Last night’s CRC forum on the penny

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)…

73 thoughts on “Last night’s CRC forum on the penny

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    So two or three people, net, changed their minds. No. They made up their minds.

    I’m in favor of funding the buses, bikes and trails, but widening roads leads to more sprawl. Wider roads should have been required to be built into the development costs.

  2. Kelly

    CRINGING!!! “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.)”
    What will it take to end the vestiges of racism? In this case, reversed racism. It’s not necessary to play the “race card” to make a valid point, in fact in this case it created a Catch-22.

  3. Mark Stewart

    Disagree, Silence. This is as good as local government can get. Bad government is Richland County’s fatuation with wasteful, and useless, “parks” and the City of Cola’s plundering of the utilities infrastructure for stupid political tricks.

    Given the nontaxable real estate in Richland County, a sales tax increase actually makes some sense. Tax me for your buses and roads; Lexington doesn’t have the sense to do it – or the vision.

  4. Silence

    @ Kathryn – I’d be in favor of the tax if none of it were earmarked for road construction and expansion. Each mile that we pave is going to have a significant maintenance tail. The other thing that bugs me on this deal is that we’ll be using the tax money to support a large bond issue – we’ll essentially be front loading the projects into the first 7 years, and paying the tax for 20.

    @ Kelly & Redfern – It’s not just a racial issue, and it wasn’t just the white leadership giving black citizens short shrift. There’s no reason for anyone to trust our local elected officials with any more of our money. Never has so much been wasted to benefit so few.

  5. bud

    Not sure how all the bike trails and road projects got tangled up in a proposal to fix the bus system. There needs to be some offsetting tax relief that defunds some of the silly stuff before we have a 14% sales tax increase. This proposal is just a mess.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    I don’t think it’s bike trails. I think it is bike lanes, which are useful for bike commuters, who are good for us all!

  7. Silence

    @bud and Kathryn – that’s correct, it is bike lanes. That’s a pretty small percentage of the revenue from the proposed tax though. There’s really only a few areas around Columbia where bike lanes are appropriate or useful. As a rider myself, I’m a big advocate for bike safety, but a lot of the time the bike lanes are full of debris and get unrideable.

    @ Mark Stewart – It’s not the County’s fascination with parks – it’s mostly the Recreation Commission, which is appointed by the legislature. And I think you just made my point – the local governments have PLENTY of tax dollars already, if they can afford to waste them on ridiculous projects. Why give them any more funding, if you can’t trust them to be responsible?

    @bud – yes, we need some offseting tax relief before agreeing to the 14% tax increase. How about a penny reduction on the hospitality tax?

  8. Brad

    Yes, indeed. The parks are the purview of an entity that only EXISTS to build and maintain parks, so what do you think it’s going to do to “justify” its existence?

    Which it cannot do, because it is yet another one of the 500 or so (no one knows how many there are) Special Purpose Districts created over time by the Legislature, dating from the time before there were county councils to direct local government services (pre-1975).

    None of these ad hoc, patchwork entities should still be, but none of them ever goes away.

    To their credit, Richland County lawmakers have tried to do something about this with regard to the local parks SPD, but not successfully, as I recall.

    The problem is that, like with school consolidation, the only real solution is a statewide solution. Otherwise, you run into constitutional problems (in addition to the political problems) of trying to address one local SPD — “local legislation” — via state law.

    Another thing a governor could and should address. Locally, where these entities have their little fan bases, it’s hard to do away with them. But a governor has a great selling point for a statewide solution. As I said more than two decades ago in “Power Failure,” these are 500 EXTRA LITTLE GOVERNMENTS that have no reason to exist, because they duplicate and often interfere with what legitimate local governments — cities and counties — are supposed to do.

  9. bud

    As a rider myself, I’m a big advocate for bike safety, but a lot of the time the bike lanes are full of debris and get unrideable.

    STOP THE PRESSES!! Bud agrees with Silence! I too find the bike lane pretty useless.

  10. Mark Stewart

    Actually, the main reason, even more than funding a transit system, that this 1% sales tax throughout Richland County is important is that it is the people voting for greater regional cooperation and investment.

    It is a start toward a greater Columbia metropolitan area. As long as parochialism prevails, the entire region is held back. People don’t see the benefits of regional sewer and water service, even when it is already in place, but they are impacted daily by the issues of transit and roadways. It is true many still remain oblivious to their own best long-term interests, but whatcha gonna do?

  11. Doug Ross

    I really want to see what demographic would ride bikes to work in Columbia… particularly between May and September. Which downtown businesses have a high number of potential bike riders?

  12. Silence

    @ bud – glad we can agree from time to time!

    As to HOW the bike lanes got roped into the tax hike mess – council was trying to build support by offering goodies to different constituencies. Busses to the bus supporters in the city, paved roads to Lower Richland, road widening to Northeast Richland, bike lanes to the pro-bike crowd, etc.

  13. Brad

    Actually… I suspect that the folks who want bike lanes are often also people who want to support public transit. Not a perfect correlation, but significant overlap…

  14. Steven Davis II

    “I don’t think it’s bike trails. I think it is bike lanes, which are useful for bike commuters, who are good for us all!”

    Especially the ones who feel necessary to ride in the right-hand lanes of Hwy 1 and Hwy 378 during rush hour and back up traffic for blocks.

  15. Mark Stewart


    It rains in Portland at least 8 months a year and yet, like Holland, the numbers of people who bike to work in all weather is staggering.

  16. Doug Ross


    Define “staggering”. I’ve been to Portland a couple times in the past decade and don’t recall being overwhelmed by the number of bikes. I do recall getting stuck in traffic trying to get to the airport though.

  17. Doug Ross

    According to Wikipedia:

    “Portland’s Bureau of Transportation says 6% of commuters bike to work in Portland, the highest proportion of any major US city and about 10 times the national average.”

    So the average is about 0.6% of commuters. Are we really that well off downtown to shift our tax dollars toward 1 out of 100 commuters?

  18. Libb

    I listened to a radio show on Sunday featuring a “Yes” panel: Mayor Benjamin, J.T. McLawhorn and a developer, who if memory serves me correctly, was David Tuttle. The mayor was promoting green energy buses w/ WiFi and even talk of monorail type transit. Mr. McLawhorn offered that paving dirt roads would prevent miscarriages by saving pregnant women from bumpy dirt roads (not making this up)and the Mr. Tuttle did his best to pretend he was more interested in helping the county rather than his own back pocket. And these are the people at the decision making level we’re supposed to trust w/ a billion dollars? My vote is still NO.

  19. Mark Stewart


    Put it this way, I wouldn’t bike to work in the rain, so when I drive by 50 riders on the way downtown, I think that’s staggering.

    It has hurt bus ridership though. I do agree that most of the riders had been transit users before switching. I think a lot of them had been 1970s and 80s runners – who found biking both easier and a lot more fun going downhill (fast).

  20. Ralph Hightower

    If Richland would reduce the tax on prepared foods, then OK. But there’s just too much tax to eat in Columbia if this passes.

    Also, like Brad, I can’t vote for or against this penny tax.

  21. obiewankenobie

    @ Steven :

    ” the ones who feel necessary to ride in the right-hand lanes of Hwy 1 and Hwy 378 ”

    You mean the Tour de Piggly Wiggly Club? I think they pow-wow on Wednesday evenings then disburse to terrorize the rural roads — and show off their silly Lycra outfits.

    Why on earth anyone would want to ride that close to ANY driver out here is beyond me. There is so much farmland they could ride on with the right tires.

  22. Doug Ross


    How many taxable dollars do you spend per year in Richland County?
    Do you shop for food and clothes in Richland County? Which stores do you frequent?

  23. Steven Davis II

    The discussion of a monorail in a city the size of Columbia is laughable. If I have to drive 3-5 miles to get to a train station, I’m going to drive the other 5 and park in the parking lot at work.

  24. Steven Davis II

    Obie, the latest lack of intelligence on my commute home is the lady who has decided that she needs to run on Hwy 1 at 5:00 every other day. She can’t run on the grass by the street, she has to run on the street in the gutter. I’m wishing someone would scare the crap out of her and make her rethink the fact that running in the streets of her subdivision might be a little safer.

  25. Brad

    Doug, I don’t know for sure, but probably quite a bit. During the week, I’m probably more likely to make my purchases in Richland. It’s the weekend I don’t know about. Shopping in the St. Andrews/Columbiana area, I suppose I crisscross the county line…

  26. Topper

    Steven, that’s nothing. There’s a couple of fellas in my neighborhood that like to stand in the middle of the road at dusk, and their little dog too, daring someone to buzz them with a vehicle. One even wears a sports jersey with 10 on it. 10 points, I think, like in pinball & I’m a flipper.

  27. Doug Ross


    Unfortunately, the typical voter will vote Yes without understanding the issue. The average voter isn’t very informed. The government relies on the ignorance and apathy of the voters.

  28. Brad

    Government, of course, being a purely malevolent force to Doug. Something that exists only to do evil, and mar the glimmering perfection of anarchy…

  29. Silence

    If the national election was decided purely by the “absentee” voters in at the Richland County elections office yesterday – it would be Obama by a landslide. If I had to guess.

  30. bud

    Intrade odds are now down to just 59% for Obama. Nate Silver has it about 68%. This one will be a nailbiter. The president didn’t get much of a bounce from the third debate but did enough to maintain a tiny lead. Will it be enough? I say yes, but with very low confidence.

  31. Doug Ross


    Government isn’t evil. Just highly inefficient with levels of corruption and waste that exceed the private sector. And an uninformed electorate is the perfect foil to keep it that way.

  32. Doug Ross


    When I went down to the Richland County Election office on Monday to vote absentee, I saw the same thing. About 50 people, 90% African American… nobody appearing to suppress any voting – in fact, the guys managing the voting machines were exceedingly helpful with the mostly elderly voters.

    There was a woman outside who urged me to vote for the sales tax increase but I had to tell her, “Sorry, I can’t do that”.

  33. Silence

    I was annoyed that there was a car parked closer than the posted “no campaign materials” limit with a big “Monica Elkins for school board” magnet on the door. I thought about complaining, but then decided that I just didn’t care that much since it’s not my district.

  34. Mark Stewart


    Sometimes I just have to wonder how you arrived at the political framework from which you view government and society.

    When you say the “uninformed electorate” it sounds like you mean those who disagree with your outlook.

  35. Doug Ross


    I mean those people who cast votes without even knowing who the candidates are. That happens a lot. I guarantee that if you didn’t list party affiliation on the ballot, you would see a vastly different result.

    Ask some random people if they can name their congressman and local state senator and representative. What percentage do you think can do it? I’m guessing under 50. You think it’s higher?

    I ran for office. I stood outside polling places where simply shaking a person’s hand got me a vote. That should disqualify someone from voting right there.

  36. Mark Stewart

    I agree with that, Doug.

    I live in just about the most conservative Republican precinct there probably is in the Midlands. Or one of the many that fit that description I guess. It’s amazing how many people I have heard say to the polling worker, “nevermind the instructions I just want to vote straight party.”

    Make’s one what to lean over and pull the power cord on their machine. But there go a couple of hundred people who probably mostly agree with your outlook.

    It will be interesting to see how the local “independent” candidates do next month. Can they overcome the (R)/(D) letter disadvantage?

  37. Brad

    The best tests of that, of course, will be Courson and Setzler. Can Courson be elected again by all those Democrats in Shandon, and Setzler by all those Republicans in Lexington County?

    You want my prediction? Courson wins. I’m less pleased with Nikki’s chances, with out-of-state ideologues trying to crush him with spending on attack ads. There’s a whole other dynamic going on there, and I have no way of knowing at this point whether he can withstand it. I hope he can.

  38. Doug Ross

    “Alvin Greene won the Democratic primary race against candidate Vic Rawl[6] on June 8, 2010, with 59% of the vote”

    Case closed.

  39. Doug Ross


    I hope you aren’t suggesting I vote a straight Republican ticket. I don’t think I voted for a single Republican on Monday. Wrote in a name for Joe Wilson’s unopposed slot. Voted Libertarian for President. Voted for the non-incumbents for school board in Richland 2 and wrote my own name in for old times sake. Only person I voted for who isn’t a mainstream politician was Leon Lott. I don’t think we could find a better sheriff. He should run the entire police force for Richland County.

  40. Steven Davis II

    So if I understand Brad correctly, he’s endorsing Setzler and blaming his potential loss to the ads that are stating the truth about his abuse of the per diem system used by out of town legislators.

  41. Doug Ross

    “The best tests of that, of course, will be Courson and Setzler. Can Courson be elected again by all those Democrats in Shandon, and Setzler by all those Republicans in Lexington County?”

    All that would prove is that the uninformed electorate will vote for a name they recognize.

  42. Doug Ross

    Has there ever been a hint of scandal related to Leon Lott? It does seem to be possible to be effective and ethical.

  43. Brad

    Well, he used to be seen as a wild cowboy “Miami Vice” type who reveled in driving around in snazzy cars confiscated from dealers.

    Don’t know if you count that as a “scandal,” though. It doesn’t bother me; that’s just Leon.

  44. Steven Davis II

    Interesting observation on what the city/county of Columbia/Richland County is.

    Columbia Mayor – Steve Benjamin, lives in the city of Elgin not Columbia.

    Richland County Sheriff – Leon Lott, lives in Lexington County.

    You’d think that an elected official would be required to live in the area/district they serve.

  45. Mark Stewart

    So people are uninformed if they vote straight party AND if they vote instead for the name they know? Huh.

    And wasting one’s vote by windmill tilting is the true path?

    I am going to vote based on what will be best for my children – i. e. for society over the next decades – and that will mean voting for Republicans and Democrats. Some will also be incumbants, and some not.

  46. Doug Ross


    Who do you vote for when a candidate is unopposed and you are not happy with the incumbent? That was the case in three of the races on my ballot. A write in vote is the best way to signal your dissatisfaction. Joe Wilson didn’t earn my vote.

  47. Silence

    @SDII – Mayor Steve’s house is technically inside the City of Columbia. The city did a finger annexation of Woodcreek Farms a few years back.

    I don’t know where Sheriff Lott lives, but his state ethics commission filing gives his address as 533 Fairwind Drive Chapin, SC, which happens to be in Richland county.

    Typically elected officials are required to reside in the jurisdiction. I think in some cases they can run in the primary without living in the jurisdiction, and move between the primary and the general election if they win the primary. Silly, I know.

  48. bud

    What bothers me about Leon is his grandiose approach to law enforcement. Do we really need a tank in Richland County? Do we need to go after a famous swimmer because he was photographed smoking on a bong? Leon has his priorities wrong. Maybe not scandalous but a poor use of taxpayer money just the same.

  49. Silence

    Again, I agree with bud. The militarization of local police departments is bothersome. There’s no reason that the RCSD needs an APC. I don’t think local taxpayers paid for it though, I believe that the department got it as federal surplus from DRMO – so the cost wasn’t really very much.

  50. Silence

    Does the department have aircraft to support the Hellfire missle?
    Better to pick up a few surplus M47’s or a FGM-148 Javelin.

  51. Mark Stewart

    The M4 carbines bother me more. There was good reason to arm cops with shotguns; but little rationale besides testosterone to have patrol cars carry a weapon with a penetrating round that richocets.

    At least the heavy stuff just sits around the police yard like toys at a daycare. If it makes them feel better no real harm.

  52. Brad

    Silence, if my twin the sheriff doesn’t have the aircraft to fire a Hellfire, then he needs to GET some!

    You think Jimmy Metts doesn’t have that capability? What’s Richland to do when the inevitable TransCongaree War comes? Sure, I’ll be OK — I live in Lexington. But I’m worried about y’all having a fair chance, at least…

  53. obiewankenobie

    Silence — please do a costume change. You seem to like them.

    I can’t take your comments at face value because your avatar looks too much like Peter Boyle photo-shopped into Donnie Myers photo-shopped into the 007.

  54. Doug Ross

    Richland County Auditor announced his opposition to the sales tax increase:

    Brawley said Monday he quietly worked against the tax when it was on the ballot two years ago but is taking a more public stand this time.

    “The penny is the wrong way to go,” he said, adding county officials should look at ways to pay for buses from existing revenues, such as keeping the transit fee or taking it out of county meal tax money.

    Read more here:

    Seems pretty logical to most of us: if the buses are a priority, use tax dollars spent on less critical items to pay for it. The money is there… stop wasting it.

  55. Silence

    @ Doug – Brawley’s been off the county democrat reservation for a while. He took to twitter to defend his position: “Its unfortunate that the penny tax failed to pass…but I was just ballin!”


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