Jenny Isgett, candidate for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council

Jenny Isgett is our fourth and final candidate interview for the Columbia City Council seat being vacated by Belinda Gergel. I caught up with her at the Five Points Starbucks this past week.

You may note a certain resemblance between her signage and that of Dr. Gergel four years ago, right down to the exclamation point. That is fitting, because she sees herself as a natural heiress to the seat, noting that it “has been held by a woman for 30 years.” (Candy Waites, Anne Sinclair, then Belinda.)

Ms. Isgett is an attorney. A young one — she was in law school with my daughter — although still 10 years older than her youngest opponent, law student Daniel Coble. She says her work with a title insurance company has given her a lot of relevant experience with municipal issues, as she’s had to deal a lot with zoning and land use. She says she is only a thesis away from a master’s degree in criminal justice, which would also be useful in a council member. She also notes that she is part of her company’s budget process every year, which she says gives her something to set against the  business experience Moe Baddourah touts.

Originally from Cottageville, SC, she’s been in Columbia for 17 years. She lives in Shandon, within a couple of blocks of Mr. Baddourah and Daniel’s parents.

She started knocking on doors in the district in late September. I asked, as I often do of candidates, what she was hearing from those residents she was meeting. Mainly, she said, about water and sewer, flooding and potholes.

For her part, she sees a need for improving the city’s infrastructure, which in part means “stop robbing that water and sewer fund.” She wants the city to “invest in Rocky Branch Creek” to improve flow and reduce flooding.

She also wants to promote the city “as an attractive place” to do business, as well as a good place to live. That means streamlining the permitting process, and, “if we can,” eliminating the business license fee.

To come up with needed funds, she suggests looking at annexing more areas into the city. When it comes to cutting spending, she sees no “magic bullet,” no big cuts that would free up a lot of money — although she believes there’s room for “trimming” in the budget.

She says she’s supportive of suggestions the Urban Land Institute has made for the city. She says the city has a lot of “great spots” — such as Main Street, the Vista, and USC, but she doesn’t see them as “connected” as they should be.

As for Innovista, “I’m sure it was a good idea, but practically speaking, I haven’t seen it take off yet.”

The issue of a penny sales tax for transportation is “really hard for me… I don’t want to say this or that when I don’t know all the issues.” She says “I’m one thousand percent for public transportation,” but has her doubts about the plan that has been put forth for it. She’s also concerned about what restaurateurs say, that the penny is “basically a dime when you go out to eat,” thanks to taxes already put on dining out in Columbia.

She suggests that she would approach many issues humbly, listening to all views because “Sometimes you don’t know the answer.”

22 thoughts on “Jenny Isgett, candidate for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council

  1. Stan Dubinsky

    My bicycle broke down in Cottageville in 1975 on a trek from NY to FL (and then on to Mexico). The nice folks there saved me from being completely stuck, and got me to a bike shop in Walterboro. Am forever grateful to Cottageville!
    Maybe we NEED somebody from Cottageville to bring us to our senses.

  2. `Kathryn Fenner

    I am skeptical of the ULI proposal. My friend the urban planning professor also diagnosed Columbia’s issue as connectivity. However, is anyone going to really use a park in the middle of Assembly, regardless of how narrowed-down the street is? Will anyone use a pedestrian overpass at Gervais and Assembly? No one uses the ones at the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center.

    I also don’t see what “the penny is basically a dime” means. A one cent tax is a one cent tax. If it is added to other taxes that, perhaps, if we had a rational tax structure, could be reduced or eliminated, fine. That has no bearing on the justness of one cent.

    –and where, exactly, would she trim the budget? Steve Gantt does an excellent job of keeping it lean and mean. Perhaps she should formulate some answers before she runs next time.

  3. Doug Ross


    At what level of taxation would you start to think that maybe they are too high? If 10% isn’t high enough, how about 15%? 20%?

    The hospitality tax could be abolished with no impact on any real services a government should do. All that tax does is fund pet projects of connected people.

  4. `Kathryn Fenner

    Doug–You choose to live in the boonies. Fine. If you choose to come eat in the big city, you will have to help pay for all the services we require because of the density and because you (not you, precisely, but y’all) require, like police and places to park and fire services, and so on.

    The taxes are too high when there are no restaurants and bars left. So far, plenty are opening up and thriving.

  5. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Silence– I get it, which is why I said there are other taxes that could perhaps be eliminated or reduced if we had a rational tax structure.

  6. bud

    I dunno Kathryn. Lots of restaruants are closing in the Vista. Just recently we’ve lost Rocky Roast and the Z Pizza place. The place where World of Beers is has had at least 3 other restaraunts that have failed. Not sure how much the hospitality tax has contributed but it certainly doesn’t help. Time to get rid of it and replace it with a bus tax.

  7. Silence

    @’Kathryn – I agree, but first let’s get away from this idiotic tax specificity that we use in this state to sell tax plans to the voting public. Let’s make all taxes fully flexible so that the elected officials can use them as needed…
    @ bud – Let’s not call it a “bus tax” let’s just have an $.08 sales tax and let council figure out how to do the budget.

  8. Phillip

    @Kathryn: I like the plan to narrow Assembly and widen the median, even if the median is nothing more than a pleasant, tree-lined space. I didn’t know that pedestrian overpasses were part of the plan, though; that seems redundant. If they widen the median and transform Assembly from the 6-lane freeway it is now, regular pedestrian street-level crossing would be safer. As more of the university becomes situated west of Assembly (as the Schools of Music and Public Health are now, for example) that’s going to help.

  9. Brad

    I agree completely with you, Silence, that that is the way it should be. It is unfortunately a fact of life that the referendum won’t pass without guarantees that it will be spent on certain things.

    The way it SHOULD work, in a republic, is that elected representatives should decide what taxes to levy (no referenda) and how to spend it. And if you don’t like the decisions they make, elect somebody else.

  10. bud

    The Education Lottery is just a horrible idea. Why the government is in the business of gambling is beyond me. Whatsmore it doesn’t seem to help bring down the cost of a college education. Students are still going into debt like crazy even with the lottery money. And the worst part of all is that you have to wait in line behind these lottery ticket buyers to pay for a tank of gas. (OK that’s sarcastic for those of you who didn’t get it).

  11. Mark Stewart

    The benefit of a loaded sales tax on entertainment and food/beverage establishments, as with taxes on airports, hotels, car rentals, etc., is that they do spread the pain of provided services to the larger community of users. It’s not just city residents who benefit from restaurants etc.; everyone who visits Columbia does. The same logic actually applies to the bus system. A transit system is a regional benefit – even if one lives on Lake Murray or in Blythewood. Paying for it through an entertainment, lodging and food service based sales tax actually makes logical sense as it carries the freight to those outside of just the one specific municipality who must shoulder the vast majority of the financial burden.

    At some point (in the not too distant future), the entire Midlands region is going to need to examine the idea, and need for, a regional governmental body that crosses over municipal and county boundaries. Such an MSA boundaried political entity would justifiably be responsible for items such as water/sewerage systems, sanitation above curbside pickups, public transportation (including airports), air/water quality, and other similar regional infrastructure and/or impact items.

    Cities used to be sized to what one could walk across while county land areas where based on what a horse carriage could transit in a day. Our needs in this age require more regional solutions that better match the realities of our suburban (and extra urban) living/commuting circumstances.

  12. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Phillip–I’m all for narrowing Assembly (and Blossom, while we’re at it). I like greening the median, but doubt that anyone will use it. I’m from Aiken, which has plenty of gorgeous median parks with mature trees and flowering shrubs, and no one uses them.

    There was a walkway proposed to go from the corner of the State House across Assembly. Expensive and probably useless. It is an urban planning truism that people avoid pedX walkways, unless they are seamless like the one from the Horseshoe to the Humanities buildings over Pickens (at College)…which results in a flooded street during severe rains because Pickens has to take a dip to go under it.

  13. Silence

    @ Mark – You are correct. Now let’s get rid of all of these ridculous municipalities and have a metro government for Richland County.

  14. Doug Ross


    I didn’t think the hospitality tax paid for police, fire, and parking. So what am I getting for that tax? I mean besides some billboards or landscaping at Benedict (which I think I can live without).

    The hospitality tax should be repealed and then I’ll go for a 1% public transportation tax. Not both. Both means they are of equal value to citizens.

  15. `Kathryn Fenner

    It does pay for extra police patrols–in fact it pays for the whole hospitality team.

    Of course you can live without landscaping on Two Notch Road, since you live, only on weekends, out in Blythewood. To the people who live near the Two Notch corridor, it matters and may help ease some of the blighted reputation. People who attend sports events at Benedict and Allen are more likely to stick around and spend money nearby if it doesn’t look like a “bad neighborhood.”

    And you are supposed to “get” something for the tax–it’s the residents and businesses of the city who are suppose to get something. You normally free-load off the benefits of living near a big city (if Blythewood were in Allendale County, you wouldn’t live there) while avoiding paying for them. If you choose to avail yourself of some of the amenities, you should kick in towards the municipal expenses of maintaining them.

    The H tax and the A tax are not perfect–the state legislature made sure of that, but they are the best we got.


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