Two reasonable, prepared candidates got together at the Witherspoon Building on Tuesday, in front of an ample crowd, to discuss the state and future of Laurens County while attempting gently to persuade that crowd that one would be better than the other on County Council.
It’s a tough call.
The most substantive difference in the forum matching Republicans Jennifer Garrett and Brown Patterson in the July 9 special election in District 4 was that Garrett would rather pick up the litter around the roads and Patterson would prefer to repair those roads first.
Garrett did not oppose road repair. Nor did Patterson come out in favor of trash. When moderator David Stumbo, the 8th Circuit Solicitor, asked the two to claim their first priorities, Garrett said litter and Patterson said roads.
“Our biggest need is infrastructure,” said Patterson, responding first.
“The number one problem is the litter issue,” countered Garrett.
Garrett seemed a mite more idealistic, Patterson a tad more analytical, in the forum hosted by the Laurens County Republican Party. Only a few of the chairs lined up to accommodate the GOP-sponsored event were unoccupied, and Stumbo immediately allowed as how he was impressed.
“This speaks well for our county,” the solicitor opined, “and it speaks well for its citizens.”
Opening the affair, Garrett said, “I love Laurens County, I want to see it grow and to encourage people to visit. I am willing to jump in and do what needs to be done.
“Big things are coming. Will we be ready?”
The two are vying for the seat vacated by Stewart Jones, who was elected to the General Assembly earlier this year.
“Three years ago, I knew this seat would be open in the near future,” Patterson said, “and I started paying attention.
“I have continued to see the county deteriorate. We need to improve industry and provide a community to make it grow.”
Both candidates expressed a wary approval of land-use planning to provide controlled growth.
Patterson said, “We need to learn how that can work for everyone. How? The short answer is I don’t know. It’s our duty as a community to pool all our resources and act cohesively for the good of Laurens County. My suggestion would be to do it (planning) by fire district.”
Both candidates also favored the penny sales tax that will be on the next general-election ballot, though both reserved final approval on the outcome of a commission’s recommendations on how the money, if raised, should be spent.
“I want the money to be used on brick and mortar,” Patterson said. “Something that will last a long time.”
He added that he would prioritize, in county spending, emergency resources: EMS, Sheriff and fire.
“The government’s job is to provide services that private businesses can’t,” Garrett said. “We have a lot more needs than dollars. Priorities have to come into play.”
Jones, as a county councilman and in his campaign for the General Assembly, opposed the penny tax.
Garrett said, “Three things are intertwined. Industry is coming in already, but we must improve housing and quality of life. We need more recreational things.”
“Lake Greenwood is a major asset that we must use better,” Patterson said.
Both candidates considered the $360,000 that the Laurens County Development Corporation receives from County Council to be money well spent.
After Garrett suggested that the county should create a program to deal with mental-health issues, Patterson countered by saying that he didn’t believe Laurens County should “get in the mental-health business.” He said he opposed the construction of such a facility with the county’s money.
With the election two weeks away, Garrett said she has already visited “almost every home in District 4.”
In his concluding remarks, Patterson said, “We can go up or we can go down. … We have to be looking to the future.”