Spartanburg looks like a sleepy little town. There are few controversies here, unless I start them, and you would not expect to find a swamp where there is apparently little sign of disagreement between the people and the leadership. But this was a textile town and the middle class here was probably rather small and smart people kept their opinions to themselves. That seems to have carried on to the present.
Not so long ago, the local newspaper published my opinion pieces, but only rarely did I get any feedback on them until the paper started publishing online. In 2015, when I wrote about local church plans to begin welcoming former refugees mostly from U.N. camps in Africa and the Middle East, comments on the article were almost singularly critical of these plans and the paper unceremoniously cut off comment. I had never seen so many comments in that forum and I had never seen comments cut off after only a few days.
Spartanburg is not DC, but it seems determined to be the swampiest small town in South Carolina. As in Washington, elected officials answer, not primarily to their constituents, but to those who support them. The city fathers are not well-paid, but dollars are not the coin of the government realm – that coin comes in the form of influence and influence increases as government has more and more money to spend with vendors and contractors who can reward them, or their sponsors, in some way.
Oligarchs never consult the people, but wise oligarchs pretend to do so. Thus, the paper is wiser than the government. Our government oligarchs are particularly unwise as they do not even pretend to care what we think, even in a place like Spartanburg where the majority of people are intelligent and have fairly good opinions. Here is some evidence of oligarchical behavior.
In 2014, after numerous indignant meetings and 4,000 signed petitions (in a city of 30,000 souls), the inner- city school district allowed the city, which was administering the district’s beautiful and well-built, HUD funded, indoor pool, to be closed, blown up, and buried. There was very little real public discussion about the pool, no investigative journalism, and no one seemed take ownership. I asked the Superintendent of Education who owned the pool, and he said he did not know. When I researched this issue and brought him the public documents showing the district as clearly the owner of the pool, he seemed embarrassed and said, “I know we own the pool.”
The official reasons given for destroying this fine pool was to save the city $500,000 per year in operating costs (after 30 years, county residents, who outnumber city residents 8:1 still outnumber city residents when it comes to pool use—surprise, surprise) and to avoid huge repair expenses, which turned out to be only $10,000 to replace the pool lining and refill the pool. I know because I found a buyer for the pool and he assessed the cost of getting it ready to use again.
Now, just three years later, the city wants to spend many millions of dollars to build a new pool on the north side of the city, between two excellent colleges. To make room for their dream community, the oligarchs have moved out the poor and replaced their homes. I guess you might call it “urban renewal.” The goal appears to be a community composed of college faculty, students, and newly re-settled former refugees. The area where the pool used to be is in the dead center of the city, convenient to all and close to the projects. That made it convenient for even poor kids to get to swimming lessons and summer programs at the pool. For now, at least, there is no indoor nor comparable outdoor public pool. If the Northside pool gets built, it will probably not be used for summer programs for kids in the projects and the high percentage of swimmers that Spartanburg has now, will drop.
When the county discovered that the mold problem in the courthouse was irremediable since due to water problems stemming back to the time of purchase, the only solution it could find was to build a new building. Since the city also had building needs, they decided to build shared offices and parking lots in the city and county and fund both with a $200 plus million-dollar tax increase. For years government officials have complained about the lack of a good tax base in the city because most prime real estate is occupied by nonprofits. Some or all of the new government buildings could have been built outside of the city, especially those that are supposed to house county, or city and county functions, but then lawyers might be inconvenienced or worse, the cheaper costs might mean less money for the oligarchs to spend.
Business taxes and start-up costs are high in Spartanburg, both in time and money, and that is probably the main reason we have relatively few businesses downtown. But should a business want to locate here, in spite of the barriers we put in the way, it would be helpful to have some property available. Just recently the city gave away seven acres of land between a park and a hotel to a company from Florida planning to build “luxury apartments.” They only needed 2 acres, but our generous city council gave them 7. And do we really need to replace five buildings?
In 2015, Spartanburg High sprung a leak in its roof and a new high school seems to be the only solution considered. It was not hard to convince students that they also needed their own $50 million-dollar stadium ($50 million plus tens of thousands annually to insure and maintain it). Currently the district rents Wofford College’s Division I stadium that is only about four miles away. Wofford charges enough to cover maintenance and personnel for the Friday-night home games, and makes the high school students welcome; it certainly doesn’t make money, and contra statements by school officials, Wofford never suggested ending the relationship.
The school district decided to borrow $189 million and raise taxes to fund the building of a new high school and football field, renovating the old high school to accommodate the middle school, replacing two elementary schools, and building a new, two-story elementary school to accommodate the 600-800 students displaced from the two elementary schools that are closing. The inner city is not growing and none of this seems necessary to this pro-education observer or to most of the people here who understand the facts, and not the propaganda.
Absent a very few letters to the editor, there was no balanced public discussion about the need for the additional property tax to fund the new school buildings. Those in opposition were painted as anti-education, including myself, a life-long educator, wife of an educator, daughter of an educator and the mother of an educator. When a public forum was announced a week before the referendum, I noticed there was no one opposed on the panel and volunteered. The editor of the local paper was the moderator, but he did not moderate. He allowed a state representative to accuse me of racism for not campaigning in the black churches like the Superintendent had been doing for over a year. But I and most of Spartanburg only learned about the planned referendum a couple of months before — and frankly, I was not invited, but I did campaign in the majority black precincts. In short, the forum was anything but fair.
But hey, these are mostly just money and trust issues unless you count the personal cost many disabled people have faced losing their warm therapy pool, or the discomfort of the high school swim team which now swims outside even though it was one of the specific groups for whom the school district originally requested HUD grant money to build the pool. And then there are fire fighters, police, ROTC programs, swim teams, boy scouts, children and future life guards needing swim lessons, and the summer programs that kept children entertained every day of the summer for $1.00 or $2.00 per day and the minority population being displaced from their homes and in some cases from their jobs. Also, the school district is spending money on bricks and mortar instead of on real education – that’s another loss.
But worse than these gross missteps are the resolutions this city adopted last Monday night. These were drawn up and read by the City Manager and in the name of the Mayor (who was absent): 1) “Affirming the City of Spartanburg’s Commitment to Encourage All Residents, Civic Institutions, Businesses and Partners to Promote Policies and Practices to Support a Neighborly Community,” (this is another way of announcing a desire to be a Sanctuary City) and 2) “In Support of Extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and Permanent Legal Status for Dreamers.”
Fortunately, we are getting a new council member, Max Hyde – a very smart, conservative lawyer. He will have his work cut out for him. In the hope that we citizens can help, the old Boiling Springs Tea Party, now recommissioned as the “Real Spartanburg Tea Party” will be there to encourage our new councilman and hold our own representatives accountable. In 2009, the Boiling Springs Tea Party was pushed aside by an aggressive Spartanburg Tea Party which has now lost its leadership. The leader has reinvented herself as a paid GOP consultant and helped rally support for the two huge tax increases mentioned above. Worse, she helped elect a Republican County Chairman who joined with her and the Chamber of Commerce in promoting the latest tax increase. (Full disclosure, I was once a chamber of commerce employee – Manager of International Trade.)
The Real Spartanburg Tea Party is going to have its first meeting this coming Wednesday. We’ll discuss the issues we want to work on initially – Smart Meters, DACA, Sanctuary Cities, taxes, and Common Core are all on the list, but that’s just my list; I want to know what you are interested in. Please come and help us.
Since I only live in one city, I do not know if my city is unusual, but I am fairly confidant it is not. I am guessing our city manager goes to city manager meetings and gets ideas to bring back to Spartanburg.
What’s happening in your city?