaves the door open to make changes in the future to residential areas in the historic district.
“I don’t think you should be putting potentially, even around the historic district in a one-mile or two square mile area, condos, townhomes or large structures,” Zingarino said. “I’m not against them at all but I don’t think it’s an appropriate place to put them.”
Jackson said the UDO does not encourage anything. Instead it sets standards for what is required. He said that question goes along with the fear-mongering similar to that of a high-rise hotel in the downtown area.
Candidates went on to address traffic and growth, affordable housing and taxes. The next forum will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Dorchester Council Chambers. The forum will be hosted by the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce.