In this episode, we talk to the newly elected Chairman of Greenville County Council, Dan Tripp. Dan discusses his role as Chairman, his hopes for County Council, and the Council’s priorities for the coming year. He also talks about how Greenville County Council will be more accessible to constituents, making it easier for you than ever to plug into what’s going on in your county government.
Katy Smith: I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and on this episode of Simple Civics: Greenville County I’m pleased to talk to the new chairman of Greenville County Council, Dan Tripp. Councilman Tripp was elected chairman by his 11 colleagues on council on Tuesday, January 10th, which was last night at the time of this recording. Dan represents Greenville County Council District 28, which includes large portions of Maulden, Simpsonville, and the Five Forks area, and he’s just begun his second term on council.
Today, I’ll talk to Dan about the role of the chairman, his hopes for council and council’s priorities for the coming year. He’ll also talk about the ways Council will be more accessible to constituents, making it easier for you than ever to plug into what’s going on in your county government.
Dan, first of all, congratulations on your election as chairman at County council meeting most recently. We’re really appreciative of your willingness to serve as a council member, but especially as the chairman of Council.
Dan Tripp: Thank you. It’s, uh, it’s been a raucous six months, but , it’s over with and I think we’ve got a, a good leadership team in place, and I’m grateful to be leading and, and serving all in, all in one.
Katy Smith: Excellent. Let’s start with the basics so that folks understand what is the role of the county council chairman, and in case they weren’t at the meeting, tell us how the chairman gets elected.
Dan Tripp: I mean, the role of chairman is primarily administrative. I run the meetings, there, there are some duties that I have in terms of appointing chairman to committees and pointing members to committees. You know, I would set the agenda and how you get elected to chairman, it’s it’s a vote by the body.
So you have to have at least seven votes to win. . And you know, I reluctantly got into the race for chairman. I was actually trying to help others get elected and through some quiet conversations I was asked to consider. And so I jumped in and I took the philosophy with me that politics is the art of edition, not subtraction.
And rather than try to push everybody away, I just felt my message was… based on the last four years of ranker and fighting. And just the, your listeners know what we’ve dealt with. I felt the right approach was to try to bring people together and unify. And I’ll give credit to Dr. Ennis Fant on council who serves with me. We met about six months ago for coffee, and it was one of the first meetings that we had over the last four years. And we both talked about, how bad it had gotten. And we both just kinda collectively thought is there a way to bring peace to council?
Is there a way to get rid of all this ranker and infighting? And both of us have taken our shots at each other. I mean, We’ve not been on the same side of many issues on council. And so it was Not sure if this can work, but let’s start talking. And we started talking and over the last six months, I think we built a great relationship and we brought others into that relationship.
And now I think you see a council that really sees the vision of trying to work together. We have some big problems that we’ve gotta solve in Greenville County. And so the best way to do that is by unifying and having a collegial working relationship. We can’t solve problems if we can’t work together.
I took my philosophy of politics as the art of addition and just started talking to members and members elect and just started envisioning with them what it would look like if we didn’t have all the in-fighting. And so I think that’s how I was able to get the vote that I did.
Liz was a great partner and, the vice chair vote, and I think she represents that better side of council, that, that positive side of council. And so I think that helped. It’s not a glamorous job. It’s very administrative in some respects, but it is one of being a leader. In the past there have been other chairman that are very, commanding control is the word that I use.
But basically, “It’s my agenda, it’s my meeting and, you have to do what I say,” and that just doesn’t work well. When you have 12 independently elected legislators, you gotta lead by example. And so I talked about being a servant leader and we’re all in this together. And I’m, the one thing I’ve learned over the last four years is being chairman, you’re just one vote.
Being chairman doesn’t give you a couple extra votes in your pocket. And so, I think that you’ve got to lead by example, lead with your vision and, and so that’s what we’re gonna try to do the next couple.
Katy Smith: I really appreciate that. I feel like people who are interested in government and politics spend a lot of time giving attention to the federal government and whatever’s going on in Congress, whatever’s going on outside the walls of the capitol from whoever their favorite or most disliked elected officials are. And I think sometimes people bring those sets of expectations for behavior to local government, where in my opinion, things have the opportunity to be really different.
Do you feel like the ranker of federal issues is playing out in Greenville County in some ways?
Dan Tripp: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the, the conflicts that we had in the last six months in this race in particular. There are some folks that think that county council is a subdivision of the political parties. Either Republican or Democrat. And I’ve had people tell me if you elect this person, vice chair, you’re doing it.
You’re building a farm team for the Democrats to the exclusion of the Republican farm team. And I mean, I won’t say who said that, but that was one of the comments that I got. And I just, I made it very clear that, we took an oath to the state to uphold the state constitution and the United States Constitution, not the oath or constitution of some political party.
We are a subdivision of the state. We have a very limited role in what we’re here to do. Land management, collection of taxes. It’s very ministerial duties that we have. And to turn this into a Petri dish of politics I just don’t think is helpful. And we’ve seen the results of that over the last couple years.
Katy Smith: Yeah I, it is like when you think about the purview of local government, potholes, trash pickup, ems, I mean, like people say potholes don’t vote. They’re not parts of parties, and it’s
Dan Tripp: And that doesn’t mean that county councils devoid of values. There are absolute values that we bring to the table, but we’re not a farm team for the political parties. My hope is that without offending the political sensibilities of either party, we can put our heads down and get to work and work on the things that we’re supposed to work and not try to build farm team.
Katy Smith: Yep. Well, So what are the priorities this year for county council?
Dan Tripp: You know, One of the things that I want to be careful about is not to be that command and control chairman where my priorities are now, the ones that everybody has to cow tail to. We have a process on council, so we’re in the next couple months, we’re gonna be going through the budget process.
We pass a biennial budget, so I think if I’ve got my dates right probably somewhere middle of June, we’ll pass the 2023 budget, and then we will pass in July, probably the 2024 budget. What we generally do as an exercise to inform that budget is we’ll have a retreat or a workshop of some type, and council members will get together and we’ll just start talking through what the priorities of council.
I’ve done that process twice now, and what I’ve seen is, law enforcement always comes up as number one, law enforcement, ems, the public safety sector is always a top priority. And I, think that’s as it should be. We want our citizens to feel safe. There’s always, a focus on fiscal discipline, fiscal restraint, keeping our AAA rating.
That’s always a big issue. I know last time, I think two years ago, we had affordable housing. I think we talked about, Greenlink and some of those issues that are helping move people around and get people in housing that they can afford. And so the priorities will be driven by the body, not the chairman.
I’m happy to step up and put my ideas on the table, but I think it should be an inclusive part of that. We all represent diverse districts and I think the goal is to come together as a county, but bring our kind of local perspective to the table. Obviously there’s, roads and congestion and, and things we have to deal with.
Those will be top priorities too.
Katy Smith: Sure. This is one thing I wanna note for folks who haven’t listened in the past or paid a lot attention to county council. So there are 12 members of county council. Each represents a specific geographic area, a district. We don’t have any at large members. So what are you all hearing from constituents, whether across the board or from particular districts in the county as their priorities?
Do they differ from the things that you’ve mentioned already?
Dan Tripp: No, no. I mean, I think there’s, there’s, there’s An amalgamation of all the districts. I mean, the more southern you get in the county or the more northern you get, they’re concerned about growth and overpopulation. They want to keep the farms and the, the mountainside pristine and we certainly understand that. That’s a huge swath of land that’s un zoned.
We’ve tried to do some things in the last couple years to give people farm designations for their land. And so land use is one of the big things that we will obviously deal with over the next couple years. But those are some of the things we hear on the northern and southern part of the county.
In the, urban core, the congestion, the intersections that need to be improved. Stop lights that need to be better calibrated. Things like that. Over-building in certain areas. Just some of those growth pains that we have on in Greenville County.
Everybody wants to be here. And so that brings a set of pains that we have to deal with. We have to welcome people that are coming to Greenville County, but not alienate people that have been here a long time in the, so that’s sometimes that’s a, juggling act that requires the wisdom of Solomon.
Katy Smith: So the purpose of this podcast is to help connect people with government and engage them more. I wonder what you might ask of listeners and residents of Greenville County, how would you like to see them connecting with you and being a part of the civic process?
Dan Tripp: It’s interesting because when we come to our biweekly meetings there’s always a group of citizens that are there. Day in, day out, whether they have a zoning issue or not. There is a core group of people that just come to hang out and listen and, sometimes they’re on one side of the political aisle or not.
And so the more we can connect everyday people with the process, so that they know what’s going on. I think that gives us more input, gives us more feedback for what we’re doing.
You know, it’s always helpful when we have a big issue in front of us to get feedback from our constituents to get the emails and calls and preferably ones that are constructive not ram rotting viewpoint. Just be engaged in the process. Um, We’re gonna try to do some things on council to improve that.
For instance I think you are the one that talked to me about having the video of, the meetings put on a central location. I think we’re gonna maybe even go one step better and we’re looking at maybe public access channel or something where we can…. In the new building, when we move into the new building in March, we’ll have some TV capabilities where we can actually put up the, either live or slightly delayed video of the meetings that would rotate through the public access channels. And I think that’s a good thing..
Katy Smith: Yeah. Oh.
Dan Tripp: thing when, when people can see what we’re doing.
Katy Smith: I am so excited to hear that. And for listeners on our website greater Good greenville.org, you can go under resources and we have a civics hub and it gives you access to minutes, agendas, recordings from all the local government bodies. Simpsonville and Greenville County currently are the ones that don’t post recordings of meetings.
So for you all to be added to that list, I think would be so terrific and really I’m excited to hear that.
Dan Tripp: Well, the other thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna do the rules on the 24th of January and we’re actually gonna change some of the rules that define the jurisdiction of committees that we serve on. And so for instance there’s one committee that’s focused on public works and infrastructure.
We’re gonna repurpose that district. It’s gonna be the rodes, infrastructure and Public works committee. And what we want to do on that is really have a biweekly focus, a monthly focus on what do we need to do to be improving the roads? What are other jurisdictions doing? What are other states doing? How do we pay for the roads and, and not just paving. These are light synchronizations, these are intersection improvements, things like that, that help move people faster.
It may involve some different modes of mobility. Um, you know, obviously as you get into the core of the county, Downtown you have more options for public transportation, things like that. So that committee is gonna be an important part of that kind of forward thinking council that I hope we have. The other committee that we’re gonna add is the communications committee.
Once a month we have a meeting where anybody that wants to talk about an issue can come. A lot of times that turns into kind of a gripe fest. And so we wanna restructure that and do a couple things. You know, We’ll still have the citizen comment period where anybody that wants to talk about anything has three to five minutes.
They come in and talk, but we also want to highlight positive things that are going on in the county. So, you know, If there’s an agency or if there’s a project or something going on in the community that people want to know more about, we’ll have them make a presentation and that’ll be broadcast and, we’ll be able to push out positive messages of what we’re doing in Greenville County.
The second thing that I think we’ve gotta be focused on is communicating with other.. The municipalities, special purpose districts. What most people busy with their everyday lives don’t understand is there’s a, lot of intersection between Greenville County and the state of South Carolina and all the municipalities and the special purpose districts.
We all kind of work together, hand in glove, and if we’re not talking, we can’t do our jobs. And if you accept the premise that 200, 250,000 people are gonna be coming into Greenville County over the next 20 years, we have got to start talking amongst ourselves so that we can plan for the infrastructure, for the growth and all that.
Just good old fashioned communications, I think is something that’s been missing from the equation.
Katy Smith: Dan, this is so exciting. I really appreciate you and all of your colleagues, the ones who just got elected, as you did get reelected, all came onto this podcast, and I feel like all of that demonstrates your commitment to being in touch with your constituents.
Dan Tripp: There is a great sense of hope. We’ve watched the train wreck for the last four years and uh, the ones that have been on council, we’ve all kind of been part and parcel of that. So nobody is a hundred percent guilt free of that environment.
But I think we just got to a point where we took a collective step back and said, we can do better. There’s a verse in the scriptures that says, where there is no vision, the people perish. And I think we’ve been missing a greater vision. And I think we’ve got that. And I think we’re gonna make some differences the next couple years.
Katy Smith: That’s so great. I really appreciate your leadership and your willingness to lead and your colleagues as well. And you know, you’re welcome to come back on any time you need to, to communicate with our listeners and we’ll be sure to connect our listeners with the resources that the county offers as time goes forward.
Dan Tripp: Thank you. Happy to talk to anybody anytime and get their feedback and uh, I love being on the podcast.
Katy Smith: That’s great. Thanks so much, Dan.
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 the Greenville Podcast Company.