Category Archives: Midlands

Penalty for trains blocking streets is $20? Now I get it…

train

I just got this from the S.C. House Democrats:

Rep. Rutherford Pre-Files Legislation Targeting Train Obstruction of Roadways

Columbia, SC – Democratic Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia), announced today that he will pre-file legislation to target the issue of roadway obstructions caused by trains. The proposed bill would significantly increase the penalty for train and railroad companies that have products or assets that block South Carolina roads for longer than five minutes.

Todd Rutherford

Todd Rutherford

The intent behind the legislation comes less than a month after two trains blocked Whaley Street, Assembly Street, and Rosewood Drive in downtown Columbia, halting morning traffic for over an hour. Unfortunately, trains and other objects impeding automobile traffic are too common of occurrences, in both urban and rural communities across South Carolina.
Under current state law, the maximum penalty for obstruction of a roadway is $20. Rutherford’s bill seeks to increase the fine to $5,000 per lane blocked, with the fine rising to $10,000 per lane if the violation occurs between 7:30 am and 5:30 pm.
Rutherford stated, “We cannot allow trains and obstructions to paralyze our roadways. Delays caused by these occurrences directly impact South Carolinians’ wallets and even worse, can be a matter of life or death. It is my hope that increased penalties and improved enforcement of the law will keep our roads clear and our cars moving.”
Rutherford continued, “South Carolinians should not have to suffer because they happen to live near a freight-train line. This issue threatens our quality of life, public safety, and economic growth.”
###

Can that even be right? $20? If so, it explains a great deal…

Columbia’s 4 percent election turnout

Turnout at the city council debate last week.

Turnout at the city council debate last week.

I got this email from Joe Azar today:

Many, many thanks to all of you that supported me in the city council election. I greatly appreciate it and hopefully the concepts and ideas I promoted will be enacted by council.

Maybe one day we can get Columbia moving in a responsible and intelligent way, but it will not happen until people care, analyze, and vote. With only 5250 voting out of a city of 130,000, it is a herculean job to provide progress in a city that seemingly does not care.

What is the answer? I surely would like to know as I have cared greatly for our city all of my life.

Again, THANK YOU!!! You are wonderful!

Joseph Azar

Folks, my calculator says 5,250 out of 130,000 is 4 percent.

Yeah, I get it — it was a low-suspense election. Joe had no chance against Tameika, and Chris Sullivan was punching above his weight against the veteran Sam Davis. Everybody “knew” that, the way people know things that are obviously true (until they aren’t). You know, like “There’s no way a lunatic like Donald Trump could be elected president of the United States.”

I bought into the same conventional wisdom. Rather than the Community Relations Council (upon which I serve) using resources to sponsor its own candidate forum, I suggested we co-sponsor the one the Chamber was doing — which we did, and I moderated. Two years ago, the CRC’s city council debate drew a packed house. This time, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen, and I was right. But I applaud the Chamber and the Building Industry Association (and the CRC) for staging a debate anyway. I mean, it was an actual election that would elect actual council members to help run the city. We should act like it, and provide opportunities for voters to learn more about the candidates, whether they show or not.

But here’s the thing about conventional wisdom…

Tameika Isaac Devine won by getting 3,583 votes to 1,638 for Joe Azar. So if he had identified just 1,945 voters and turned them out, he’d be replacing her on the council. Even though it would have meant getting more than double what he got, that’s not insurmountable with some organization. We’re talking about a city of 130,000, remember.

Chris Sullivan only needed 632 votes, although from a smaller pool.

Maybe they couldn’t have done it. Maybe a 2-1 margin can’t be overcome.

But it’s possible, because the numbers involved are so small

Of course, the big question here is, what will it take to get both voters and strong candidates to care more about Columbia city government?

The much larger crowd in 2015.

The packed house in 2015.

How’s Election Day going (if you’re having one)?

file photo

2014 file photo

Joe Azar sent this out a few minutes ago:

Voting is today for city council. If you do not vote, you can complain all you want about city government, but nothing changes. I am challenging a 4 term incumbent, and it is time for change. Please go vote for Joseph Azar.

Polls are open a few more hours, until 7p.m.

Oh, yeah! I’m not voting today, but other people are. I have a separate notification from the SC Democratic Party that notes there are elections in 123 municipalities in our state, plus a special election down in Charleston.

And POTUS started the day throwing his weight around in a gubernatorial election in Virginia, where an erstwhile establishment Republican is trying to win using Trump/Bannon tactics. For instance, he’s campaigning against “sanctuary cities” even though Virginia has no sanctuary cities. Poor Virginia! Aren’t you glad we don’t have nonsense like that down here? Oh, wait…

So… have you voted? Are you going to vote? How’s the turnout (I sort of think I know, but let’s see if I’m right)?

Or would you just like to comment on what’s going on out there? If so, here’s your chance…

Kyle Michel ponders All Souls’ Day

"All Souls Day" by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

“All Souls Day” by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

Earlier this week, the lady who schedules us lectors and eucharistic ministers sent out an email looking for volunteers for the Masses on All Saints Day. I wrote to her to say I could serve at the one at noon, but couldn’t do the evening Mass because of the debate.

But I had to ask her a dumb question, just to be sure: You’re talking about Wednesday, right?

As a convert, I still get confused by some stuff cradle Catholics take for granted, and the distinction between All Saints’ Day (yesterday) and All Souls’ Day (today) is one of those things.

But because we have so much to learn, we examine these things more closely. And an unexamined life, etc.

So I sort of enjoyed this email from Kyle Michel, who like me grew up Southern Baptist before marrying into a Catholic family:

All Souls Day has always been kinda intriguing to me. The idea of praying for all souls gone before you makes you wonder where the heck they’ve all gone. Maybe my Jewish friends are right – you’re here, you make your mark, you’re gone. Or, maybe there’s some kind of next stage – put whatever label you want on it. It would be hard to say that every person who has ever seen a ghost or had some paranormal experience was just imagining it. But everybody who ever died can’t be hanging around or the whole world would look like that Michael Jackson Thriller video. ​
I grew up Southern Baptist and we never had All Souls Day. According to the Baptists, there’s just no need – God’s already sorted them out, no need for further input. The Catholics have more of a Jesse Jackson approach – Keep Hope Alive! That Catholic approach seems a little better suited to a procrastinator like me – give it your best shot while you’re still breathing, but if you fall a little short, you’ve still got a chance.
Though, for Catholics, All Souls Day is still a little uncomfortable because you’re supposed to pray for all those in purgatory, which means you gotta make a call on who you think didn’t quite make it in – awkward!  At the funeral, everyone makes it in, right? Now, I gotta admit I think Uncle Freddie never made the cut!
Lucky for us, this year All Souls Day falls on First Thursday, so you can come down to Main Street and spend the evening thinking about all your dearly departed while walking among your not-yet-departed who probably still need a little prayer themselves.
If you’re out, stop by. We’ll be here at 1520 with our usual fare and selling the records of some of the souls we’re praying for – including a few of those “under-the-counter” ones that belonged to Uncle Freddie.

Kyle sends out these emails every First Thursday, inviting folks to drop by his law office on Main Street. He has the most awesome record collection I’ve ever seen outside of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and he puts out some of his treasures out to sell from tables on the sidewalk.

You should check it out tonight. I can’t, because I’m doing another Catholic thing: I’m going to the annual Bernardin Lecture. Kristin Heyer of Boston College will speak on “Immigration Ethics in a New Era.”

Video and a Twitter account of the city council forum

microphone

Having only one microphone was a bit awkward…

When I’m moderating a debate, I’m always thinking about too many other things — keeping an eye on the timekeeper, shuffling through questions from the audience, picking the next question — to take notes on what is actually being said. I mean, I hear this and that, but I can miss the overall flow, and I wouldn’t trust myself to report on it.

Fortunately, the Chamber streamed last night’s city council forum on Facebook Live. This is good for those of you who’d like to hear what the candidates said, and bad for me, because I find my own fidgeting and rocking back and forth in the background too distracting when I try to watch it.

If you’re only interested in one of the two races, we did the at-large contest between incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine and Joseph Azar first, then you see the candidates for District 1 — incumbent Sam Davis and Chris Sullivan — starting at -49:18.

If you’d like to read what the candidates said, Chris Trainor of Free Times Tweeted extensively during the event.

My main aim was to have an informative event that focused on issues rather than irrelevancies. I was pleased that Chris Trainor’s last Tweet said this:

Come to the city council debate tonight

A previous city council debate I moderated at the same venue.

A previous city council debate I moderated at the same venue.

This evening, I’ll be moderating the final debate of the Columbia City Council race.

It’s sponsored by the Columbia Chamber, the Community Relations Council (of which I am a Chamber-appointed member) and the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina. We’ll be at the Chamber’s offices on Richland Street.

In case you haven’t kept up, Joe Azar is challenging at-large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, while veteran District 1 member Sam Davis faces Chris Sullivan.

We’re on a tight schedule, dealing with both races between 5:15 and 7 p.m., so I’m working today on trying to whittle down the prepared questions so I can get the best ones in. I don’t intend to ask about such irrelevancies as who belongs to the NAACP or who might be a closet Republican, because I can hardly imagine anything less relevant.

Of course, the candidates can bring up what they want, but my intent is to get good answers to how they intend to improve the city.

If y’all have any last-minute suggestions, toss ’em at me…

ebate

A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

1024px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

KKK questions in the 5th grade, and the ‘virtues of slavery’

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids...

They may look scary, but look at it from their perspective, kids…

Well, we’re in The New York Times again. This time it’s for asking a bit much of 5th-graders in Irmo:

“You are a member of the K.K.K.,” the fifth-grade homework assignment read. “Why do you think your treatment of African-Americans is justified?”

The work sheet, given on Thursday as part of a lesson on the Reconstruction period, caused an outcry after one student’s uncle, Tremain Cooper, posted a photo of the assignment on Facebook.

“This is my little 10-year-old nephew’s homework assignment today,” he wrote. “He’s home crying right now.”

Mr. Cooper identified the teacher as Kerri Roberts of Oak Pointe Elementary School in Irmo, S.C., a suburb of Columbia, and added, “How can she ask a 5th grader to justify the actions of the KKK???”

Reached by phone, Ms. Roberts’s husband said she was unavailable and was “not going to comment on anything.”…

Hoo, boy.

Of course, that’s a perfectly fine question to ask, to get the ol’ gray matter working — in a graduate poli sci course. I think it’s a shame that Ms. Roberts — who is on suspension pending investigation of the incident — isn’t commenting, because I would dearly love to know the thinking behind asking 5th-graders to tackle it.

Had she even looked at the lesson before she passed it out? Or was this enterprise on her part? Had she decided to go for a real challenge, asking her students to reach for understanding beyond their years?

One thing I’ll say in defense of this: It’s a more reasonable question than this one asked in California:

In February, second graders at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles were asked to solve a word problem: “The master needed 192 slaves to work on plantation in the cotton fields. The fields could fill 75 bags of cotton. Only 96 slaves were able to pick cotton for that day. The missus needed them in the Big House to prepare for the Annual Picnic. How many more slaves are needed in the cotton fields?”

Correct answer: “That’s a trick question! Masters don’t have to do math!”

Of course, we have at least one person here in South Carolina who might love to be asked such a question. His letter to the editor appeared in The State today:

Teach truth about the virtues of slavery

The recent controversy about Confederate monuments and flags ultimately revolves around one man and one question. The man is John C. Calhoun, the great philosopher and statesman from South Carolina, and the spiritual founding father of the Confederacy. The question is: Was Calhoun right or wrong when he argued, from the 1830s until his death in 1850, that the South’s Christian slavery was “a positive good” and “a great good” for both whites and blacks?

If Calhoun was wrong, then there may be grounds for removing monuments and flags.

But if Calhoun was right, the monuments and flags should stay and be multiplied, blacks should be freed from oppressive racial integration so they can show the world how much they can do without white folk, the Southern states should seize their freedom and independence, and the North should beg the South’s pardon for the war.

Calhoun’s views are unpopular today because, since 1865, the Yankee-imposed education system has taught all Americans that the South’s Christian slavery was evil and that everyone is equal. But unpopularity cannot make a truth untrue, and popularity cannot make error truth.

WINSTON MCCUEN
AIKEN

“If Calhoun was right….”

Excuse me while I sit here and try to come up with a justification of Mr. McCuen’s point of view. It might be on the six-weeks test…

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

This is where the South Carolina Court of Appeals sits.

Hey! Alla you kids, get offa my Blossom Street!

This was on Friday, as I sat through several light cycles waiting to turn onto Pickens.

This was on Friday, as I sat through several light cycles waiting to turn onto Pickens.

Have you made the mistake of trying to get anywhere on Blossom Street — say, between Five Points and the Congaree River bridge — since the kids came back to campus?

If so, you know why I say “mistake.”

The worst point is at the intersection of Blossom and PIckens, which I at least attempt to traverse several times a week.

It has never been this bad, or even close. This no doubt has something to do with the record freshman class, but it seems like there must be three or four times as many students in the past.

And all, of course, driving cars.

On Friday, stuck through about four full cycles of the traffic light trying to turn left onto Pickens from Blossom, I glanced over at the sidewalk on the north side of Blossom, and suddenly flashed on a memory: It was me as a freshman, that one semester I went to USC, walking with groceries back from the Winn-Dixie in Five Points (where the Walgreens is now) to my room in the Honeycombs.

Which reminded me that I only knew of one guy on the floor of my dorm who had a car. I once got a ride from him to the K-Mart in Cayce on the way to the airport to pick up something that my uncle in Bennettsville needed, and which he could only get from K-Mart, to his knowledge. (It was vacuum cleaner bags. Remember, there was no Amazon.)

Not one other time, that whole semester, did I need to go anywhere in Columbia that I couldn’t easily walk.

So… I’m going to shock everyone by making a commonsense suggestion: Why can’t USC at least bar resident freshmen from having cars on campus?

If we can’t do that, then USC and the city need to get together and figure out something to do about the daily problem on Blossom…

This was a few days earlier than that...

This was a few days earlier than that…

Spot of good news: My neighborhood isn’t going to be demolished for a hyperspace bypass

Here’s the notice that was brought to my attention — not by the government, but by my daughter — on the last day of public comment.

Here’s the notice that was brought to my attention — not by the government, but by my daughter — on the last day of public comment.

So Donald Trump is still president, North Korea just fired a missile over Japan, and Harvey is still ripping up and flooding the Gulf Coast.

So, lots of bad news.

But at least there’s this:

The S.C. Department of Transportation has dropped a plan to build a bypass to unsnarl “Malfunction Junction” that would have caused up to 236 West Columbia homes to be razed.

State Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said he received a letter about the change from the department Tuesday morning.

“This is a tremendous victory for us,” he said. “And this was a community effort.”

The bypass was one of several options being considered by the DOT to alleviate congestion at the junction of I-20, I-26 and I-126. It would have diverted traffic away from the intersection, but the bypass also would have cut through several West Columbia neighborhoods including Quail Hollow and River’s Edge….

I live in Quail Hollow. And while the abandoned route might not have technically gone through my living room, it would have run behind the houses directly across the street from me, and would have blocked me from the only way out of my neighborhood other than swimming across the Saluda River.

It would have been the worst deal possible: My property value would have been destroyed, and I wouldn’t have gotten paid for it because they didn’t necessarily have to buy my house. And my peaceful, semi-sylvan neighborhood — deer sometimes wander onto our lot — would have become utter, roaring chaos, with an interstate directly in front of the house, less than 100 feet away (as near as I could tell from the wholly inadequate maps provided by DOT).

As you’ll recall, I learned about this plan on the last day of public comments last fall, after having received ZERO notification from the state that my neighborhood was potentially to be sacrificed to fix Malfunction Junction, a problem that has never bothered me even though it’s only about a mile from my house.

We found ourselves in a situation that was almost, but not quite, entirely like the one Arthur Dent faced in the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Did I ever tell you about the public meeting DOT finally held for my neighbors and me after we DID find out about it on that last day of public comment? Official after official claimed that we should have known sooner — after all, the plans had been on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.” More or less.

Finally, this one woman stood up and faced the truth, and admitted that yeah, they had screwed up big-time by not actually notifying us. Which was nice. I guess she had drawn the short straw on being the “good cop.”

Anyway, I want to thank my Senator, Nikki Setzler, and my representative, Micah Caskey (although Micah says modestly that it was really Nikki) for standing up and raising hell about the deal. I think it probably helped even though the DOT people claimed at the public meeting that resistance would be useless, that political considerations would play no role, that the decision would be made by federal officials entirely on the basis of objective data.

A laser display that lasts 10 years?

I read with mild interest the news that someone was going to set up an “installation” of laser beams criss-crossing our rivers downtown.

It might be an interesting thing to see one dark evening. I might even pause and contemplate it for a moment or two.

But then I got to the wild part, set out in this headline from Free Times:

I had to reply to that, asking “Ten YEARS?” You might not have been able to tell on Twitter, but I was channeling Jeremy Piven in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (see above).

I was assured that yes, that was correct.

Huh. It sounds cool for a night, sort of, but don’t they think people might tire of the same shtick over the course of TEN YEARS?

I think so. Some folks might even grow to find it irritating.

I mean… isn’t the really cool thing (or one of the really cool things) about light the fact that it’s so fast. 186,000 miles per second? Having a beam of light last for 10 years seems to take the shine, so to speak, off that reputation. It might make some ungrateful philistines wish they were 10 light years away from it.

I’ll close with what my state representative, Micah Caskey, had to say about it:

RenderingGervais2_Robinson(1)

Anybody else almost have a wreck here?

park and taylor

For 30 years now, I’ve been pulling out of the St. Peter’s Catholic Church parking lot, turning right onto Park, then left onto Taylor to head home. I also frequently make the same move at the same intersection heading home from work during the week.

As you are no doubt aware, the part of Taylor to the left of Park (heading west) is one-way — four, later widening to five, lanes all heading down toward the river.

To the right (the east) of Park, Taylor is two-way. If you look at my crude graphic above, you’ll see there’s a concrete divider going off to the right, but none to the left.

For 30 years, I’ve had no trouble. Heading north on Park, I pull up to the intersection and stop, look carefully to my right to make sure no one’s coming and trying to change lanes suddenly leftward where it becomes one-way, and then turning left into the closest lane, the way you’re supposed to do.

And I’ll confess that, having done this perhaps thousands of times without incident — and being reluctant to turn away from the direction I expect other cars to come from — I’d gotten to where I’d start rolling out slowly out into Taylor even as my head was turning in that direction. And for 30 years, this bad habit did not cause any problems.

Until a couple of weeks ago. And then, twice in one week, I had to stomp on the brakes to avoid a head-on collision with a car coming up the hill, the wrong way, in my lane!

Twice in one week! The first time I saw as an anomaly, the second time I’m starting to look upon as a trend. (Once more, Jerry Ratts would say, and we can give it to Lifestyles — if we’re still alive.)

Needless to say, I look very carefully to the left now before letting my vehicle start to roll. I’m a little obsessive about it, now. But one near-collision didn’t fully teach me that, and the second time, the other guy and I had to hit our brakes so hard that smoke came from the other car’s tires.

It scared the bejeebers out of both of us, and he started yelling at me, and I started yelling at him, and then… I shut up, and slowly rolled forward so that our windows were next to each other, rolled down my window — being careful to seem non-threatening — and told him, “This is one-way.”

He started to protest, gesturing toward the concrete median dividing the road behind me, and I said, “Yes, that’s right — it’s two-way behind me. But from here on down to the river, it’s one-way. Really.” He seemed to believe me — at least he didn’t yell any more — and we both went on our ways.

If I’d had more presence of mind, I would have asked him where he was coming from, so I could figure out where the system had failed. Is there a missing one-way sign that had always been there before?

I don’t know. But I’m wondering whether any of y’all have encountered this heart-stopping phenomenon on that stretch of Taylor.

If so, maybe we need to lobby the city to do something…

wider

Forum Friday on Bull Street development

Bull street flier

As some of you may know I serve on the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. We’re about fostering constructive, civil conversations about issues facing the community. As you also may know, we’ve sponsored some forums over the years on such issues as the Penny Tax and strong mayor referenda, as well as candidate forums.

Lately, we’ve started a monthly series of informal discussions on “Hot Topics” that are current in the community.

This month, after reading Jeff Wilkinson’s recent story on how the Bull Street development was coming, we decided to sponsor a session on that, and it will be at noon tomorrow (Friday) at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices.

I’ll moderate the discussion. Panelists include:

  • Howard Duvall – The city councilman who ran as a Bull Street skeptic, who is now invested in its success as chair of the Bull Street Commission.
  • Jim Reid – I don’t have info on Jim, but am told he’s an active Columbia resident who has been interested in the project.
  • Bill Leidinger- a former city councilman and city manager of Richmond, VA. Retired to Columbia. Helped build semipro stadium in Richmond with no tax dollars.
  • Elizabeth Marks – VP of Columbia coalition of downtown neighborhoods.
  • Rusty DePass – Everybody knows Rusty. Bull Street skeptic who, from what I hear, hasn’t converted — but I’ll find out tomorrow.
  • Robert Hughes – President of Hughes Development of Greenville, master developer of the project.
  • Chandler Thompson, also from Hughes Development.

I have no idea who, if anyone, will come out to hear the discussion or ask questions of the panel, but if you’re interested, come on out.

I’d tell you more, but I haven’t been the organizer — I’m just moderating. So this is all I know. I’ll show up and see how it goes.

Just be civil, just like on the blog…

Hey, Burl: Look what they’ve done with the old hangar

hangar

When Burl and Mary Burlingame were visiting last summer, I took them by the old Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Owens Field. Burl being a professional aviation historian, I thought he’d take an interest in the hangar’s rusty glory, having stood there since 1929. It wasn’t quite as impressive as what he showed us in Hawaii, but it was something.

But today, on the way to watch grandchildren play soccer, I noticed that the hangar had all new windows, and a new paint job, and (I think) a new roof.

Soon it will be a brewery, and we can all go and enjoy it up close and personal — although we might have to wait awhile before Burl is back this way so he can go with us…

The way it looked back when Burl saw it.

The way it looked back when Burl saw it. (This is the opposite side.)

Bull Street Update: There’s baseball, and, um… there’s baseball…

Bull Street is coming along fine. It's got baseball...

Bull Street is coming along fine. It’s got baseball…

Having seen this story in The State today:

Most members of the Bull Street Commission, a seven-member board appointed by Columbia City Council, said Monday that they are satisfied with progress at the former State Hospital despite raised expectations of a sprawling retail complex that so far have not materialized.

“I still feel the project is coming along at a reasonable pace,” said member Rebecca Haynes, a former president of the Earlewood Community Citizens Organization. “I think it’s way too early in a 20-year project for anyone to start throwing stones.”…

… I was wondering what y’all thought about how the development is going.

All I’ve really seen so far is baseball, but then, I keep telling y’all to be patient on the Innovista concept, so do I have room to talk?

Anyway, if all you’ve got to show is baseball, is that so bad? It’s better than what they’ve got going at Williams-Brice, in my book…

... and also baseball.

… and also baseball.

Just to get us in the right mood for the snow…

I’ve got to stop by the Food Lion to make some routine purchases for the weekend, and I’m already dreading having to fight the “Oh, my God; we’re all gonna die!” crowd stocking up on bread and such because the world will be coming to an end with a few flakes of snow.

So I rewatched the video above, to get me into a mood for laughing at the situation…

Haley fires the whole Rec board

Read this so early today, I forgot to mention it before…

How about Nikki Haley taking decisive action on the Richland County Recreation Board?

Gov. Nikki Haley is moving to fire all seven members of the Richland County Recreation Board.

The rare action by Haley comes after months of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment by recreation director James Brown III, who retired last month after he was indicted for misconduct in office.

It also follows allegations by a bipartisan majority of the 17-member Richland County Legislative Delegation that members of the appointed recreation board that oversaw Brown had grossly mismanaged the recreation commission’s affairs for years.

Lawmakers said board members allowed unwarranted pay raises and widespread nepotism and thus had neglected their duties.

In a 10-page executive order announced Thursday afternoon by the governor’s office, Haley affirmed the charges brought by the delegation majority and named the seven board members she seeks to remove.

They are: chairman J. Marie Green, vice-chair Barbara Mickens, Weston Furgess Jr., George D. Martin Jr., Joseph Weeks, Thomas Clark and Wilbert Lewis….

This is a bit more than lawmakers had asked for — they had just wanted to ditch the four who had most enabled Brown.

But they weren’t complaining. Sen. Joel Lourie sent me this last night:

In response to the Executive Order issued by Governor Haley today, members of the delegation issued the following statements:

Senator Joel Lourie:

“We thank the Governor and her staff for their diligence in pursuit of all the facts dealing with this complicated matter.  This has always been about what is fair and right for the employees of the Recreation Commission and about providing quality, fiscally responsible services to the citizens of Richland County.”

Representative Beth Bernstein:

“I want to personally thank the Governor and her office for hearing our concerns and taking this unprecedented, but warranted, initiative on behalf of the citizens of Richland County.  This Board will now be held accountable  and the voices of the aggrieved employees of RCRC have been heard.”

Representative James Smith:

“This is a critical next step to restore public confidence in the Recreation Commission.”

Of course, those are members of the pro-reform majority of the delegation.

One of the defenders of the status quo said this:

“This is an absolute overreach,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who said Haley should leave the board members alone. “They didn’t do anything illegal or unethical.”

Please share your reports from the polls

There's no one in the L-Z line! It's good to be the W.

There’s no one in the L-Z line! It’s good to be the W.

Sorry not to have posted earlier. Technical problems on the blog. Here’s hoping they’re fixed now. I’m sure it was just a probing cyberattack by the Russians.

Well, I went and I voted, and it went fine, although there was a tiny glitch, no doubt also the work of the Russians. (Yes, those of you new to the blog; I’m kidding. I think…)

My wife got up just before 7, and was out the door before I could get ready. She returned in maybe 40 minutes, reporting that the lines at the Quail Hollow polling place weren’t bad, but the traffic getting in and out was horrible. Here’s the problem: We vote at Saluda River Baptist Church, which is at 3459 Sunset Blvd — across Sunset from our neighborhood. It’s in a section of Sunset where the hordes of people heading into town can actually get up a bit of speed — like, 55 or 60 mph — and this was rush hour. The driveway into the church is just below the crest of a hill. So basically, you can’t see the oncoming traffic until it’s on top of you.

So, I waited a bit, for rush hour to pass, then went to vote. And there was no line, for those of us with names in the L-Z range. The A-K people did have a short line to wait in, which is right and proper. It’s good to be the W.

Not only that, but I remembered my photo ID this time!

But then, when my neighbor who was working the poll took my little pink card and slipped that cassette thing into my machine to activate it… nothing happened. She was about to move on to try another machine when she noticed that the one next to this one still had a screen with candidates on it showing, and the voter had left. And here’s where we get into the whole voting-as-a-community thing.

That was Mr. So-and-So, she said, and he just lost one of his best friends last week, and has a lot on his mind. She ran after him, turning me over to another poll worker. The man returned, apologizing to all, and finished voting.

When I was done — this machine worked fine — she said she had told the man no problem, and that she supposed he was thinking about his friend who had died, and he said yes, he had been.

I learned one other thing — a bit earlier, the line had been out the door. So my timing was perfect.

How did it go for y’all? What are you seeing out there?

The Senate District 22 debate went OK — by which I mean, better than the presidential ones

both

My only complaint was that more people weren’t there. There were about 60 in the audience, which isn’t terrible, but in the vast Richland Northeast auditorium, that looked pretty sparse.

The candidates, Democrat Mia McLeod and Republican Susan Brill, were both quite civil and well-behaved, but not shrinking violets. They asserted themselves. More than once, after they both had answered the question and both had rebutted, they asked for more time, so I gave them another round of rebuttal. I think rules should be flexible, as long as order is maintained. I’ll not have any debate I moderate turn into the ugly spectacles we see between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — if I can help it. Harrumph.

Of course, you can’t always help it, and visions of this debate devolving into a scene from Lord of the Flies caused me to be more nervous yesterday than I think I’ve ever been before moderating a debate. I’ve just seen so much chaos on TV this year, I wondered whether it had set an uncivilized precedent. I could hear the nervousness in my own voice at the outset of the forum, but once we were engaged and we’d interacted a bit, I calmed down. (It was kind of like my wrestling days in high school. I always hated, hated, HATED the circling around at the start of a bout — it made me super apprehensive, not knowing what was going to happen. But once my opponent and I had a grip on each other, I settled down and knew what to do.)

Interestingly, I actually had to stop Susan Brill a couple of times when she interjected during Rep. McLeod’s time, telling her to wait her turn. That made me feel pretty foolish, since I had earlier asked her whether she was assertive enough to be effective in the Senate. (This was a companion question to asking Mia whether her abrasive communication style would work in the collegial Senate. I saw them as sort of opposites on the assertiveness scale — Mia too hot, Susan too cold.)

Only once did the audience get out of hand. Ms. McLeod was speaking when suddenly a man’s voice boomed from the audience something along the lines of Wait, are you trying to say… Everyone turned to stare in that direction — I couldn’t see him for the stage lights. I cut in immediately with something like, No, sir! We are not going to do that… I said he should write his question on a 3X5 card like everybody else, and pass it to Community Relations Council Executive Director Henri Baskins. To his credit, he complied. (As I said that, I knew I probably wouldn’t get to his question, because I had plenty of good questions — many more than I had time for — in front of me already, and I thought polite people’s questions should have precedence. But as it happened, Henri passed his question to me and, deciding I may have implied that I would ask his question, I made it the last one in the program.)

Were there any serious gaffes? Not really, although Ms. Brill got a pretty snarky reaction to her assertion — in trying to prove that the Richland Two school board of which she is a member provides all the district’s schools what they need, without favoritism — that the board had provided Ms. McCleod’s children’s high school with… wait for it… Astroturf for their football field.

At this point, y’all are saying, “Where’s the substance? You’re talking about the style.” Well, that’s the thing: When I’m moderating, I find it impossible to take notes. I’m too busy with the forms — making sure the rules are followed, watching the timekeeper, trying to keep up with what the candidates are saying even as I sort through the 3X5 cards from the audience trying to pick the next question.

But here are my prepared questions — I got to all but one — and a very brief summary of what I remember them saying in response. Sorry I can’t do better:

  1. I think most voters in the district are sorry to see Sen. Joel Lourie ending his distinguished career in the state Senate. He has played a leadership role on a number of issues of statewide importance. I’d like to ask each of you, to what extent to you intend to follow through on Sen. Lourie’s initiatives, and what sorts of issues are you likely to stress that he has not? Both said they would follow through on his issues. Mia mentioned DSS reform in particular. She also said one issue she would work on that she didn’t think Joel had done enough on was gender pay equity.
  2. We’ve had the opportunity to observe both candidates in public office for a number of years. I’d like to ask a question of each of you regarding your personal leadership styles. Ms. McLeod, you have been a very active and energetic advocate on a number of controversial local issues. You sometimes have a forceful, assertive style. Your critics say it’s too forceful, and unnecessarily alienates people. Your supporters say you’re a breath of fresh air, and exactly what’s needed. You’re running to be a part of the state Senate, a body that prides itself on its collegiality. My question is, how effective do you think your approach will be in that body? She had said in opening remarks that she was “a fighter,” so I reworded this to reflect that. She maintained that she had nothing to apologize for, and cited her ability, for instance, to work across the aisle with Republicans.
  3. Ms. Brill, I have almost the opposite question to ask of you. In many ways your leadership style seems the opposite of your opponent’s. We seldom see you stepping out and making headlines in the same forceful way that Ms. McLeod does. Some might see your approach as more passive. Our state, and Richland County, have a number of very contentious, controversial issues lying before them. My question of you is, are you assertive enough to lead on these issues in an effective manner? She argued that she was, too, a leader, although it seems in retrospect (my memory could be playing tricks) that she had to go back to her time on county council years ago to come up with good examples.
  4. As I said, you are both experienced officeholders. Ms. Brill has gained a perspective on education and on local government that many members of our state Senate may lack. And Ms. McLeod well knows that the House can see things very differently from the way senators do. I’d like to ask each of you, what will you take from your specific experience in office that will make you a better senator? Sorry. I know they both had fairly substantive answers to this, but I honestly can’t recall the specifics
  5. Let’s talk about the Richland County Recreation Commission. After a year of upheaval in which many residents of the county began to despair of seeing the matter addressed meaningfully, we have recently seen movement, in part because of stands taken by the legislative delegation. But what has happened falls far short of what lawmakers have demanded. What should happen next, and what would you do as a senator to make it happen? I didn’t feel like either fully answered this, which may be because I wasn’t specific enough about what I meant. Mia sort of leaped ahead to answer Question 7, saying she would change state law to make lawmakers able to remove commissioners. She also noted that she thought the governor had all the information she needed to act. I think Susan also spoke of broader remedies. I considered asking the question again, demanding to know what they think should happen with the problem commissioners who haven’t quit, but I had a lot of subjects I wanted to get to, and moved on.
  6. Here’s a question near and dear to the CRC and its mission: The Recreation Commission issue is like many in Richland County, including on the Richland Two school board. It often breaks along racial lines. Things can get pretty ugly. Even Sen. Lourie, after all his years – and those of his father before him – of leading on social justice issues, has had the race card flung at him. How can we move forward on these difficult issues, which are tough enough without the painful ingredient of racial tension? How would you further communication to achieve the understanding needed to get everyone working together? Mia got slightly defensive on this, and defended herself well by going back to her leadership on the Election Commission debacle, when hers was the loudest voice calling for reform, and saying failing to run an election competently has nothing at all to do with race. (At some point in the debate — I don’t recall if it was now or later — there was some back-and-forth about Mia having injected herself into the incident at Spring Valley last year, something Brill supporters have decried as inappropriate.
  7. One more related to the Recreation Commission. The central political problem it poses is that while the legislative delegation can appoint its members, lawmakers can’t remove them, even if the delegation can itself come to agreement on something so difficult. This, along with hundreds of Special Purpose Districts across our state, is a vestige of the Legislative State, of a time when state legislators ran everything on the local level in their communities. The SPDs just did not go away when the Home Rule Act was passed in the 70s. What should be done about these hundreds of unaccountable little governments called special purpose districts, and will you lead on addressing the situation if elected? Neither seemed as interested in taking this on as I would be, although Susan may have been more willing than Mia — I really can’t recall now. I just remember being disappointed, and moving on.
  8. Let’s talk about infrastructure. Even before the floods of a year ago, our state was struggling to figure out how to maintain its vast network of roads, and failing to agree. Then came the floods, with all those dams failing right here in this district. The damage to dams, roads, bridges and such landmarks as the Columbia Canal was tremendous, and we had not nearly recovered from all that damage when Hurricane Matthew came along and did further harm. What should South Carolina do to address its infrastructure challenge, for the safety and economic development of our state? Both decried the situation, but neither really offered a long-term solution for paying for infrastructure. At some point — but I think it was later — Mia mentioned raising the gas tax, and if I remember correctly, Susan did not disagree. (Anyone who was there, please jump in and correct my memory if I get it wrong.)
  9. Let’s switch to taxes. Speaker Lucas has a committee looking at our tax system, so some pretty big potential changes COULD be before the General Assembly soon. I want to ask about the LAST big change lawmakers made to state law, 10 years ago. I refer to Act 388, which removed the burden for supporting public school operations from homeowners and placed it on a combination of business property and an increased sales tax. This has had a number of unintended consequences, such as stifling business, and people who can’t afford to own their homes paying higher rents, and schools and local governments not being able to raise the money they need to operate. Should ACT 388 be maintained as it is, repealed or amended? And if amended, how? Mia said repeal. I think Susan’s answer was more nuanced, but I don’t remember the details.
  10. South Carolina has a vast army of state retirees, including, I would expect, some in this very room. How would you address the unfunded liability of state retirement systems? I remember nothing at all about their responses.
  11. Here’s something that over the years at the newspaper I ALWAYS asked candidates about. We have before us, as usual, a Democrat and a Republican. I want to ask each of you, how important is party to you? To what extent will you follow the party line, and to what extent will you go your own way? I skipped this question, as after asking some audience questions, I was running out of time.
  12. South Carolina opted not to expand Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act was implemented. Was that the right course? What should our state do about healthcare going forward? Sorry. I forget the details. Dang.

OK, that was a pretty pointless exercise. I just don’t remember enough — and worse, I tend to remember Mia’s answers better than Susan’s. Not that Susan’s were bad; at the time I felt like she was addressing the questions well enough. I just can’t remember them as well.

Dang. Well, y’all should have been there.

Oh, wait — people want to know about zingers. I remember one in particular aimed by Mia at Susan. And it may have been the one thing Mia said that illustrated the unnecessary abrasiveness that her critics cite. One of the audience questions was about Mia’s $49,500 contract with the city of Columbia for communications consulting. That’s the subject of an attack ad from the Senate Republican Caucus, and a sore point for the Democrat (and it wasn’t among my questions because I knew it would come up).

She used it as an occasion to lash out at her opponent as a woman who had never worked outside the home, and didn’t understand people who had to go out and earn a living. She also hit her for failing to distance herself from Donald Trump — something I was about to ask about (another audience question).

Ms. Brill responded accurately that she had nothing to do with the attack ad; that was the caucus. I found her answer about Trump less satisfactory, but let’s be fair: I’m never satisfied with anyone who won’t say she’ll vote for Clinton — which is, of course, the only way of stopping Trump.

Yeah, I know; this was a lousy report. But I just don’t know how to moderate and take proper notes at the same time…