Real Community Indicators

Last week Mayor Bill Barnet and County Council Chairman Jeff Horton delivered “state of our community” speeches while updating the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project.
“The old model and processes won’t work,” Bill Barnet said. Horton agreed, and added that it’s important to be transparent, to make decisions in the public’s view.

I don’t doubt that Barnet and Horton believe in change, and I applaud them for honesty in the face of hard times. But after all the politicians fall silent what we’re left with is that this is still Spartanburg-a political frontier, a community often ten or twenty or years behind the political curve.

Recently several real community indicators in Spartanburg school and county politics have pointed toward reliance on the oldest of political games-self-interest, back room dealing, and business as usual.

For almost a year Spartanburg County Council has been unable to pass a unified land use management plan, or update the storm water management ordinances to assure adequate protection of our streams and rivers. No action has been taken primarily because of lobbying by many Spartanburg developers who are acting primarily as a special interest group.

Though County Council has held public meetings, the issue of managing growth and development has never come to a vote, stalled many say by the strong lobby of private business.

But the most embarrassing case of “business as usual” has played out over the past few weeks on the east side of Spartanburg. Neither Mayor Barnet nor City Council had any direct involvement, but the issue’s mere presence in our community says that at least one of our most important public institutions-our city school district-has a long way to go on updating its models and processes for doing business.

Over the past few months School District Seven has entered into a deeply mysterious $325,000 contract with the Country Club of Spartanburg for golf and practice privileges, something almost every other school district in our over-districted county gets for free or practically nothing on other courses.

What’s most disturbing about the school board’s actions is that once the district and the club were “outed” by this and other media outlets there has been no rescinding the deal despite a deafening outcry from citizens.
Instead of admitting they are wrong, the school board and administration simply hunkered down, cranked up the damage control machine, and hoped to ride out the public opinion tsunami.

When at an overflow public meeting last week the school board finally addressed the issue, board chairman Chip Hurst leaned on rules to limit public comment and superintendent Thomas White met the throngs of unhappy voters with Bible verses and a canned Power Point presentation.

The deal was put on hold-but only until a state attorney and state ethics committee can rule on a procedural issue. There’s still no indication the district is backing down or the country club backing out. It seems what they care about is whether they did anything illegal.

Will the people win this one? Most agree that the best thing that can happen at this point is for the deal to fall through as it should, and the country club look elsewhere-its members maybe?-to balance its budget.

What if the school board had said no when someone first broached this wacky plan-pay big public dollars for a thimble full of private privilege? Or what if County Council had passed an adequate land use plan in spite of what one special interest group wants?

Those would be real indicators of community change.

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