Before I head out to go moderate this forum at the library about the presidential election, I’ll share a few words about the Community Relations Council’s forum last night on the transportation sales tax referendum.
On the whole, it was a success I think, in terms of providing a civil place for folks on opposite sides of a local issue to share their views. Although sometimes the civility did seem to wear a bit thin. Redfern II has a somewhat loud, bombastic delivery style that can make it sound like things are getting out of hand, even when they are not. Michael Letts seemed to have quite a chip on his shoulder on the issue, but controlled himself. While on the “yes” side, I thought County Councilman Paul Livingston was going to lose his temper at the “no” folks once or twice.
Fortunately, things stayed in the realm of merely “lively,” which is a good thing. Moderator David Stanton did a good job.
One thing that made me glad, since I was on the committee, and since I tell anyone who wants to know that I’m for the referendum — I don’t think anyone can legitimately complain that the “no” side got short shrift in this forum. While the reasoning was better on the “yes” side — in my opinion, of course — there was more passion on the side of the “nos.” And I don’t say that to denigrate their arguments — they presented plenty of points that I’m sure were effective among a lot of the audience.
A quick summary of the positions presented by the panelists:
- Lee Bussell, Yes: This referendum presents an opportunity for this community to come together and address its real challenges together, such as the fact that Richland County has the 2nd-deadliest roads in the state.
- Daniel Rickenmann, No: It’s not a penny; it’s a billion dollars.
- Paul Livingston, Yes: This is a community plan, not a county council plan.
- Don Weaver, No: Stressed the impact on the poor of an additional penny on every dollar spent.
- Jennifer Harding, Yes: Expressed concern about congestion and traffic safety in her party of the county (the Northeast).
- Redfern, No: The white leadership of the community has given black citizens the short shrift up to now; why should it be trusted this time? (He had a lot of zingers and crowd-pleasers, such as “If you want to get nowhere fast, take the bus.” But his overall theme was distrust.)
- Brian DeQuincey Newman, Yes: The penny is the answer to the challenge Redfern poses — it will bring in the funds CMRTA needs to provide decent service.
- Michael Letts, No: “Local control” sounds great, but he doesn’t want to pay this local tax for roads on top of the ones he already pays at state and federal level. Also, wants the bus part separated from the capital, roads part.
I take those mostly from the participants’ opening remarks, but they also give you an idea what went on the rest of the time.
As I said, a lot of energy on the “no” side. Three times, “yes” panelists were asked to speak up or get closer to their microphones. No one had to ask the “no” folks to do that.
And to the extent that minds were changed, it was in the “no” direction. The audience was asked to turn in ballots “voting” on the matter both before and after the event. Not everyone did, but here are the results from the ones who took part, according to CRC Executive Director Henri Etta Baskins:
- BEFORE: 32 Yes; 31 No; 11 Undecided
- AFTER: 32 Yes; 34 No; 8 Undecided
NOTE — those numbers were just updated (the number of undecided AFTER was wrong previously)…