District 21 – Meet your Candidates for Greenville County Council

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This episode of Simple Civics: Greenville County was made possible by support from Beth and Mike Andrews, supporting civic engagement from all of our community’s residents, and Upstate Warrior Solution, a community-based nonprofit organization serving warriors and their families in the upstate of South Carolina, and LiveWell Greenville, bridging access to healthy eating and active living since 2011.

Meet Chris Harrison and Curt McGahhey, candidates for Greenville County Council District 21, generally representing the east side, including the Parkway, Batesville Road, Garlington, and Roper Mountain Road. In this episode, each candidate has 10 minutes to introduce themselves to the voters. Your vote is so important! Please take a listen and share with your neighbors.

Links:

Chris Harrison

Curt McGahhey

Sample Ballot

Transcript

Katy Smith:
On Tuesday, June 11th, South Carolina holds its statewide primary elections. I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and over the next several weeks, we are pleased to bring you interviews with most every candidate in contested races for Greenville County Council. Today we feature candidates Chris Harrison, who is the incumbent, and Curt McGahhey, candidates for District 21, which generally covers the east side, including the Parkway, Batesville Road, Garlington, and Roper Mountain Road. But first, a quick primer on why primaries are so important. The statewide primaries are when political parties choose their candidates to be on the ballot in the general election on November 5th, when we will also vote for president. This primary on June 11th will be for important offices like State Legislature, which discusses things such as roads and bridges, education, taxes, abortion, and guns, our County Sheriff, and our County Council, which considers issues such as zoning, roads, public safety, and more.

Katy Smith:
In the Greenville County area, we have 37 offices across the county that will be on primary ballots. For almost half of those, only one party had candidates that registered to run, meaning that practically speaking, the June 11th primary is the election. In South Carolina, we don’t register to vote by party and all primaries are open, meaning that you are free to vote either the Republican or Democratic primary ballot. Of course, there are other parties, but they do not have a primary in our state. We did an episode that explains how this works and we’ll link it in the show notes for you. District 21 had only Republican candidates file. So based on the outcome of the June 11th Republican primary, Chris Harrison or Curt McGahhey will be the only candidate on the ballot in November, and thus essentially the winner. If you want to see which district you live in and who will be on your ballot, you can check out the links on the episode page for a sample ballot from the South Carolina Election Commission. Here’s how the interviews worked. All candidates received the same question at the time of their invitation to join us, and they were given 10 minutes for their interview. Candidates were allowed to bring along a companion, such as a campaign manager, family member, or friend, and to record our session themselves. There were no edits made to the interview. We’ve put links to the participating candidates’ preferred internet presence on the episode page.

Katy Smith:
First up is Chris Harrison. Well, I’m pleased to be joined today by Chris Harrison, who is running for re-election in County Council District 21 Republican Primary. Thanks for joining us, Chris.

Chris Harrison:
Thank you, Katy. Glad to be here and appreciate you doing this.

Katy Smith:
Thanks. Tell us about yourself and why you’re running for re-election.

Chris Harrison:
Be glad to. So my name is Chris Harrison, as you just stated, and I am a lifelong born and raised native of Greenville County, which is actually becoming more and more rare these days. So I’m proud of that fact. And I went to Riverside Middle School, Riverside High School is where I grew up, and then Clemson University. I met my now wife at Riverside High School. So we were high school sweethearts. And it’s cool because I’ve had the luxury of, my family’s been from Greenville, her family’s from Greenville. So it’s not only my home, but my family’s home and kind of all over Greenville County. So I’ve had that luxury of kind of having a relationship and kind of knowing not only District 21, but really all of Greenville County. So like I said, then went on to Clemson University and my background is in planning and real estate. My major was landscape architecture with emphasis on city and regional planning. And so my whole career professionally has been in that world of planning and real estate. And I currently am a partner in a real estate investment company.

Chris Harrison:
And we acquire properties all throughout the Southeast that might be under-managed or undervalued, which kind of leads into kind of why I’m running for re-election. With my professional career, we’ll take these properties and with our skillset and expertise, add value to these properties for us, for our investors, et cetera. And that’s kind of how I view not only professionally, but my life and politics in general. And, you know, we’ve done a lot of good things over the past four years and added some value. We’re kind of in that value-adding process, and there’s a lot more value to add. So that’s why I want to run for re-election and continue to add value to Greenville County and continue the quality of life that we’ve grown to love here.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing your district and the county?

Chris Harrison:
You know, it’s funny. I would venture to say, obviously, I’ve not heard all the candidate interviews yet, but I would venture to say that every single person will probably say infrastructure and managing growth. And again, I think that’s, while there are no right or wrong answers, that probably is the right answer right now for Greenville. And kind of going back to my previous answer about adding value, just from my experience and my kind of skill set, or hopefully skill set, that’s where I believe I can add value. We’ve done a lot of good things, um, and tried to incorporate a lot of good things over the past four years. And, you know, I’ve seen this growing up, the, the changes in Greenville, um, you know.

Chris Harrison:
And kind of, kind of taking a step back, you know, right now the term growth has kind of become a bad word, which I don’t like, uh, you know, growing is a, is a good thing, um, in my opinion, but not, not just necessarily population-wise, but economically, you know, job growth, uh, public safety growth, you know, there’s a lot of ways we can grow. So I don’t love how growth has become a bad word, and I think we need to try to change that because I think we should be excited about growing. And Greenville has grown, and that’s why a lot of people have moved here because it’s such a great place, and we want to continue that. So I think it’s not stifling growth. And again, it’s easy to say manage growth. That’s an easy thing for people to say, but it’s a lot bigger than that. Just from what I’ve seen, it’s more about education and relationship building because really it’s not just managing growth, it’s managing expectations with development and community planning and community guidelines and just planning in general, conversely with private property rights. And so it’s not just as easy to say managing growth or let’s just stop growth. It’s not that. It’s kind of a big melting pot. There’s a lot of ingredients in there that you have to account for.

Chris Harrison:
So, you know, so that is the answer. We’ve done some good things. Like, for instance, I gave you an example of one thing that we have to, we can’t be short-sighted. We have to kind of look long-term because the things we do now, decisions we make now are things that will impact us and hopefully in a positive way, you know, 20, 30, 40 years down the road. That’s what we have to be looking for because you’re not going to change or fix this issue overnight. You’re just not. Anybody that tries to do that, it fails and it actually regresses, in my opinion.

Chris Harrison:
So one thing we’ve done, a Pelham Road overlay. And basically what it does is it effectively allows… Prevents Pelham Road from becoming Woodruff Road. In a nutshell, that’s what it does. And again, you’re not going to see that impact tomorrow, but the kind of the guidelines or the things we put in place in that policy, in that ordinance over time, as things become redeveloped, you know, we’re not putting any extra burden on folks, but as things get redeveloped along that road in that area, it will prevent the issues we’ve seen from Woodruff Road, the traffic, the connection and interconnectivity, et cetera. So things like that we have to do. That’s the only way you’re going to fix it and really kind of educate folks on why you’re doing things, why you’re making policies that, you know, this isn’t for tomorrow. This is for 10 years down the road. That’s the only way to really fix the growth combined with being proactive with infrastructure, which, you know, that’s, that’s a whole, it’s a whole nother topic. We need a whole nother podcast for that. But those are the two big things that I’ve seen. So again, that is definitely the biggest issue. And I’m sure that’s kind of what everybody has said. But it’s just how you go about fixing it is the challenge. And again, I’d like to think that I’ve got some good thoughts and good ideas. We can continue that over the next four years.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What would be your priorities if reelected this year?

Chris Harrison:
Kind of going back to that, I think, again, because that’s the biggest issue, I’m kind of just inherently kind of a driven person, kind of a goal-oriented person. And so I think working towards those goals on how do we not only, again, not necessarily manage growth, manage expectations, educate folks on why we’re doing things, what the importance is, the longevity of it.

Chris Harrison:
The, again, kind of the long-sightedness, not the short-sightedness of what we’re doing, I think is important. So I think continuing that trajectory and doing some seemingly little things, but that over time will add up to be very productive implementations and helping with the growth we’re seeing. I think, again, just everything we do, I think, should have the goal of improving quality of life. And I know people have different definitions of that, but I think as long as Greenville’s a vibrant, economically successful community with housing options, with different, just an overall community that we’re proud of. We have been, I think, continuing to do that is the most important thing we can do. So specific priorities, again, kind of going back to the infrastructure and the growth, I think those are… Lead into the goals. So my priorities kind of go towards my goals. I think more than that too, I think a big thing that we have to do is have citizens trust the government again. I think that’s a big thing. I’ve heard from a lot of folks that just kind of lost trust for whatever reason. I think that is a big priority of mine. Again, we’ve done some things, I think, the past couple of years to help with that. We started the Citizens Advisory Committee.

Chris Harrison:
I’m fortunate enough to be the chairman of the communications and government relations committee that we just formed. We’ve had the public comment session where folks can come and speak on whatever they desire to speak on. So we’ve done some things like that to help improve transparency and hopefully improve that trust. But I think that’s another big thing just with the political climate today, not just locally, but state, nationally, et cetera. I think it’s a problem that none of us have, I don’t think, really caused necessarily. It’s just more one of those things that it’s kind of inherent right now that there’s some lack of trust there. And I think that’s a big thing. I think it’s just like anything kind of going back to professional career, just life in general. I think relationship building is probably the number one thing that we can do. And whether that’s internal on council, whether that’s with the community, whether it’s with staff, whether it’s with community organizations, I think it’s a big thing to continue and really emphasize relationship building because we’re all citizens here too. So we deal with the same issues that everyone else is dealing with. And so I think that’s a very important thing that sometimes gets overlooked. It’s a lot of relationships and building those relationships is very important. And we need to emphasize that in conjunction with actual policies and ordinance as well to help fix some of the issues we’re seeing. So I would say that’s one thing that I don’t know if a lot of people have as a priority that I think is, again, like I said, overlooked that we need to make sure we continue to do, build those relationships and that trust just among the community in general.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. We have a minute left. Is there anything else you’d like to say to listeners?

Chris Harrison:
Well, I want to thank you for doing this. It’s important that we get different avenues and outlets to kind of share our thoughts because, you know, kind of going back to that relationship piece, you know, a lot of times, you know, assumptions are made and not enough conversations are had. Again, I tell people all the time, whether they’re angry at me or happy with me or whatever, I’m happy to talk to folks about any topic, any issue, and just have a conversation about it. I think that’s a big thing. I appreciate you doing this. As far as that, again, people kind of know me. I’ve been around a little bit, but just very prideful in Greenville County. I have a lot of pride in this area. My ultimate goal is just to continue to be the best place in the country to live and work and raise a family.

Katy Smith:
Thank you, Chris. I appreciate you joining us and appreciate you raising your hand to serve.

Chris Harrison:
Thank you, Katy. Appreciate it.

Katy Smith:
Next up is Curt McGahhey. I’m here with Curt McGahhey, who’s running for County Council District 21. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Curt McGahhey:
Hey, good morning, Katy. Thanks for having me.

Katy Smith:
Great. Tell us about yourself and why you’re running for office.

Curt McGahhey:
Absolutely. Let me talk about myself here as far as my family. I live with my wife and four kids in Simpsonville. We moved here seven years ago and Greenville is just a great place to live. And we’ll get into more of what’s going on in Greenville later. One of our big interests in our family is traveling. I’ve been to 49 countries and six continents. And lately in September for my 50th birthday, my wife sent me to Everest. So I went to Everest Base Camp ,18,500 feet in Nepal and just what an experience, and I thank her for that. Prior to coming to Greenville, I was in the in the U.S. Marine Corps. Did four years in the Army and then 17 in the Marine Corps as a pilot. I started out flying CH-46 helicopters, later moved to King Air 200 fixed wing, and then finally ended up flying the MV-22 Osprey, which a lot of people see in the news lately. So just really great experience. Traveled to a lot of places, worked with a lot of great people. After the military, retired, and then I came to Greenville and worked in factories for a little bit. And my wife said to me, hey, that’s not your bag. You need to go back to flying. So I started at a flight school. I own a flight school at downtown airport. And also as my proper job, I work as a maintenance test pilot for the military at Donaldson Airfield doing the King Air program for the army.

Curt McGahhey:
Well, why am I running? So I live in Greenville with my family and I want to stay a great place to live. It’s just amazing. And as I see at the national level, I can’t move the needle there. It’s even a little harder at the state, but where can I move the needle to help my community is at the local level. So I said, hey, let’s go for county council because I’m distressed at what’s going on in our county. If you look at what’s happening, the public has lost trust in our public officials from the state level down to the municipal level. How are we going to build that back, right? Through transparency. We just don’t have transparency at council now. You can’t talk to them. You can’t approach them. You can’t ask them questions. They’re hard to get a hold of, all those things. And how did we come to this point is, well, we didn’t plan properly years ago. And now we’re reaping that. They raised our taxes. There’s no fiscal responsibility in the budget. And people are upset about that. I knock on doors all day long. People are like, hey, what’s up with our roads? What is the county doing? And when I get on county council, one of my major things is going to be, hey, let’s take a look at the roads, how we fix them, how we’re budgeting, how we’re spending the money we already have, and to build back that public trust.

Curt McGahhey:
Now, if we look at ad valorem taxes, that counts for 60% of revenue in our county. There’s tons of people moving here on a daily basis. Why are we giving huge tax breaks to these large companies to bring in 50 jobs or 100 jobs when we can have that other money that the taxes we already have and invest that correctly and have made a plan to fix the roads 10 years ago. What do we keep doing now? Well, let’s just keep giving FILOTs to these huge companies. What’s the total cost of that FILOTs and the fee in lieu of taxes 10, 40, 30, 40 years from now? We’re not looking at that. Are we bringing 50 jobs? Well, are those 50 jobs bringing the taxes that they were given away. So are we plus or minus? I don’t know if the math’s been done on that, but I plan to ask that question when I get on council.

Curt McGahhey:
And where are we at with that? It’s just the lack of leadership. So is there leadership on the council? You look at how people vote and you watch. If you go to the council meetings, it’s not really leadership. It’s almost like I feel like I’m in a communist dictator meeting. And it’s kind of run by one person. And I’m not going to get into any of that right now. Everybody just kind of goes along, and it seems that they’re trying to shove everything they can down the citizens’ throats without having the citizens have any input on it. And it’s kind of like you’re hear at the national level now. You’re going to have this, and you’re going to be happy about it. So that’s why I’m running for council.

Katy Smith:
Okay, thanks. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing your district and the county?

Curt McGahhey:
Obviously, I mentioned already, as good leading is the roads. Anybody that travels in Greenville, I live out near the Mesa soccer fields off Anderson Ridge Road, and that road is a nightmare. My oldest son is 14. He’s going to start driving in two years. And my wife and I talk about all the time, how are we going to teach this guy to drive? The roads are terrible. Even if you don’t take your eyes off the road, if you stray just a little bit or someone comes in your lane, a big trailer, they’re dangerous. So they now have raised our taxes, which if I get on council, I’m going to fight to repeal that tax raise for our property taxes, 7 mill increase. They wanted 14. They only got seven. So we can get rid of that. We haven’t taken a look at the whole budget and say, hey, why are we moving money around anyway? How are we already spending that money? You’re a bad manager of the money I’ve given you, so why do I want to give you more? The second thing is the one penny tax they’re putting on the election in November is on the ballot is the one penny capital project sales tax. Now, we already give six pennies. Now, they’re going to give one more penny. Well, that capital project isn’t just for roads. It can go for bridges, parks, a ton of other capital projects that the county can do. We tried this a few years ago, if anybody remembers, and it didn’t work. Now, here we are again. We’re going to try it again. It just comes down to the fact that, hey, people are concerned, and we need to address those concerns and fix them appropriately within the budget we already have. Raising taxes is not the answer. I mean, you look at anything around here, congested schools, congested roads, immense growth. And what is the plan? It seems that we approve every mega unit neighborhood that comes across their desk gets rubber stamped. Let’s step back and say, hey, what’s the master plan? Where do we want to be in 10, 15, 20 years? What’s the tax revenues we’ll get from those ad valorem taxes of these properties we’re building? And look at that and say, hey, okay, well, we need to fix our roads. Great. How are we going to do that? if we bring so many people in, what’s our tax structure looking like? I don’t know if that planning has been done. It may have, but I would suggest that we need to take a closer look and be better managers of that money that’s coming in.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. What would be your priorities if elected this year?

Curt McGahhey:
All right. So I sound like a broken drum here, but lower those taxes. All right. Lower taxes. It’s a simple conservative principle. Lower taxes spur growth. Let’s take those taxes. Let’s stop giving away these huge corporations. Let’s look locally to local community. Businesses have been here. There’s lots of local businesses that hire local organic jobs. And if we lower their taxes, their property taxes, that investment is going to come back to the people. I’m not going to use the word trickle down because it’s kind of what it is. But hey, if we bring the money back to the community through lower taxes.

Curt McGahhey:
Everybody’s going to do better. And then we get to figure out how to fix the roads. We’re so far down the broken road now that it’s going to be hard to fix. There’s going to be have some hard decisions made. So let’s get a plan. Let’s get out in front of it. Let’s work with the state. Let’s work with the federal level. If you look at this now, we want to take that one penny capital projects tax, and this is from the county council meeting two weeks ago, is they want to fix state roads. And what was their answer? Well, the public doesn’t know the difference. I beg to differ. I think we have a ton of very smart people in Greenville County, and they will know the difference between state roads and county roads and city roads. And if they don’t, well, then it’s our job as legislators to make sure they know that those are the roads we’re fixing and why we’re fixing them, and then communicate, are we coordinating with the state DOT to get the roads in the upstate fixed? On a recent trip down to Charleston for one of my son’s soccer tournaments, a lot of nice roads down in Charleston. The low country is getting a lot of that money. How come we’re in the upstate, the largest county in the state, and we don’t have the DOT up here fixing our roads at a faster pace?

Curt McGahhey:
I live out, like I said, near the Mesa soccer fields off of Woodruff Road. When Woodruff Road was done, the Five Forks area, Woodruff Road passage was completed just last year. That had been almost a five-year project. Well, I went back and did some digging. That was never coordinated between the state, the county, the utilities people. Not everybody knew what was going on. That’s what took so long, all that whole project. And that should have been like a one or two-year project at the most. It took almost five years because there’s just coordination wasn’t done. Why are we dropping the ball if this is so important to our residents? Why isn’t someone on the council and the staff and at the county looking at this and making sure that these are smoothly being done? They’re just not doing it. And the biggest thing, obviously, and this is from a national level down to the local level, is build the public trust in the council. How do you build trust? Through transparency. To a T, I have not talked to one resident while I’ve been door-knocking like crazy here that says, yeah, I like what county council is doing. I think they’re doing a great job. And that syndrome goes to the national level too, right? It’s never my representative. It’s always some, you know, hey, other representative, it’s their fault. But we have to build back that public trust that we have your interest. The citizens is the first priority we have. And being a Marine, I live by the values of honor, courage, commitment. I will honor my oath. I’ll have the courage to make good decisions. I’m committed to doing the right thing.

Katy Smith:
Well, thank you. You have one more minute. Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

Curt McGahhey:
I just hope that everybody gets involved. Even if you’re not voting for me, you can get out there and be involved in politics. The only way to make your life better is to be involved in what’s going on in your community. So I encourage everybody to get out there and vote. Talk to your neighbors. Don’t vote alone. Take your neighbors out there. If you want to get involved, contact a candidate, advocate for them, donate to them, do what you can. Be a part of the solution. Don’t just be someone who brings up problems.

Katy Smith:
Thank you so much for joining us. And thank you so much for your willingness to serve the citizens of Greenville County.

Curt McGahhey:
Thanks, Katy. Have a great day.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of Podcast Studio X.

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