UNION — A somewhat heated debate covered issues surrounding the City of Union’s mayoral election.
USC Union hosted a debate — co-sponsored by WBCU — between candidates for the position of Mayor of the City of Union — incumbent Mayor Harold Thompson and challengers Torance Inman and Mike Stevens.
All three candidates’ passion in regard to the city and the issues at hand were apparent. As questions were answered, candidates were seen shaking their heads in disagreement with each other, anxious to defend their own views.
At one point, Inman responded to a statement made by Stevens by saying, “I think you misunderstand.”
Stevens replied by telling Inman, “You’re being very condescending with your comments, sir, and I resent it.”
“And that smile looks just like Joe Biden,” he added.
“Bless your heart,” Inman replied.
A number of issues were addressed during Thursday’s debate, one of which being building ordinances and inspections for business owners in the city limits.
Stevens said he has spoken with business owners who are unhappy.
“We are going to have to clear some bureaucratic hurdles,” Stevens said, explaining that he believes the city is cramping opportunities for business owners.
Thompson pointed out that the law has to be followed and cannot be changed overnight. He said that not abiding by codes and skirting the law would pose a dangerous liability in such cases as federal grant funding.
“I will not put the city in jeopardy by skirting the law,” Thompson said, explaining that he has instructed the city building inspector to follow codes to the letter. “Years ago, we did have a building inspector who would throw the book at one guy and let another guy do what he wanted. It looks like we want to slip back into it and we will end up in the same mess we just got out of. You’ve got to treat everybody the same.”
Inman said problems can arise in interpretation of codes.
“Sometimes we don’t apply the lattitude we should in terms of interpretation,” he said.
Inman went on to say there is no question that downtown is the centerpiece of the county and that everything that can be done to beautify and upgrade the area should be done to bring in more business.
Inman mentioned that the old Super 10 building has been renovated and weatherized in hopes of it becoming a spec building. He said the building could house an upscale restaurant, bistro or gift shop in conjunction with the future cultural/events center.
The center was the subject of much discussion as Inman and Thompson are both in favor of the center, while Stevens is adamantly opposed.
“I searched to find a reason to support this, but my questions have not been answered,” Stevens said.
Stevens said that the estimated cost of the construction is over $3 million, of which only a little more than $2 million has been raised. He said that during interviews with civic center managers, they indicated their venues operate with a deficit and municipalities make up the difference.
“I do not want to hang this albatross around the neck of the people of Union,” Stevens said. “It’s bad timing. It’s a wonderful idea, but it’s something they can’t afford.”
“I totally disagree,” Thompson replied, explaining that he believes the center would alleviate some of the leakage of people traveling outside the county for dining, entertainment and shopping.
“We’ve got a real good opportunity to stop some of the leakage with our own event center,” Thompson said, mentioning that some people don’t support the center simply because they are not a part of the chamber committee for it.
“One half of the people on the committee don’t even live in the city limits, and they’re making decisions for the people who do.” Stevens said.
Thompson pointed out that many of the business owners who complain about ordinances also live outside the city.
Inman pointed out a need he has experienced as director of the Union County Chamber of Commerce. He mentioned a meeting he attended which included people from commerce, the Council on Government, Upstate Alliance, Ten at the Top, as well as others. The meeting was held in the basement of City Hall.
“I looked around the room and said, ‘Is this the best we’ve got?’” Inman said. “At the time it was.”
Inman pointed out that conferences are an important part of attracting new business.
“We don’t have anywhere to conduct a business meeting or have a conference of any kind without imposing on this university or a church somewhere,” Inman said. “It’s important that we’re able to do that. Now, if we’re going to assemble more than 25 people, we’ve got a problem.”
Both Thompson and Stevens mentioned that they had spoken with local business owners who feel that the Union County Chamber of Commerce has failed them. Inman — currently the director of the chamber — replied. He mentioned that the chamber was the driving force in applying for a million-dollar grant to fund upgrades to facades on Main Street. Inman said the chamber did the legwork for then-city administrator Charles Potts.
“When I came to work on the chamber, there were no benches on Main Street; there were dead pigeons in the windows. You had to duck to go into Arthur State Bank,” Inman said. “It’s not the chamber’s job to market every single business. We are there to market businesses as a whole and the city as a whole.”
Thompson mentioned positive items such as the work of the tourism commission and the growth of the Uniquely Union Festival, which he said will expand and become the city’s marquee event.
“We can’t do it alone We can’t do it by bickering with each other,” Thompson said. “This is what I’m trying to avoid. We are all in this thing together, and if we don’t stick together, we will fall apart. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as we’re in this thing together.”
At the end of Thursday’s debate, questions and comments were accepted from the floor. Building and business owner Louis Jordan brought up the cost of renovating his building — which housed Pizza Inn at one time — for El Poblano Mexican Restaurant to move in. Jordan said the current codes do not address angle parking, and five parking spaces had to be eliminated due to the change.
“We could have appealed it and kept the restaurant out of operation for another three months, but that’s no way to do business,” Jordan said, pointing out that he has experience in retail business. “I know what it takes to do business. This community has lost 2,500 members of the population in the last 20 years. We better think before we go into any of these projects we’re talking about now.”
Jordan held in his hands results of IRS tax filings for Union, which he called devastating.
“I’m 77 years old and I don’t have to worry about it, but I cannot see anybody coming into Union and doing much building in the future,” he said.
Ann Stevens also made a comment, saying that she hopes all bodies of government within the county will be able to work together. She asked the candidates their thoughts about a possible curfew within the city and the prospect of more after-school programs. Each of the candidates said they are in favor of after-school programs, but opposed to curfews unless a situation arises that warrants such action.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.