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Richburg Mayor candidates Q&A

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Editor’s note: We asked five questions of the two candidate for mayor of Richburg, incumbent Mayor James Harris and challenger Gerald Hensley. What follows are their answers. The election is Nov. 7.

  1. Please give us a brief biography.
  2. With all of the new industry choosing to locate in and around the S.C. Highway 9 corridor, the Town of Richburg is poised at the very forefront of growth in Chester County. As mayor, what do you see as your role in this?
  3. What do you see as the future of the town in the next five years?
  4. If elected to the office of mayor, how will you be accessible and accountable to your constituents, even the ones that may not have voted for you?
  5. If elected, what will be your first action once you are sworn in as mayor?

James Harris

1. Mayor James Harris has announced he is running for his fifth term as mayor of the Town of Richburg. A strong community leader, Mr. Harris is known in the Richburg community for his passion to move the town forward. Having worked for many years in the Lewisville area schools, he is a strong advocate for young people because they are our future. Mr. Harris serves on both Lewisville Middle and High School SIC/PIA boards. He volunteers on the Chester County Relay for Life team. In 2015 and 2016, he worked with Megan Williams, founder of the non-profit Megan Williams Foundation, to gather coats for the Chester County Sheriff’s Department. He has also worked with Sheldon Brown’s non-profit organization, Brown’s Corner, with F.A.S.T. (Families and Schools Together), where he worked with high school students and parents. Mr. Harris is a member of the non-profit PACCC (Progressive Association of Chester County Communities) organization. He is an active member of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, where he is a deacon, Sunday school teacher, Bible study teacher and church clerk. During his time as Richburg Mayor, Mr. Harris was instrumental in working with the town council donating $25,000 to the Richburg Fire Department for a tornado warning system for our area, and he chaired the committee to verify the correct residential and business address identification numbers to comply with the local 911 system. He was a driving force in saving the Richburg Post Office in July 2014 when he personally wrote and hand-delivered a letter to each business, church and individual in our community in an effort to have a substantial group of people supporting our Post Office. Mr. Harris also co-chaired the committee to organize the 125th Anniversary of the Town of Richburg’s incorporation in 1889, and recently he oversaw the purchase of 107 and 109 Broad Street (Post Office) by the Town of Richburg – another effort to save our Post Office. In 1989, he was appointed to serve on the first Richburg Planning and Zoning Board. A few years later he was elected to the Richburg Town Council where he served until the death of the late Mayor John B. McCrorey in 2008. He successfully ran for Mayor in September 2008, and he will be entering his 10th year as Mayor if elected for another term.

“I would like to continue to improve safety, create fair and equitable community development, continue to support our local public education system, and foster grass-roots economic development. I would also like to continue to build on the relationships we have with the citizens of Richburg, neighboring towns, the county and the state. I believe I have the best combination of leadership experience, skills and ambition to lead Richburg forward during this next era of prosperity and challenges. This election is not about one person; it is about the Town of Richburg and its citizens. Richburg is a beautiful, serene small town with good people that I am proud to call home.”

 

2. As Mayor of Richburg, my role, along with the Richburg Town Council, will be to work with Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart, the Chester County Council and Chester County Economic Development Director Karlisa Dean to help attract residential and industrial growth to this area and to work to promote the economic, environmental and social well-being of Richburg and the surrounding area. We are all striving to make the area along the Highway 9 corridor and the areas around Exits 62 and 65 and the Town of Richburg a place that people will want to visit, to live and to work.

 

3. The future of the Town of Richburg in the next five years is to continue participating in controlled growth with a strong balance between residential and industrial development for the benefit of the residents who live here and for those who come to work here each day.

 

4. I believe there will always be accountability to the citizens and to the Town. Everyone has the right to vote for the candidate of their choosing. Although I may not receive everyone’s vote, they will all receive equal representation. Even though I work out of town, I am always accessible by cell phone, i.e. text messages, emails or voice communications. The town citizens are invited to attend the regular monthly meetings of the Richburg Town Council where they can sign up for Citizen Comments and voice their concerns.

 

5. On October 31st the Town purchased 107 and 109 Broad Street. The first action I would take after being sworn in as Mayor would be to begin making plans with the Town Council on how to best utilize the space at 107 Broad Street for the citizens of the Town and to make any necessary renovations to it and also the Post Office at 109 Broad Street. I would also like to continue working with the Town Council, Planning and Zoning Board and the Board of Appeals as a team to make the Town of Richburg the best it can be.

Gerald Hensley

1. I respectfully present my educational background and experience. I have been granted two doctoral degrees – clinical (O.D.) from Indiana University and an academic (Ph.D.) from Florida State University. I also have two post-doctoral degrees (M.P.H.) in public health administration and (M.P.H.) epidemiology (study of the origin and distribution of diseases) from the University of South Carolina. My professional experience consisted of providing clinical care, establishing and administering health care facilities, detached duty advising Army and Coast Guard health personnel and conducting specialized aeromedical research in the Air Force for 26 years. I retired as a lieutenant colonel.

My local and state community service began with Hurricane Hugo when I provided the only communications between the state EPD and Charleston for the governor's office for 30 continuous hours. Later, I became an original member of the county LEPC, one of the first state CERT trainers and served on the county Library Board, 4-H Board and the Chester Red Cross Board. I was also a graduate of two Chester County Palmetto Leadership programs. Regarding Richburg, I co-authored the first town zoning regulations and recently served on the town council. In 2016, I graduated from the year-long elected officials program sponsored by the South Carolina Municipal Association. I have been a resident of Richburg since 1986 when Patricia McCrorey and I were married.

 

2. A mayor, by definition, is the "chief executive official of a city, town or village." He is the visible representative of a community and becomes the conduit through which his community interacts and communicates with other communities and agencies. The mayor is usually one of the first contacts with any business or industry, and many times even a prospective resident of the area. And, as we all know, the "first impression" usually counts most in any encounter. The atmosphere that the mayor creates does set the tone for future economic development. Based upon my prior accomplishments, which have included daily interaction with business, professional and military personnel, I have the ability to encourage others to develop a favorable opinion regarding the Richburg area.

The mayor must also willingly accept the responsibility for long-term planning for the future of his community and analyze the trends and conditions that are developing outside the immediate area. Industry and others outside the town limits must view the town as being progressive and ready to expand and include them within the incorporated area. In doing so, he must be steadfast in the face of indecision or discord resulting from shortsighted goals or agendas of others. The continued welfare of the town and its citizens must be the primary concern for the mayor.

 

3. The area of the town of Richburg consists of approximately 3.1 square miles. It has neither a business section nor a residential section. It does not have any planned town budget due to inadequate taxation. Its growth is stymied due to a lack of planned annexation. It does not even have a stoplight. If this situation continues, Richburg may not even exist in five years.

On the other hand, Richburg does have a county sheriff substation, a county EMS substation, an outstanding volunteer fire department, a post office, a public park and citizens who, given the opportunity and knowledge, have the desire to improve their town. However, Richburg must follow a new leadership that will utilize the inherent wisdom of the people. A desire for progress and expansion which enables all citizens to participate equally in this endeavor must be created. This will only occur with a complete transparency regarding transactions which are anticipated or are occurring. No longer can only a few profit while the majority are unaware of any activity. If these changes are implemented, I believe that the year 2022 will result in a visibly stronger and more cohesive community.

 

4. Historically, Richburg's longest serving mayor, John Boyd McCrorey, maintained personal direct access with his constituents. He worked in the town grocery store, and many people would talk with him daily. Although Mr. McCrorey has passed and the grocery store is now the town hall, the concept is still valid and should be utilized.

I would establish weekly times during which the town hall would be open to the public. During these periods, I would be present to discuss any items deemed important to the residents. In my opinion, trust in a mayor can only be established through face-to-face contact. Of course, my telephone number and e-mail address would be published, but I would strongly invite the citizens to speak with me personally.

Elected officials only function as an extension of the will of the people. They are legally obligated to listen and are directly accountable to their constituents. These procedures enable conducting business in a transparent manner, and, if changes are necessary, they must also be able to perform these objectively and without bias. Actually, elected town officials must be continuously evaluated for their qualities that "determine merit, desirability, usefulness or importance."

 

5. At this time, the population of Richburg is small enough to gather at one location and become a unified voice in conducting town business. Elected officials are only representatives for the citizens when populations are too large to conduct business. When possible, direct representation will allow a true democracy. I would schedule an open town hall meeting as soon as possible to enable this to occur. The town citizens must realize that the elected officials work for them and can only make decisions that reflect their desires.