District 22 – 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 Frank Farmer, Ethan Jedziniak, Jay Rogers, and Nia Thomas, candidates for Greenville County Council District 22, generally representing North Main, Wade Hampton in and near the city of Greenville, the north side of I-385, and Pelham Road out to Boiling Springs 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:

Frank Farmer

Ethan Jedziniak

Jay Rogers

Nia Thomas

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 Frank Farmer, Ethan Jedziniak, Jay Rogers, and Nia Thomas, candidates for District 22, which generally covers North Main, Wade Hampton in and near the city of Greenville, the north side of I-385, and Pelham Road out to Boiling Springs Road.

Katy Smith:
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. 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 22 had four Republican candidates file and one Democrat. Based on the outcome of the June 11th Republican primary, after the primary, Frank Farmer, Ethan Jedziniak, Jay Rogers, or Nia Thomas will go on to face Democrat Karine Debaty on the November ballot. After the primary, we’ll invite Karine and the winner of that primary in for an interview for the general election. 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.

Katy Smith:
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 candidate’s preferred internet presence on the episode page. First up is Frank Farmer. Well, I’m pleased to be joined today by Frank Farmer, candidate for District 22 County Council. Thanks for joining us, Frank.

Frank Farmer:
Hey, thank you for having me so much.

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

Frank Farmer:
So I’m running for County Council District 22. I’m a God-fearing Christian, a conservative Republican, and a native of Greenville, South Carolina. At my four years at the Citadel, I went on to join the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where I earned a promotion every single year at the Citadel as well as the Army for my leadership abilities. It was truly an honor to be trusted and lead paratroopers in the battle against our nation’s enemies. And the reason why I am running is because I don’t believe that the county is being managed properly. For the last five years, the county has been moving funds from the infrastructure fund into the general fund, not telling us what they’re spending it on and using it as a scapegoat to raise our taxes. And I don’t think it’s fair that you and I are being punished for their poor mismanagement of our funds.

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

Frank Farmer:
The main issues that I see that face us are the influx of undocumented migrants, our deteriorating infrastructure, our over taxation, and the lack of transparency from the county government.

Katy Smith:
Okay, thanks. What would be your priorities if elected this year?

Frank Farmer:
My priorities are to fully support our law enforcement and keep the battle, sorry, sorry… My priorities are to fully support our law enforcement and their battle to keep our home safe, ensure that people are protected from harmful ideologies. Particularly, I want parents to have the ability to have more say in the school district agenda. And I want to focus on improving our roads and infrastructure before we put more of a strain on them from overdevelopment, like how it’s been happening. I’d also like to hold county council accountable and make our county government as transparent as it possibly can be. And I’d also like to end the taxes and find ways to reduce our taxes.

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

Frank Farmer:
You can follow me on Facebook. I think my Facebook page is Frank for Greenville, or no, sorry, it’s Frank Farmer County Council District 22. My website is frankforgreenville.com. And my Instagram, I believe, is frankfarmergreenville.

Katy Smith:
Great. Well, thanks so much for joining us. And thanks so much for your willingness to serve the community.

Frank Farmer:
Thank you.

Katy Smith:
Next up is Ethan Jedziniak. Well, I’m so pleased to be joined by Ethan Jedziniak, who is running for County Council in District 22. Thanks so much for being here.

Ethan Jedziniak:
Yeah, thanks for having me.

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

Ethan Jedziniak:
Yeah. So my name is Ethan Jedziniak. I originally grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, but my sister moved here in about 2012. And when she moved here, I immediately fell in love with Greenville. And that’s a big reason why I actually went to Furman. And so I first moved here to go to Furman. Then I graduated and I went to law school at Washington and Lee, which was in a really small town in Virginia. And it was a little too small for me. And so again, I always want to come back to Greenville. And it was a perfect opportunity to do so. So when I graduated, I came back and I started working for my sister and another guy at their law firm, Hawkins and Jedziniak, right here on Church Street. And at Hawkins and Jedziniak, I have a pretty varied very trial practice. I represent clients from individuals to small businesses to large corporations that have properties in the area. And I’m also a licensed attorney in North Carolina. And I’m running for Greenville County Council because Greenville needs an advocate who’s willing to promote forward-thinking policies and common sense policies that will actually have an impact on the day-to-day lives of everyday people in Greenville County, and not just those who are insiders in the community.

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

Ethan Jedziniak:
Yeah, so I think there are a few challenges that face Greenville. I think the biggest issue for me that I see is land use and the rapid development of Greenville and the lack of forward-thinking policies to promote Greenville in the future and not just its growth now. And another big challenge I see for Greenville is repeat criminal offenders. So I have a unique position where as a trial attorney in Greenville that represents a lot of people in the area. I have a firsthand insight into the challenges that the people face and the challenges that the businesses face. And so that’s sort of why I’m running and I see those challenges and I think they’re really important to actually address.

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

Ethan Jedziniak:
Yeah. So I have a few big priorities that I’m interested in. I think first and foremost, like I said, forward thinking land use policies are extremely important. And we need to put policies in place that put property owners’ rights first and landowner rights first, but also put Greenville in a place to be successful in the future and to grow and develop in a way that actually is going to be sustainable in the future, for lack of a better phrase. We have a lot of ordinances on the books. And I see this a lot where developers come in or big businesses come in and they know people and they have an inside track to get around these ordinances. And one thing that I’ll push is to put people in positions and to push for uniform enforcement of these ordinances. If we’re going to have them, they need to apply to me the same way they apply to you, the same way they apply to businesses. And we’re just not seeing that right now. And I think one of the big things that we need to focus on is development.

Ethan Jedziniak:
That is in a way that the infrastructure can keep up. And by infrastructure, I don’t just mean roads. I mean schools. I mean getting water to people. And the developers are coming in and they’re building these homes where people can come to Greenville, but the way they’re doing it isn’t appropriate for our growth. And that’s one of the things I really want to push for. And also, we sort of talked about roads, but if you go on 385 out of town or you go on Church Street at 4:30 going across the bridge is a parking lot. I live 10 minutes away from my office, two miles, three miles. It takes me half an hour to get home at five. And we need to do that. We need to develop in such a way that that doesn’t happen and our roads aren’t parking lots and we can grow and actually use the places in our community. And with that, I’m also opposed to tax increases and especially the penny tax that Greenville County has proposed. Instead of raising taxes, I think what we need to do is accomplish projects that will impact the community as a whole and not just certain people that have the inside track and know the way to get things done. And the way to do that is better oversight and strategic planning. And I think that boils down to transparency and accessibility by everyday people into the budget and into our spending and what we actually do with the money. And I know how to research it. A lot of people know how to research it, but the average person in Greenville doesn’t know the budget. They don’t know what we have and they don’t know how our money is being spent. And I think that’s extremely important.

Ethan Jedziniak:
And the last big challenge I see for Greenville is the repeat criminal offenders and more specifically drug use. So we do a little criminal defense. And one of the things I see every day is people will get out of Greenville County Detention Center and they go back to the same communities where they have had issues in the past and they fall back into the same patterns. And to address that, I think we need to enhance law enforcement within the community. We need to get them out into the community so they’re seen and so they’re a part of it and they’re not feared. Instead, they’re viewed as a resource for the citizens. I think a way we can do that, obviously, is community engagement, but also collaboration with other agencies. One of the things that I would like to do if I am in office is pair probation and parole with local businesses and have a training program where we can actually put these people from Greenville County into jobs where they can sort of escape the cycle that they were in, and they can progress and get out of jail and, you know, live their lives and be rehabilitated. And I think a way to do that specifically is to provide law enforcement with the proper resources. This includes strategic hiring and hiring of qualified individuals who want to be in Greenville. Not just they go to the academy and they find the first job, but they want to be here specifically. And I think we can do that. And we can also do that by providing these officers with up-to-date technology. So that’s pretty critical to being able to root out the crime and root out the drug use, which lands people in bad situations.

Katy Smith:
Great. We have a little bit more time. Is there anything else you’d like to say to listeners?

Ethan Jedziniak:
Yeah. So I think the citizens of District 22 specifically should vote for me because I’m a hardworking, qualified candidate. I actually own my home in the district and I actually live in the district. Um, like I said, as an attorney, I represent a wide variety of people and businesses, and so I have a firsthand insight into what actually happens in Greenville. Not what you see on the news or you read in the papers or what county council is currently talking about. I see firsthand what impacts people, what could benefit them, and what the problems are. And I’m not going to promote policies and practices simply because they’re trendy or because they sound good. I’m going to listen to my constituents and I’m going to work to promote positive growth and positive change that has a direct and lasting impact on District 22 and on Greenville County.

Katy Smith:
Great, Ethan. Well, thanks so much for your time today, and thanks so much for your willingness to serve.

Ethan Jedziniak:
Yeah, I’m happy to be here and y’all can check me out at www.ethanforgreenville.com.

Katy Smith:
Great. Thanks so much.

Ethan Jedziniak:
Thank you.

Katy Smith:
Next up is Jay Rogers. Well, I’m pleased to be joined by Jay Rogers, who is running for County Council District 22. Thanks so much for being here.

Jay Rogers:
Thank you for inviting me, Katy.

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

Jay Rogers:
Sure. Well, first of all, I’m a lifelong resident of Greenville and have, like everyone who’s been here for a decade or two, I’ve seen a lot of changes, and I’ve held two volunteer jobs with the county of Greenville. One was at the Greenville Area Development Corporation, where I served on their board for six years and more recently chaired that organization for two years, and then more recently have been on the Greenville County Planning Commission for the last nine years, two of those as chairman. And I have got a big investment in Greenville, and Greenville’s had a tremendous growth story, certainly, over the last 20 years. And…

Jay Rogers:
Particular, what I’ve seen in my work with the county up until now is that we’ve got this great growth story, but we need to, I think, take a hard look at how we’re growing and make sure that we don’t sort of kill the goose that laid the golden egg in terms of growth and development. We want Greenville to be a town, a community that our kids want to come back to. So we want it to grow and be vibrant. But at the same time, you know, we’re watching our housing costs have doubled over the last five years. The median price of a home in Greenville now is pushing $400,000. And that’s, again, almost double what it was five years ago. And so I feel like we’ve got a number of growth challenges that we need to address. And in particular, you know, my work on the Planning Commission has been about those issues. They’re complicated. There’s no easy fix. But at the Planning Commission, we were more or less voting up and down on new subdivision applications. And I realized to sort of have an opportunity to make policy and rewrite the playbook, that happens at the county council level, not so much at the Planning Commission level. And so that’s why I’m running.

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

Jay Rogers:
Well, like I say, the big one is development. And, you know, sort of related to that, our infrastructure. One of the challenges I think that most people who drive can see is that our roads are not in great shape. Our, you know, bridges, a lot of them were built in the 50s and 60s. And we need to address our infrastructure generally. We’ve also got, in terms of development, we’ve got to do, I think, a better job of dovetailing, getting the infrastructure to where the growth is happening. And that’s particularly challenging because not all of that is actually, you know, it can be coordinated by the county. But there are a number of other agencies such as Rewind, Metro Connects, Onsewer.

Jay Rogers:
We have over 30 fire districts that provide fire coverage throughout the county. We just have a lot of moving parts. The county is essentially like an ocean, which has seven islands in it, which are called municipalities, the city of Greenville obviously being the biggest one, but a lot of other municipalities. And each of those islands has their own development rules, and those are to some extent consistent with the county’s rules, but not 100% consistent. And so making all of that work and in a way that doesn’t create a traffic nightmare for everyone over the next 10 or 20 years, it’s a big, complicated challenge. And I feel like I’m not uniquely suited to address it, but I do have from my past experience some good experience and knowledge of these issues. And I feel like that we need somebody on council who can hit the ground running and not have to learn on the job about all these issues because it’s taken me 15 years of volunteer service at the county to really understand how all these complicated factors interact together. And, yeah, so addressing essentially growth and infrastructure will be the primary things that I’ll be focused on if I’m elected.

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

Jay Rogers:
Well, in terms of priorities, they’re going to be obviously related to what I see as the key issues. And so in terms of how to align our infrastructure with our growth trajectory, you know, we have some tools. Again, it’s a complicated issue, but we do have a comprehensive plan at the county level that I helped put together back in 2020-21. And a comprehensive plan is mandated by state law, but it’s more at this point kind of an aspiration. And it doesn’t have legally binding authority. It gets a lot of input from the community, but it has a tendency to have a lot of work put into it. And then it’s referenced back to at times, but not, I think, as much as it should be. I would like to see, and we have a five-year, it’s a 10-year plan, but we have a five-year anniversary coming up where, again, by state law, we’re required to revisit the comprehensive plan. And so I would, one of my first priorities would be to do that, to start working on the 2025 analysis of the comprehensive plan and, try to make it more of a living guide to growth, I think that would benefit everyone. You know, the folks who build homes in the county want to know where the growth is going, where the infrastructure is going, and it serves their interests and the people’s interests to know how growth should be happening or how the county sees, how the county wants to guide growth. And it would be useful, I think, to make that plan more of a meaningful guide than something that we, an exercise that we go through because state law requires us toand then we sort of not ignore the next 10 years, but that we don’t, you know, really rely on as much as we should. And hopefully that can be a means for, as I said, getting the major infrastructure providers on board, because, again, a lot of them are not their independent entities, not part of the county government. But I think the county can be the leader in organizing the various players in infrastructure and address, you know, a lot of times… Someone told me recently that really when people in the county voice concerns about development, what they really are concerned about is really congestion and traffic. And those tend to be treated as synonymous, but they are two separate issues and need to be thought of separately, even though they are somewhat dependent. But you’ve got you’ve got a big concern about traffic congestion. And that is that will be driven to some extent by how many people move here and add new homes here. But it’s also traffic congestion is its own issue. And the state really spends no money on infrastructure that’s specifically designed to reduce congestion. So simply adding more roads, repaving roads is not going to necessarily fix the congestion problem. So we need to think about that independently as well, because we do, we want our kids to be able to, or want to, to move back here and we want to have a vibrant growing community. But we can’t have home prices doubling every five years and be able to have a vibrant community. It’s just between the average home price and mortgage rates, if you’re in your mid-20s and wanting to move to Greenville, I mean, spending $400,000 on a home with a 7.5% mortgage rate, that’s just not something that the great majority of people in their 20s and 30s can do. And so we’ve got to address that problem head-on.

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

Jay Rogers:
Just would love to ask them to come out on June 11 and vote. And that is the primary that I’m running in. I am running as a, I should have said this to begin with, as a Republican candidate in the Republican primary. It is a contested primary. And so I would ask everyone listening to come out and vote on June 11.

Katy Smith:
Thank you so much for joining us, and thank you so much for your willingness to serve.

Jay Rogers:
Thank you.

Katy Smith:
And finally, Nia Thomas. I’m so glad to be joined today by Nia Thomas, who’s running for county council in District 22. Thanks so much for joining us.

Nia Thomas:
Thanks for having me.

Katy Smith:
Well, tell us about yourself and why you are running for office.

Nia Thomas:
Hey, thanks, Katy. So my name is Nia Thomas. I’m running for Greenville District 22. I’m born and raised in South Carolina. I moved to the upstate in 2012 to study education. And most recently, my husband and I, we bought our first home in the Twin Lakes area. In my free time, I enjoy gardening, birdwatching, bike riding, and spending time outside. So why I’m running? I’ve always been a public servant. I grew up in a Methodist family, and my father really instilled in our family the values of service and outreach. Every month, we were down at the Street Reach Mission serving the hungry and the poor. And I took these values into my career first as a public school teacher and now at the college level. In my day-to-day life, I teach environmental science and I work on environmental health and safety projects, pollution control at the industrial scale, drinking water treatment, wastewater treatment. In the past, I have worked on projects at Conacy Nature Preserve with habitat restoration, and volunteered a lot with my favorite local organization, the Native Plant Society, and the greenhouse at the spring and fall sales. So why am I running? I want to be part of this decision-making team. I feel that I have a skill set that’s not currently represented on the council, but is desperately needed.

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

Nia Thomas:
Well, for starters, I would like to say that Greenville is beautiful. I am so happy to live here and so proud of this place that we call home. And the climate’s perfect as well. We have vibrant cities and small towns, lively cultural events, and just thriving communities. Also, you know, you look at Columbia, it’s all concrete. So I am happy to live here. With that being said, there is a vision of Greenville County that’s put forth in the comprehensive plan. This is a planning session that’s done every 10 years. It takes about 12 to 18 months to prepare. And it consists of hundreds of community meetings, inputs from thousands of constituents, stakeholders.

Nia Thomas:
They even go out to high school football games and poll the public. They invite civic groups to come in. And this questionnaire is not legally binding, but it does voice the opinion of what the constituents want and what the constituents need. And Greenville County Council should take these opinions into mind when they write their regulations and pass their ordinances. And the first issue is the question that’s on my mind and what I hear is, are we sticking to this plan? Are we listening to constituents? And are we developing and building a land use approach that balances growth with the community’s priorities?

Nia Thomas:
And what are the community’s priorities? It’s not what I think the issues are. It’s what the community says and what they want. And they’re saying that we don’t want urban sprawl. We want our voice to be heard and not just developers. We want older buildings reused and redesigned. We want these parking lots, get rid of these parking lots and fill it in and use this space instead of building cookie cutter homes all the way out into the south and the north of the county. People don’t want endless strip malls, and there’s a real concern about the character of the rural areas and the farmland being lost. And are we protecting the tree cover, rivers, streams, lakes, the wildlife habitat, or are we just developing to develop.

Nia Thomas:
I would also say that the second thing that is on everyone’s mind is transportation, the roads, and safety of the roads.

Nia Thomas:
You know, we look back over the last four years, Greenville County is the first. For three years, the Greenville County was the first, and one year behind Spartanburg, we were the second in traffic fatalities. We lead the state, and that’s not acceptable. And I would say, why is this happening? There are a lot of new people here, distracted drivers, but the quality of the roads is a big concern. We have two-lane roads, they’re narrow, they’re meant to be rural roads, and we have thousands of people driving on them, and they’re filled with potholes, and there’s no shoulder on the roads. Also, there’s questions about appropriation of funds. Millions of dollars that were appropriated towards the roads and infrastructure have been reallocated towards development, towards debt servicing. Why? And then also the question of congestion. Congestion cannot be solved by turning a two-lane road into a four-lane road. A two-lane road, even a road like Woodruff Road, we don’t want the entire county turning into Woodruff Road. And how it stands now is it’s at an equilibrium. And if we widen that road, then the balance will just find its equilibrium with more cars on the road. So we have a couple of options to fix that.

Nia Thomas:
One, we can change the mentality around public transportation and make it faster. And then two, we have to fix the roads, filling in the potholes, fixing the shoulders, and using the budget that’s allocated for the roads only on the roads.

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

Nia Thomas:
If elected, I have a first couple of priorities. The first would be sharing the burden between developers and taxpayers. We’re giving huge tax cuts to developers, and this is great. It brings jobs to our neighborhood instead of sending them to our competitor states or going off to China. We have a thriving business community in Greenville. But with that and with the growth of South Carolina, second in the nation behind Florida, Greenville County has a growth of about 1.44% per year. So if you do the math, it’s about 8,000 new residents, and we can estimate it’s about 3,000 new homes. The question is, where are these people going to live?

Nia Thomas:
So, and also secondly, organizing this growth. With all of these new homes and new residents, it’s not an option to only build homes that are $1.2 million out in the countryside. We need starter homes, and we need homes that are affordable for our income. The average income in Greenville County is about $56,000-$57,000, so we’re not buying $1.2 million homes. The fourth thing, well, let’s say the third thing that I would focus on is reinforcing the relationship between constituents and council. Citizens have honest concerns, and with reason, that representatives are not listening to them. They’re more concerned with politicking and grandstanding rather than solving problems. And big issues like the ones that we’re facing are not going to be solved this way. It requires collaboration and participation with the council and the constituents. So most importantly, let’s recap that. Sharing the burden between developers and taxpayers. And that would require eliminating and pausing all of these tax increases that we’ve been putting on families. We’re giving out tax breaks to huge corporations, but small businesses and families can’t apply for that. Second, organizing the growth. And then fourth, reinforcing the relationship between constituents and council.

Katy Smith:
Thank you. We have a little bit of time left. Is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know?

Nia Thomas:
Yes. Constituents of District 22 can meet all of the candidates May 23rd at 7 p.m. at the Hughes Main Library for a town hall debate. I hope to see everyone there.

Katy Smith:
Great. Well, thank you so much for joining us, and thanks for your willingness to serve the people of Greenville County.

Nia Thomas:
Thank you.

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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