Meet Your Candidates for Mayor of the City of Greenville

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Meet Joe Farmer and Mayor Knox White, Republican candidates for Mayor of Greenville. In this episode, each candidate has 10 minutes to introduce themselves to the voters before the Republican primary on June 13th. Please take a listen and share with your neighbors.


Joe Farmer Website

Mayor Knox White Bio


Katy Smith: On Tuesday, June 13th, 2023, there’s an election in the city of Greenville. It’s for the Republican primary for mayor of the City of Greenville, and there are two candidates on the ballot. Joe Farmer and Incumbent Knox White. Whoever wins will be on the ballot in November’s municipal general election against the Democratic mayoral candidate, Michelle Shain, who doesn’t have an opponent in the Democratic primary.

I’m Katy Smith with Greater Good Greenville, and I’m pleased to bring you interviews today with both Republican candidates for mayor.

But first, a quick primer on municipal elections. IN odd numbered years like this one, our cities within Greenville County hold elections for their city council members and mayors. In Travelers Rest, Greer, Maulden, Simpsonville and Fountain Inn, those elections are non-partisan, so there is no Republican or Democratic primary.

If you live in those cities, you’ll vote only in November for your city council. But the city of Greenville’s elections are partisan, meaning candidates register to run as Republicans or Democrats or any other party of their choosing. We’re one of only six cities in the state to hold partisan elections, by the way.

So this means party candidates in Greenville are chosen on the second Tuesday in June. This Republican mayoral race is the only one in Greenville with more than one candidate. Remember that in our state, we don’t register to vote with a party. So these primaries are open, meaning that any registered voter in the city of Greenville is eligible to vote on June 13th.

Polls open for early voting on May 30th. In the fall, we’ll bring you interviews with all the other contested races for city councils and mayors within Greenville County. But back to today’s interviews with the Greenville’s Republican candidates for Mayor, Joe Farmer and Knox White.

Here were our ground rules. Each candidate received the same questions at the time of their invitation to join us. Each was given 10 minutes for their interview. They 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 interviews with the candidates.

We’ve put links to their preferred internet presence on the episode page. First up alphabetically is mayoral candidate Joe Farmer.

Well, I’m here with Joe Farmer, who is running for Mayor of the City of Greenville. Thank you for joining us today, Joe.

Joe Farmer: Thank you for having me today.

Katy Smith: Let’s start with you first telling us about yourself and why you are running for mayor.

Joe Farmer: Well, I’m Joe Farmer and I’m running for mayor of Greenville because I think Greenville is at an inflection point right now where we need to have some new direction. I was born in Greenville, graduated from Furman University, and live in my current residence where I’ve been for the past 30 years.

So I’m fully vested in Greenville and what’s happening, and I would like to grow Greenville responsibly.

Katy Smith: Well, what do you believe are the biggest issues facing the city of Greenville?

Joe Farmer: I think right now growth is our biggest issue in that, uh, since I retired four years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time in committee meetings that the city host, and I’ve seen that the amount of growth that’s going on needs to be intentional, and oftentimes it’s not intentional. Oftentimes it’s random, and that’s hurt Some of our communities, especially some of our older communities. I’ve seen numerous instances of single family residents being converted to office space.

And when this happens, initially, it doesn’t seem bad that an attorney moves into a former house. But then an architect moves next door and then an engineer, and then pretty soon it becomes like Whitsett Street and there’s no more residence. And that’s a shame in some of our historic districts.

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

Joe Farmer: Well, first we need to really look at this new development code. There’s some tweaks that need to be done. You know, when we make this many changes in this short a period of time, it’s not gonna be right there in the first round. So we need to tweak it a little bit to help protect these older neighborhoods.

We still have a lot of vacant space on major roads that can have development in, but in our traditional neighborhoods, we need to look after these because once they’re lost, they’ll never come back. One time, Stone Avenue was residential, and we all know what it’s like today. If we’re not careful, that could be your neighborhood next.

So that’s one of my goals. The second is lower property taxes. Look around the city over the last 20 years. How much has the city grown? Significantly. All that new investment, all the increase in pricing, brings in more revenue, but we’ve never had a tax decrease. We’ve had hidden fees installed. I’ll decrease the property taxes to keep things affordable for people.

Katy Smith: Well, we have a little bit more time. Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

Joe Farmer: Well, definitely I’d like you to know about this campaign because this is about transparency, accountability, public safety. Um, one of the things with these boards and commissions is that they’re stacked with developers, you know, and over the past 25, 30 years, that’s one reason our development code or our zoning map is haphazard.

In the course of eight months, the Board of Zoning Appeals approved seven exceptions for themselves. We just can’t have that. We need citizens on these boards, not developers. I’ll appoint the citizens. Um, we need to just slow down a minute and look what we have in Greenville and appreciate it and make it better for residents.

Greenville needs to be a top 10 place to live, not a top 10 tourist destination. I’ll get these developers off the board of zoning appeals, and I’ll bring transparency to city government. Now, when I’m talking about transparency, too often money gets moved around in accounts and nobody knows where it goes.

Our current mayor has been elected to city office for 40 years. When he was first elected mayor, he said, “When people are in office too long, I think they stop listening.” I would agree with him. He has stopped listening. He also pledged to serve only two terms. Now he’s running for his eighth term for mayor.

He knew in the beginning what was right, but over time he’s changed his opinion. I promise you, I will only serve two terms. I’ve entered into agreement with the Republican Party that should I file for a third term, there would be a $1 million penalty. That’s how you initiate term limits if the state legislator want. If it’s good enough for the president and it’s good enough for the governor, it’s good enough for the mayor.

On transparency. I was sitting in a city council meeting last year and heard something that piqued my interest and digging into it more and more, I found out why the mayor abstained from a vote. The mayor, as you know, is an attorney. He paid his law firm $87,500 on a no bid contract with no public discussion for doing work on the bond issue for roads and bridges for last summer.

How many times has that occurred over the last 40 years? I promise you, this is not the first. We move money around and take money from people and put it into other things. Last year, the parking fund generated 4 million in revenue. The mayor took 2 million of that for special projects. He claims to have not increased your property taxes and yet look on your water bill.

You have $24 and 16 cents a month for sewer and trash fee. He voted just a couple of months ago to increase that by 18%. Additionally, he wants to take a portion of that sewer fee and use it for another purpose. He’s lobbying the state legislator to allow him to take part of the tax accommodations, uh, from hotels to use for a different purpose.

Money keeps moving around from one account to another, and there’s very little transparency in it. 15 years ago, we had a major ice storm. It tore down a lot of utility lines. We, the citizens, agreed to have a 1% fee, and Duke Energy would put in a half a percent each month, which comes from us, into this fee to bury power lines.

Where have we, where have we buried power lines? Haywood Road, Unity Park, and then developers downtown. Not in any neighborhoods. But each time a developer wants to build a hotel or a office building, funds from this account are appropriated for that. Next, our mayor wants to sell City Hall. City Hall is on Main Street.

It should stay on Main Street. It’s always been on Main Street. It may need a little renovation, but he wants to move to an office space where he can view the river. These are things I think the residents need to be paying attention to. Knox has had 40 years to build a legacy. A legacy is an ego. We don’t need that anymore.

We need somebody that’s gonna be in office, that’s gonna work for the residents, that’s gonna listen to the residents, and that’s gonna do what the residents want. We should have an elected representative, not an elected official. City hall needs to belong to the citizens, and when I’m the mayor, the citizens will have a say.

We would sit down and listen to citizens, and it starts by putting citizens on all these boards and commissions where there’s no special interest. I asked for your vote on June 13th to grow Greenville responsibly. We can do this together. We can have a better Greenville, but it starts with your vote and it’s important that you come out on June 13th.

Katy Smith: Thank you, Joe. Thanks for being with us today and for your interest in serving our community.

Joe Farmer: Thank you. I appreciate you hosting me.

Katy Smith: Next up alphabetically is incumbent Mayor Knox White.

Well, I’m delighted to be here with Mayor Knox White, who is running for reelection as the mayor of the City of Greenville. Thanks for being with us today.

Knox White: Glad to be here.

Katy Smith: Well, first please tell us about yourself and why you are running for reelection as mayor.

Knox White: Well, I’m kind of a rarity. I’m a native of Greenville, grew up off of Augusta Road, and I went to Christ School and Greenville High School. And um, been in public office, in public… public service for many, many years. And, um, I see myself as a uniter, not a divider. Part of my role as mayor is to bring people together to promote collaboration and partnerships, and we still do that really well in Greenville.

That’s something we don’t wanna lose. I’m running for mayor again because I love Greenville. I love my city, and I’m proud of the fact that other people are now proud of Greenville as well. Uh, we have great things going on. My goal has always been to make Greenville the most beautiful, livable and welcoming city in America.

I’ve kept that as my lodestar all along, and I still believe it.

Katy Smith: What do you believe are the biggest issues facing the city of Greenville?

Knox White: Well, there’s no question that starting around 2015, not not that long ago, we had a surge population. Now, just to put that in perspective, during most of my time as mayor for the past 40 years, the population of the city actually declined year after year. It’s hard for people to understand that, but that’s the reality.

The county was growing, but the city wasn’t. We had this big, big surge in population. So our, our issues have been for some time now all about growth. How we manage our growth. Um, how we grow is really the important issue. We’re in one of the most popular places in the whole country. South Carolina is the fourth fastest growing state in the nation.

So the growth is here. It’s a matter of how we deal with it. And that’s been our focus for some time. Uh, that means we focus on issues like public safety, maintaining a safe place to be. Here’s something that’s something very significant. Uh, as our population surged in after 2010, 2015, our crime has actually decreased.

That’s a stark contrast to cities across America and, and including our peer cities in South Carolina. Uh, we’re a safe city. It’s just an, it’s a great thing to know. Um, we focus on neighborhoods and maintaining our strong system of neighborhoods, and that’s one of our secret formulas as well. It’s one of the reasons people like to come here is because we have a great quality of life.

Katy Smith: Well, tell us what your priorities would be if reelected this year.

Knox White: Well, our priorities on City Council very much reflect what I just said, that we’re a growing community and how we grow is a paramount issue. So our priorities, and by that I mean where we put our money, where we invest, where we spend our time and energy. We focus on managing our growth. Everybody on City Council, and I mean everyone on City Council, shares that philosophy.

So we focus on number one, our neighborhoods. Uh, we we’re making record investments in our neighborhoods, and that’s things like sidewalk construction. We’re the only city in South Carolina that builds sidewalks, by the way. Uh, record numbers on the sidewalk construction, neighborhoods, walking trails, neighborhood parks have had more investment than ever.

Our traffic calming program is, is unique in South Carolina as well. People can come together and do something about their neighborhood safety issues and traffic calming program, the speed hums that some people love and hate. And also we’re investing in record amounts in road construction and repaving in the city.

We have a lot of state roads to deal with and county roads, but in terms of our city neighborhood roads, we’re putting a lot of money now into the repaving of those roads. So sidewalks, traffic calming roads, all of those things. And I might have one more, one more thing that we’re putting a lot more attention to last several years is burying utility lines in the city.

We have a great program that more, more people need to take advantage of a burying utility lines in neighborhoods. We’re also working to bury more on major corridors like Augusta Road and Laurens Road. So stay tuned on that. Uh, so neighborhoods first and foremost. Second is green space. I think one of the most important things that any city can do, much less Greenville, that’s facing record growth, is to be more attentive to green space.

If you don’t take advantage of opportunities now to establish parks and green space, you’ll never have the opportunity again. And when I go around the country and ask the question to cities that are larger than Greenville, like Raleigh and Charlotte, I always ask the same question. What, what would you have done differently?

And it’s amazing how they all say pretty much the same thing. Uh, two things they would focus on. Green space and parks. Well we created a 60 acre park called Unity Park and we have Falls Park, neighborhood Park. So we’re t… we’re grabbing that opportunity while we can. Um, but some cities miss an opportunity.

We’re also expanding the Swamp Rabbit trail. The new Laurens Road Trail will open shortly and, uh, get ready. There’s gonna be another addition to the swamp rabbit trail in the city. So we’re serious about expanding the Swamp rabbit trail in the city, Laurens Road and other places. Uh, we’re serious about green space and parks.

Those are two of our biggest priorities. And then finally, if you’re a growing community, whether it’s Greenville or any place else, you’ve gotta be attentive early on to affordable housing issues. We’re not alone in this. It’s an issue across the state of South Carolina. It’s an issue across the country, but Greenville is doing something that no one else is doing.

We’re, we’re investing more dollars, more investment in affordable housing than any city in South Carolina. By far. Our newest investments come to about $33 million working with various partners in the housing fund. Again, that’s the largest investment in affordable housing, outstripping Charleston, Columbia, anyplace else.

But we’ve been at this actually a long time. We, we started decades ago focusing on neighborhoods that need to be revitalized, working with Homes of Hope, Habitat for Humanity, lots of partners. Cause everything we do is partnerships. And we created over a thousand new homes in the city in the past decades, new, affordable houses.

And now we’re getting ready to kind of go in a different direction, focusing on really recreating entire neighborhoods. One of the best examples will be around Unity Park. Cause we built with Unity Park, we not only created 60 acres of new green space, making it safer and just a welcoming place for a whole community to come together, sending an important message.

But second, we’re also in Unity Park. We’ve established a footprint to create the largest amount of affordable housing in one place in the whole city. Cuz we’re gonna be building hundreds of new affordable housing units on the edge of Unity Park. And, and by the way, that’s, that’s, um, that’s very valuable property, the edge of Unity Park, but it’s owned by the city.

We decided several years ago to donate all of the properties that the city owns on the edge of Unity Park to the housing trust fund for affordable housing, and that’s what we’re getting ready to do. The first groundbreaking is gonna be coming up shortly, by the way. So we’re serious about addressing affordable housing in a creative and innovative way.

We’re, we’re looking in our zoning code and we just we’re in the middle of talking about that now. It’s gonna affect the, really, the whole pattern of how we develop in a city. It also is an example of asking other cities that are bigger than us, Charlotte, Raleigh, uh, Austin, Texas. What would you have done differently?

And they all said green space. Okay, we’re focused on that. Affordable housing, we’re on it. And third, look at your zoning code. Don’t grow like we did. Do whatever you can to stop the sprawl. So the new housing, the new development code is focused on that. It’s focused on fortifying residential neighborhoods of the city.

It’s focused on green spaces. It’s focused on opportunities to provide incentive for affordable housing in the right places. And finally, it’s gonna affect the entire pattern of how we develop. It’s not gonna allow out of control, commercial sprawl, and that is really the key. If you can control your sprawl, that means you’re gonna have less traffic congestion.

It means you’re gonna have neighborhood commercial where you want to have it, and you’re not gonna have things in the wrong place, if you will. So all these come together to focus on neighborhoods, strengthening neighborhoods, and making the city more livable.

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

Knox White: Well, when we talk about issues like, um, affordable housing, I just wanna touch on one other thing. Um, we also wanna see a lot of home ownership, so we’re gonna be focusing as well on affordable home ownership opportunities in our neighborhoods. Um, we’re also gonna be focused across the board on affordable housing down to the 30% AMI levels.

Um, that’s very important to us. We’re providing incentives, as I mentioned to developers, to provide more affordable housing. So we’re gonna take a very creative approach. And I just say that because if you wanna know why Greenville’s different, there you go. We take a different path. We do things that other cities simply don’t do, and that’s what people come here from out of town and just marvel at what we have here.

“How did you do this? How is the city so beautiful, so livable?” Now, those of us who live it here, day to day, you kind of think, well, you got a lot of traffic and such. But you know, we focus on things. So you talk about traffic, we built the parallel parkway for goodness sakes. People said that Woodruff Road was something that you couldn’t fix.

We fixed it. Uh, we’re gonna be looking for, we’re going to be more surging ahead with, um, creative approaches of traffic congestion and things like that because we do things differently. So I’m confident that we will be greener, we will be safer. We’ll have more housing opportunities in the years ahead than we ever, than any other city could do, because we just do things differently.

And, and finally, I would just say this about about Greenville and and why I’m so proud of it. I’m proud of Greenville because the kids are coming home, the grandchildren are coming back to Greenville. Young people see Greenville as a city of opportunity. They see a city of uncommon beauty with the parks and the river and all the, the great downtown.

And, and maybe that’s the thing I’m most proud of, uh, that we have a city that people are proud to say I’m from Greenville, South Carolina.

Katy Smith: Well, thank you so much for joining us, and thank you for your service to our community,

Knox White: Thank you very much. It’s a great honor.

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 This is a production of the Greenville Podcast Company.

Image via Joe Farmer & Knox White.

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