The Historic Rotary Club of Charleston was privileged to host a Candidates Forum moderated by Past Club Presidents Andy Brack and Mark Smith. Charleston County Council candidates Jenny Honeycutt, Joe Boykin, Herb Sass, and Donna Newton attended and were given an opportunity to answer questions from members.
Mark explained the format, which began with each candidate giving a 2 minute introduction. Each question would then be presented to one candidate to answer with others having an opportunity to respond or weigh in after the answer.
Jenny Honeycutt, candidate for District 9, began the introductions and described her 3 part platform: “Safe Roads, Smart Growth, and Sound Leadership”. She believes her support of the completion of I-526 played a large role in her primary victory over an 8 year incumbent.
Joe Boykin is running for District 8. He is a retired federal agent and local law enforcement officer. Joe responded to the Emanuel 9 shooting and many other significant cases. he said his campaign has united Republicans and Democrats and introduced his campaign manager Abe Jenkins, grandson of Esau Jenkins, the renowned civil rights leader from Johns Island.
Herb Sass is an incumbent representing District 1. He stressed the importance of quality of life that makes Charleston such a great place to live. It is what attracts so many to Charleston, but with this growth we need to make sure that the quality of life is maintained.
Donna Brown Newton, is running for District 2. Her background is in education with a long career working for Charleston County School District. She is a lifelong resident of the county and wants to control the rapid growth that she has witnessed in Mount Pleasant and the rest of the county.
The first question was to Ms. Honeycutt regarding flooding. Ms. Honeycutt said she has been talking to organizations such as Charleston Waterkeepers and Charleston County Public Works and there are creative measures that can be taken to reduce flood risk that need to be employed. Also proper maintenance of outfalls and ditches needs to be addressed.
Mr. Boykin was asked a question about how Council could be a better steward of the public’s tax dollars. He said he thought the Council has not done their required due diligence in the past on many matters, citing the Naval Hospital and the new Recycling Center. He felt it was important to get a Recycling Center that can to serve the three counties, even if that meant delaying the completion. Donna Brown Newton said she thought more studies were needed on use of the Naval Hospital. That there are needs in the area, often cited as a “food desert”, and the central location of the site should be attractive for other uses.
The next question was about what things can be done to improve the Public School System. Mr. Sass said that having educated workers for our thriving economy is critical and that we have to support public schools to make that happen. Ms. Newton said that charter and magnet schools need to be looked at. She did not think that students in rural parts of the county are being served well by the current system. Mr. Boykin stressed the importance of vocational training in schools which was well received by the crowd.
Ms. Newton was asked about how to manage growth. She said we need to expand public transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road. We also need to make sure that roads are built before the development, and she pointed to what has happened with SC 41 in her district. Developers need to be responsible for impacts of development. Joe Boykin mentioned that we need to look into a Public Facilities Ordinance to better ensure that developers are participating in getting infrastructure to support the added people and vehicles that their developments bring in.
A question was asked to Jenny Honeycutt about whether she supported term limits – she responded yes and there was concurrence among all the candidates in support of term limits.
Another flooding question was asked to Joe Boykin. He stressed the importance of maintenance, and that sometimes it is a challenge to determine whether county, DOT, or a municipality is responsible for an easement. He also said the practice of building up areas within flood zone with dirt to get above flood elevation has a negative impact on surrounding areas. Homes need to be elevated but not by fill dirt. Mr. Sass said much progress has been made since the 2015 flood in identifying many easements that were not being maintained and getting those on the list for maintenance.
Herb Sass was asked about the Recycling Center and he explained that the director, who is no longer with the County, approved changes to the facility that caused the issue, but he believes the project is back on track to serve as regional recycling center.
Donna Brown Newton was asked if the County should impose taxes on the State Ports Authority. She said that would be fair considering the effects of the trucks on our roads. Mr. Boykin said he was not sure there would be a legal way to do that, since SPA is a state agency.
The question was asked to Jenny Honeycutt if completion of I-526 was critical. She reiterated that she fully supports completion. Joe Boykin said he supports the project as well, but did not think that any ½ cent sales tax funds should be used. Only funds left over from the original ½ cent sales tax, after completion of needed projects should be used. Donna Newton said she was opposed to completion of I-526.
Each candidate offered brief closing remarks. Donna Newton said she is not a politician and had not run for office before. She wants to represent everyone in the county, not just her District. Herb Sass said there is much work to do such as construction new libraries and ½ cent sales tax road program. Joe Boykin said it was important to bring integrity and common sense to council. Jenny Honeycutt said the county needs safe roads, smart growth and sound leadership and thanked the club for the opportunity to answer the important questions raised.
After the forum concluded, President Alex Dallas thanked Andy and Mark for the work they did putting together the program.