Forum features 5 rivals for Hartsville mayor

From left, Hartsville mayoral candidates Casey Hancock, Rev. Jim Blue, Justin Evans and Jordan Flowers. (Not pictured: Stephen Peterson.) PHOTOS BY BOBBY BRYANT

During a break, Hartsville mayoral candidate Stephen Peterson kneels down on the stage to talk with a member of the audience.

Candidates Rev. Jim Blue and Justin Evans converse during a break.

(From left to right): Candidates Rev. Jim Blue, Justin Evans and Jordan Flowers.

(Left to right): Candidates Stephen Peterson and Casey Hancock.

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

In fast-paced rounds of short questions and short answers that ran nearly two hours, Hartsville residents met the five candidates for the city’s mayor in a forum at Center Theater Oct. 5. It wasn’t intended as a “debate,” organizers made clear – the candidates could only take questions from the moderator; they were not allowed to interact with each other or with the audience of about 200 people. Time limits on their brief answers were measured by a series of lights, with a red light meaning time’s up. The setup allowed the moderator to throw 18 questions at the candidates, ranging from why they are running to succeed longtime Mayor Mel Pennington, who is not running again, to how they would make the city safer to how they would deal with economic development to their feelings on COVID mandates. We’ve broken down the answers by candidates. Here is some of what they said at the forum, organized by the Hartsville Chamber of Commerce. Candidates are in alphabetical order.

REV. JIM BLUE has been pastor of 2nd Missionary Baptist Church in Hartsville for 38 years; he is making his first bid for office. “The hour has arrived for change,” said Blue, adding that some parts of the fast-growing city have been neglected too long and that he wants to see “one” Hartsville, not two. He wants Hartsville to pay more attention to those in need: “There are so many people that are less fortunate than we are,” he said. “When night comes, and you really don’t have nowhere to lay your head, that’s a bad thing.” Blue wants the city to have “the same vision.” He wants to raise police officers’ salaries. “We need to make sure we are safe. And if we are safe, then we feel much better about our city and about ourselves.” Blue said he feels that everybody should have a chance to own a home, because that builds pride and respect. “I believe we all want the best quality of life for others and ourselves.” On COVID, Blue said: “This is a serious matter. People are dying. … Children are dying. … Business and employees, you make your own decisions. But be safe. I’m going to wear my mask.” As mayor, he said he would look to the people for advice and counsel, and said he would not allow his religion to interfere with his decisions. “I will be fair, honest.”

JUSTIN EVANS describes himself as an entrepreneur who has worked with three S.C. governors. He wants a more business-friendly environment, with more public safety. He said officials need to address “how sometimes difficult it can be for business to do business with the city. … How many people who want to open businesses give up?” Public safety is paramount, Evans said. “If you don’t have safety – if you don’t feel comfortable to spend your money in this community — it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to have that kind of (economic) development.” He said “there are possibilities” for economic development, but it has to start with the right environment. On COVID, Evans said he relies on “personal responsibility.” He said: “If you don’t feel comfortable being outside without a mask on, wear a mask. If you feel like you need the vaccine, talk to your doctor.” He added: “It bothers me to see how so many people are so willing to wait on government to tell them to do something, than to take the action upon themselves. So with that said, I don’t think the city should have much of a role at all” in COVID mandates. He said he has “a tremendous amount of resources” to call upon for advice as mayor. Asked if religion would interfere with his work as mayor, he said nothing, personal or political, would interfere.

JORDAN FLOWERS, a lifelong Darlington County resident, runs a furniture company. Why is he running? “To bring consistent and clear fiscally conservative leadership to Hartsville, again our bedrock principle that you know what to do with your money better than any government ever could and the sincere belief that currently our city government takes too much of your money. If we ever want to rein in our exorbitant property taxes and burdensome water rates, the only way to do that is to pay down our debt and cut our spending.” “Red tape” is making it harder to recruit businesses than it should be, he said, and that includes “permits and zoning.” Who would he turn to for advice? “The taxpayers of the city of Hartsville. Your advice and counsel is the only one that matters.” On COVID, Flowers said: “I have no issue with any private business instituting restrictions on their own property, be it masking, vaccine mandates, or a ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service’ policy, but I don’t think there’s any role for the government there without infringing on individual liberty and property rights.” “I think we have to focus on water, sewer, roads and public safety and everything else has to take a back seat until we get our debt situation under control,” Flowers said. Asked if religion might interfere with his post as mayor, he said, “I can’t separate my faith from my business as mayor, or anything I do, for that matter.”

CASEY HANCOCK is an IT consultant and part owner of Wild Heart Brewing Co. in Hartsville. “I’m running for mayor because I love this place,” he said. Hancock said he has done his homework on city government and how it operates. “I’ve served you, this town, for many years” by serving on various boards and committees. “It’s allowed me to get a better understanding of how things work.” On COVID, he said, “I was very proud” of the city’s response to the pandemic, because “city services were not interrupted.” Asked if religion might interfere with his duties as mayor, Hancock said he was confident that he would not let anything “cloud my judgment when making decisions for the city of Hartsville.” (Apparent microphone problems made many of Hancock’s remarks difficult to hear.)

STEPHEN PETERSON is pastor of Great Commission Deliverance Baptist Church in Hartsville and also runs a vehicle-detailing service. “The first thing I would address is all the senseless killing that’s been going on in Hartsville,” he said. “Our young men” must rise above violence; we must “give them hope. Give them hope that when they wake up in the morning, they have something to look forward to.” Asked what the city might do to help or to work more closely with area schools in the Darlington County School District, Peterson said he felt there was not much the city or the mayor could accomplish in that regard. “That’s what they have a superintendent for,” he said. Should the city issue COVID mandates? “It’s really not up to the government. … It’s up to us as individuals,” Peterson said. Asked who he would turn to for advice in the job of mayor, Peterson said, “The mayor is just one person.” He said he would look to County Council and other local government officials, perhaps state Sen. Gerald Malloy, or anyone who has influence in the community. Asked if religion would interfere in his work as mayor, Peterson said no. “I’m straightforward. … No personal problems, no business problems, even church problems,” would interfere with the job.

Author: Stephan Drew

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