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Questions about leadership and York County’s economy dominated a debate Tuesday in Clover – the second in the same day that candidates for York County Council’s Clover and Lake Wylie seat attended.
First-term council member Bruce Henderson, a Republican from Clover, and John Rinehart of Lake Wylie’s Allison Creek area are competing to represent District 2, which spans from rural Clover east to Lake Wylie, one of the county’s fastest growing unincorporated areas.
The candidates first met Tuesday at the Lake Wylie Rotary Club, where they were quizzed on their commitment to the lake area. Club members questioned Henderson’s ability to lobby other councilmen for Lake Wylie and Rinehart’s ties to the Rock Hill business community.
But the most heated exchanges came at Tuesday night’s debate at the Clover school district office when the candidates engaged in a back-and-forth about who can best move the district forward.
“What you are looking at is plainly this, experienced versus qualified,” said Henderson, pointing to his service on the Clover Town Council and planning commission, “and I hope you will take that to the ballot box.”
Rinehart, a Republican who will appear on the ballot as a petition candidate, says he’s running because the county needs experienced leadership. He points to 37 years of building his real estate business to offices and real estate holdings around the county, working with “important issues” daily, and managing budgets and employees.
With his son running the business now, Rinehart said he’s ready to serve York County and be a “strong voice on council that is articulate .. and has the respect of council … and the people.”
York County Republican Party Chairman Glenn McCall moderated the Clover debate, asking several questions about the candidate’s allegiance to the district and plans for economic development, including his own question about the perception others have about York County, which council leaders, including Henderson, tout for being “business friendly.”
McCall said when in Tampa for the Republican National Convention, he ran into a delegate from Oregon who said he was thinking about moving his business to the Charlotte area. McCall recommended looking in York County, but the man told him York County has a “dysfunctional county council,” McCall said.
“Whether we believe that or not, the perception is there and obviously it’s gone wide now,” McCall said, asking the candidates what they would do to improve that perception and provide “transformative leadership.”
Rinehart pointed to his business experience and said he’d be prepared to make “informed decisions” and clearly communicate his reasons while providing opportunities for “open discussion” with residents in the district.
Henderson dismissed the charge, saying “There’s some folks who will come here and ... possibly have trouble with the color of carpet in our chamber … totally shallow reasons, but overall the results are there. We can’t argue with it.”
Henderson conceded that “a few” council members “have been overzealous at times because the previous council had been known for talking down to people. ... We want to make it clear that everyone is welcome in that chamber.”
Saying growth has happened “under his watch,” Henderson described Clover and Lake Wylie’s resilience through the economic downturn, a rise in building permits countywide and creating conditions for businesses to come here.
When asked about the county’s lack of water and sewer infrastructure in western York County – a persistent problem leaders face term after term – Henderson said there’s a “gold mine” still waiting, but sometimes the money isn’t there.
“I can honestly say, we’re on the upswing,” he said.
Rinehart disagreed, saying the county isn’t taking advantage of opportunities to boost economic development in a time when unemployment is much higher than it was more than a decade ago. The county needs a specific plan, he said.
Henderson followed up saying he’s given York County economic development officials “specific plans … specific goals,” without providing details except to say, “Sometimes red tape has to go.”
Commitment to Lake Wylie
At the Lake Wylie Rotary Club’s lunch meeting earlier Tuesday, providing standards for growth, creating more recreation opportunities and helping the community address its struggle for adequate and affordable water and sewer services were among club members’ concerns.
Moderator Allan Gregory, a wealth management specialist, questioned the council’s decision to reject changes to the county’s building and development rules, which have been in the works for several years.
Some people thought the changes could have addressed issues with building standards in Lake Wylie and now wonder why they were “shot down,” he said, asking the candidates their plans for reviving the development changes or providing an alternative.
Rinehart said, “A lot of folks got the wrong impression of what was being presented” and felt it was “going to place tremendous burdens” on the county and builders when the code was actually an attempt “to simplify things” and be a “benefit,” he said. Rinehart hopes the county can revisit the collection of codes with a committee of stakeholders – a plan county leaders have endorsed.
Henderson, who voted to reject the development code changes, said there were “good things” placed “sporadically” throughout, but the council wants to simplify and downsize the code, he said.
“That thing was basically copied and pasted from everywhere else in the world and had nothing much to do with us,” he said.
Both candidates expressed a desire to support Lake Wylie’s efforts to create more recreation opportunities such as a park.
After the debate in Lake Wylie, David McClure, a financial adviser and Rotary member, said he’s looking for the candidate who can best “capture the attention” of other county council members to focus on Lake Wylie’s needs.
“This is a nice area,” McClure said. Guidelines for businesses are a big part of that, and the area has been “overlooked,” he said.