District 27 – 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 Garey Collins and Butch Kirven, candidates for Greenville County Council District 27, generally representing the Simpsonville area. 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:

Garey Collins

Butch Kirven

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 Garey Collins and incumbent Butch Kirven, candidates for District 27, which generally covers the Simpsonville area. But first, a quick primer on why primaries are so important.

Katy Smith:
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 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 27 had only Republican candidates file. So based on the outcome of the June 11th Republican primary, either Garey Collins or Butch Kirven 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.

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 candidates’ preferred internet presence on the episode page. First up is Garey Collins. I’m so glad to be here today with Garey Collins, who’s running for County Council District 27. Thanks so much for joining us, Garey.

Garey Collins:
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

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

Garey Collins:
Well, as you said, I’m Garey Collins. I was born one of 13. My mother and father died when I was young, five and seven. We were taken, put into the foster care system, been around four different group homes, seven different foster homes. And I had a lot of people given to me for my success, people I didn’t even know. And I’m grateful for that. So I met my wife in Fort Drum, New York, retired Army, first sergeant. And we moved to South Carolina. We were going to Charleston for a vacation and we stopped at Greenville. This is 20 years ago. And we stayed one night, stayed two nights, stayed three nights. We went back to New York, moved down here two weeks later. We just grabbed a U-Haul, two of them, brought our vehicles and we lived out of suitcases for three months till we found a house in Simpsonville. And we loved it. And so that’s where we’ve been for 20 years.

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

Garey Collins:
I believe one of the biggest issues in the council right now is the council itself. And what do I mean by that? The people have been so alienated from a point of they’re just disconnected. There’s a lot of people on council. When you go there before the tax increase or the debate, they don’t listen to them. They don’t even return most of the phone calls.

Garey Collins:
Myself, my experience as well. So there’s been a big disconnect and the people are just pretty much fed up with it. And that means anywhere from the non-reply, the over-development, sticking houses over top of houses on a two-lane road with no shoulders. That’s got to be managed, and it has to be balanced at the same time. And what I mean by balance, and, right now, it doesn’t have a balance where the roads and the infrastructure are brought up to speed with the amount of traffic that we have going through these roads. And I believe the people that I’ve talked to, which as of today, I’ve talked to over 7,000 doors, and that’s what I’m getting. And that’s the way, when I explained to my wife in August of last year, she told me, stop complaining, get out in the garage, or do something about it. So I’m doing something about it and I’m stepping up and I will bring the people’s voice to the table when they make decisions. So if it’s good for one particular entity, one particular group, it should be good for that one family. I do not, you know, I just have, I believe everybody should be at the table. Yes, ma’am.

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

Garey Collins:
What my priorities would be when I’m elected, thank you, is we got to get a handle on the infrastructure, the roads. It’s been proven now just by our tax increases, which would, I’d have never done that. I want to know, first of all, give me a forensic audit. Yeah, it’s going to cost a little bit, but to raise taxes without knowing where the money is, where the money went, and who spent it, and for what. That’s core number one as a republic, which we are. And the other thing is the fee in lieu of taxes. And the reason we’re giving all these people these big incentives to come here, that should tell you our taxes are too high, okay? We’re at 2.9% unemployment rate as of last quarter of last year. We’re suspected to go up to 3.1% the first two quarters of this year. It’s not jobs, okay? So that’s my perception. That’s what I’ve done. And when I go through the budget, all 158 pages of it, I highlight yellow. I highlight red. Yellow, questionable. Red, I got to ask a question. Tabs, I’m raising my hand. I’m going to the front of the line. This is what I need answered. I get no reply. So those are the issues that I’m dealing with.

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

Garey Collins:
Yeah, absolutely. Again, as reference to the fee in lieu of taxes, to manage growth and to balance it, you know, we’re not going to stop the growth. But again, we do have to manage it a lot better. And that will require some balancing, which I think has been a little bit overlooked in the past eight to 10 years. Now, is that bringing businesses in here? Absolutely. But why should I, as a taxpayer, have to go and recruit someone worldwide, as the GADC does, and spend my tax money to advertise and then pay my tax dollars to incentivize? When a government entity incentivizes, it automatically creates a burden. And that’s how our tax system is set up. Incentivize, burden. The incentives always go through the big corporations, i.e. special interests, and the burden is always levied on the taxpayer. That needs to stop. And with the 1% tax increase coming on the ballot, if you don’t transfer road funds to the general fund, prioritize the roads, use their tax money for roads for roads, and then come and talk to me.

Katy Smith:
Thank you.

Garey Collins:
Yes, ma’am.

Katy Smith:
Well, I appreciate so much your willingness to be with us and your willingness to serve. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Garey Collins:
Thank you so much.

Katy Smith:
Next up is Butch Kirven. I’m pleased to be joined by Butch Kirven, who is running for re-election in County Council District 27. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Butch Kirven:
My pleasure.

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

Butch Kirven:
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. My name is Butch Kirven, candidate for re-election representing District 27 on Greenville County Council. District 27 encompasses much of Simpsonville, Fountain Inn, Five Forks, and joins Spartanburg and Lawrence Counties on two sides to the east. The district population is about 44,000, the same as each of the 12 Greenville County Council districts. This is the first and only elected office I have ever held.

Butch Kirven:
I was born in Sumter, South Carolina. I grew up in Anderson. I graduated from Presbyterian College, where I met my wife, Diane. We have lived in Diane’s hometown of Simpsonville since 1977. Our daughter, Lee, lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she teaches at Georgia College and State University. I’m a military veteran, having served over 35 years in the United States Army and Army National Guard, retiring as a Brigadier General. Upon taking office in 2005, the county council elected me chairman. I have served in that capacity for 12 years. I’m currently the chairman of the finance committee. I also serve on the GPATS, which is the Regional Transportation Policy Board, composed of other elected officials from the region.

Butch Kirven:
I was a vice chairman and a former chairman of that body. I also serve on the Board of Directors of the South Carolina Association of Counties. So why am I running for re-election? Basically to represent the residents of District 27 and matters most important to them. That means working with people and other council members to get things done to benefit the community. In South Carolina, counties are subdivisions of the state with limited powers. Newcomers find it hard to understand that authority is vested in the council as a whole and not in its individual members. That puts a premium on working together. Priorities for one area of the county may differ from other areas. I want to contribute my experience and knowledge in helping to ensure that we do what is necessary to remain a great place to call home, raise families, prosper, and enjoy all the best that life has to offer in District 27 and across the whole county.

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

Butch Kirven:
As a county, we’ve come a long way in the past 20 years. We’ve navigated through the so-called Great Recession of 2008 to 10, and we’ve come through the COVID pandemic of 2020 and 21. But as an incumbent, I think it’s important to put the current issues in context of what we have accomplished over the past years. Some of those accomplishments include creating the Swamp Rabbit Trail from an old inactive railroad from Traveler’s Rest to Greenville, and along Lawrence Road, and currently working on extensions of the trail into the Golden Strip area. Secured $49 million in South Carolina Infrastructure Bank grants for a major Woodruff Road congestion relief project. Created the Historic and Natural Resources Trust. Created a Scuffle Town Rural Conservation District, which is protecting a large area of District 27 from excessive development. Approved the citizen-led Five Forks Area Plan.

Butch Kirven:
Completed the Five Forks and Woodruff Road widening project and intersection improvements and other road projects in the Five Forks Area. Led in the University Ridge development, which will return millions to keep taxes low for residents of Greenville County in the future and many other accomplishments in the past 20 years. So what are our biggest challenges? District 27 is the most dynamic, desirable, and popular area in Greenville County. This area has evolved from semi-rural to a suburban-urban area over the past 20 years. The challenge we face both here and across the region is maintaining a high quality of life in a time of dynamic change. Manifestations of change include rapid population growth and development, traffic congestion, poor road conditions, and mobility in general, public safety in maintaining an adequate and good law enforcement capability, emergency medical services, and local fire and rescue first responder capabilities. Also, our challenges in adding to parks and recreation and green spaces, so much desired and needed by our citizens. And other items always are of prime importance, stormwater management, solid waste disposal, convenience centers, recycling, roadside litter, and so on and so forth.

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

Butch Kirven:
If elected this year, my priorities would be, number one, serving the needs of constituents, responding quickly and efficiently to individual responses to help citizens with county services. Keeping county taxes low, Greenville County has one of the lowest general tax rates in the upstate and one of the fewer number of counties employees per capita in the entire state. Working with various subdivisions and jurisdictions, including finding solutions to local government level requires working well not only with each other, county council, but also with other counties, other cities, Greenville County schools, and our legislative delegation, and so forth. Another priority would be managing growth and development more effectively by accelerating adoption of the Unified Development Ordinance. The UDO will combine zoning and land development regulations, giving citizens more input into planning and development policies and decisions with more transparency.

Butch Kirven:
Another priority would be fixing roads and infrastructure. Working with citizens and DOT to find ways to reduce traffic bottlenecks, repave crumbling roads, and promote transportation alternatives. Public safety is always a top priority by supporting law enforcement, emergency medical services, and local fire departments and first responders. And natural resources, parks, and recreation, as I mentioned, is of prime importance and a priority. Working with the county’s Historic and Natural Resources Trust and others to obtain and preserve significant green spaces and recreation areas throughout the county. A nearby example to District 27 includes the acquisition of 52 acres on Adams Mill Road, known as the YMCA property, which would be the first new county park in 15 years. And there’s another park we’re working on in District 27 as well with Fountain Inn on Jones Mill Road to preserve and protect the old grist mill there that has historic significance and make that an educational nature park for all ages and our school children. And another priority would be implementing a new economic development strategy to attract companies with smaller footprints, less impact on our infrastructure, while offering good jobs for local folks to move up the ladder of success.

Butch Kirven:
I do have a final word on priorities, which would be, I want to comment on financial accountability and stewardship and public trust. Greenville County has a long history and tradition of providing quality services efficiently and economically. That fact has resulted in County maintaining its AAA credit rating for many years. The county has won many awards for its accurate and detailed budgeting and accounting practices verified by annual audits by outside independent accounting firms. The county has increased its general fund millage only once in 30 years, from 48 to 55 mills in the current budget, necessitated by inflation in the national economy and the alarming loss of qualified law enforcement and other critical personnel due to low pay. Before this, new sheriff’s deputies were earning about $36,000 a year, not enough to maintain families above the poverty level. It’s a dangerous job, and our deputies stand between us and bad people, and we need enough of them to protect us, provide public safety. But now, starting deputies, we are paying about $47,000. But even so, Greenville County’s general fund millage rate remains among the lowest of upstate counties.

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

Butch Kirven:
I would like to say that I put a lot of thought into when I finish up my job on county council. If I get re-elected, I believe this would be my last term. But I don’t want just to walk out the door and see who walks in behind me. I want to have a smooth continuity, to maintain the high level of communications and support for our community and the county that we’ve developed over the past 20 years. So I tell groups that I speak to, I said, any of you would make a wonderful member of Granville County Council, and if you are interested, let me know and I’ll help you get started. I’m trying to recruit people to be interested in serving on county council, especially in District 27, to be a good replacement for me after I’m gone. Thank you very much.

Katy Smith:
Wonderful. Thank you so much for being with us and thank you so much for your willingness to continue to serve.

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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