Seven Conwayites are vying Tuesday for three seats on the Conway City Council. Incumbents Tom Anderson and Larry White are seeking re-election, and one seat was left vacant with former councilman Ashley Smith resigned to take over the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Larry White, one of two incumbents on the council seeking re-election, hopes he’ll get another nod from Conway voters.
White, who has served two, almost three, terms on council agrees that the top two issues on Conwayites’ minds are flooding and rapid growth.
White is pragmatic about fixing flooding, saying Conway can’t do it alone. It’s going to take the cooperation of the state, county, federal government and the Corps of Engineers. He’d even like to see some North Carolina representatives join any efforts to fix the flooding problem because much of the floodwater from Hurricane Florence came from the Tar Hill State.
Rapid building is the second issue.
“How much are we going to allow to be built and where they’re going to be building,” he said, adding that nearby residents are worried about water runoff, which goes back to the flooding issue.
He wants state leaders to loosen up on their restrictions on impact fees so developers can pay larger and more flexible impact fees, large enough and flexible enough in what they can be spent on to keep the city from having to pick up the tab for extra police and firefighters needed due to development.
“It has to be legislatively done, but again we’ve got to have the conversation,” he said.
White is a graduate of Conway High School and Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C., where he studied education and played French horn in the band.
After graduation, he taught for 21 years at Socastee Middle School where he helped with the band and coached a good basketball team, he said.
Before retirement, he worked as a health educator for the Department of Health and Environmental Control and as an outreach and enrollment specialist with the Health Care Partners of South Carolina.
He is a lifelong member of Bethel AME Church.
White said he hopes that whoever is elected to council this time will work together with the current council to make Conway the great city that it needs to be.
After spending 16 years on the Horry County Council, eight of those as chairwoman, Conway native Liz Gilland has turned her focus to helping build Conway.
“I’m not doing enough to make a difference, so I tried to assess what it is that I’m most interested in…I think I do government well,” she said.
And she adds that without a family or career dominating her time she has plenty of time to devote to the Conway City Council.
“I really enjoy public service. I hate politics, but I like public service so I thought I’d toss my hat in the ring…,” she said.
Gilland says since she’s been campaigning and working to learn more about Conway and some of its current issues, she’s become more interested in the large number of empty buildings in the downtown area. She wants to find out why more stores aren’t filled.
“I wanted to look and see how welcoming the city made it for new businesses to come in and what I found out was people are really frustrated with the city,” she said.
She says people are telling her they don’t think the city is concerned about them. They point to the costs and copious regulations, she said.
She opined that perhaps one reason is the owners of Conway businesses want too much rent. She says she’d be happy to talk with them one-on-one to see what can be done to make the rents more affordable.
She’d also like to see the city make a move on the old Grainger Steam Plant property fearing that if Santee Cooper is sold, the city will not be able to buy or annex it.
She’s also found lots of concern among citizens about rapid growth and several large developments coming to the area – particularly the massive proposal for Collins Jollie Road and the new subdivision planned for the old Conway Golf Club property.
She thinks planners need to require larger retention ponds and, perhaps, piping to move water. She wants larger trees in new subdivision.
Gilland grew up in Conway, graduated from Conway High School and Columbia College.
If elected, Gilland says citizens can count on her to be fiscally responsible and open about what the city is doing.
“I think executive sessions ought to be rare. What the council does is the public’s business,” she said.
At one five-year stretch while she was chairwoman of the Horry County Council, she said, they didn’t have even one executive session.
“Conway is so much a part of me and I gave back to some extent at the county level. It would be a real joy to contribute more at the city level,” she said.
Former Conway City Councilman Randy Alford hopes to return to Conway City Council after a short hiatus.
Although some of Alford’s ideas about what council needs to prioritize are the same he’s always held, his ideas and the way to attack them have matured, he says.
During the current campaign, Alford says he’s heard a variety of complaints ranging from poor drainage to lighting and tennis courts. But one common concern that Conwayites share is flooding; the second is rapid growth.
Alford says the marketplace determines growth to some extent, but the city needs to be sure it preserves its cost per capita.
In other words, its officials need to determine how much they spend for each citizen, for instance, for police. Then when growth comes, they need to make sure that they’re guiding growth so the per capita cost of police work doesn’t exceed what it already is.
Water and sewer capacity also needs to be considered. There isn’t a tremendous demand on those services now, but they’re getting worse, he said.
He likes the idea of empowering neighborhoods to help lay out their plans for growth. For instance, if it is determined that a neighborhood can handle 500 homes, people will feel empowered and care more about their neighborhoods if they help determine where the homes will be built.
He’d like to see more long-term planning with officials determining where they’re headed in 10 years, with more factors considered than just lot size and density.
He wants to preserve the “classic” town, the oaks and buildings, but at the same time he wants to fill the vacant buildings around town, and not just downtown. He says there are vacant buildings all around the city.
He says vacancies can’t be filled by sending emails, There must be personal contact with owners to determine what the problems are. Perhaps the owners have set their rents too high.
“You’ve got to find out if their rates are reasonable, and if not, why not,” he said.
He also thinks realtors need to be factored into the mix as they try to help find tenants for the buildings.
Before he began this most reason campaign for council, Alford said he didn’t know much about flooding, but he’s been researching it recently.
He now believes that the city’s zoning regulations aren’t nearly strong enough to deal with flooding even from a heavy thunderstorm.
The open space requirements are miniscule, requiring a pond for runoff, which isn’t enough even for a thunderstorm.
The city needs to make sure that no one builds a house on hard clay; the ground’s surface needs to be soil.
He opposes overwhelming development, saying he recently read a book on the topic that influenced his thinking.
“It was very much opposed to development…There’s a lot of ways to make the town more livable, the quality of life higher and it doesn't involve development,” he said.
He sees the possibility of making development more cost prohibitive as one solution to slowing Conway’s rapid development.
He also wants to see a hazard mitigation plan, a FEMA-approved plan, because having a certified plan can save city residents money on their insurance.
He’d also like to see the city’s flood zones mapped out showing how people should leave and return in emergencies. There needs to be housing for people to stay in.
He’s also heard only a few people talking about crime, but says there is a website where residents talk about it.
He points to the Rebuild Conway program as one of his successes during his nine years on council, but says now that it didn’t go far enough. He says there is a direct correlation between the number of people who own their homes and crime in those neighborhoods. When homeownership nears 40 to 45 percent, crime goes down so he’d like to see programs on how to buy a house and how to manage it. He points to Spartanburg as one city that has scored success with a program like he has in mind.
“I am determined this time that we will do that, if I’m elected,” he said.
He says doing this is as easy as modeling what others have done.
“It’s not that hard. You just have to do it,” he said.
He’d like to see a one-person department created to tackle this task.
Alford promises that as a councilman he’ll research every issue. When people call, he’ll respond, and he’ll look for solutions for Conway and its residents.
“I certainly think there’s a lot of things that can be improved on, so there’s a lot of work,” he said.
Alford says he’s been in the same business for 25 years and he’s written three books.
Instead of retiring recently, he went back to work as the CEO of Carolina Coast insurance.
He and his wife, Dr. Siena Alford, have three sons. One is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, another is a graduate of the College of Charleston and the third is a student at the Horry County Schools Scholars Academy.
Conway City Council candidate Alex Hyman is already well schooled on Conway’s important issues.
As a member of the Conway Planning Commission and the 2040 land use committee, he’s been busy for some time trying to plan Conway’s future.
One big statistic that stand out to him comes from a study of the country’s metropolitan regions that ranks the Conway, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach area as the second fastest growing in the country for the third year in a row.
The study finds that 1,400 people a month are moving to this area.
Questions that Conway leaders need to answer are where will they put industry, commercial development and homes, according to Hyman.
He thinks officials need to be far reaching in their planning, not just in addressing Conway’s downtown area, but in other areas including Wild Wing, U.S. 378, Coastal Carolina University and the Country Club areas and even some of the areas that are in the county now that will eventually be coming into the city.
“You really have to have an overall outlook at what Conway might be in 20 years. It’s fun. It’s scary, but it’s fun,” he said.
Despite the overwhelming growth he wants to make sure that the characteristics that Conwayites love about their city will be preserved, while making sure that flooding is contained and new people are housed appropriately.
He says he’s been listening on the campaign trail and plans to continue to be a good listener.
“I hope to be the councilman that everybody can call. I hope to be the one that people can talk to,” he said. “I can’t make everybody happy at every point.”
He thinks perhaps being transparent and getting better information out to the public will help people understand what the city is facing and what its officials are working toward.
Facing the growth, deciding where to put businesses and what types of businesses the city wants must be done right, he said.
He puts Conway’s population at 25,000 today and says 30,000 is a size that can interest lots of businesses, even big box stores like Target.
One of his goals is to improve the looks of U.S. 501 and Sixteenth Avenue that he believes needs some refurbishment and rebuilding.
He is an active member of the Sertoma Club and Trinity United Methodist Church. The Conway attorney has a background in political science. He’s worked with the S.C. Department of Transportation and some legislators and was once an intern working with Senator Jim Hodges.
“I feel like I would be an asset…I feel like my greatest asset is probably preparation. I hope I’d be one that, if elected, I would come to meetings prepared and would also try not to be quick to formulate a decision on popularity, but to look at what is best for our community,” Hyman said.
He has seen the pain that flooding has caused Conway families and businesses and has even come up with his own plan to help reduce some flooding.
Hyman and his wife Tammi have two children.
Tom Anderson said this term, if he is elected, will be all about quality of life.
“My goal since the first time I was elected was to make Conway a place that my children would want to return to after college,” Anderson said.
Anderson has been a part of the city council for 20 years, and he said it is “a $45 million a year business”, and he is proud of the city’s fiscal responsibility and financial position at this time.
He said another one of his priorities is developing the old Whittemore Park school into a family life center, saying he wants to help “make people better.” Anderson referenced a similar upstate nonprofit facility called The Dream Center, whose mission statement says that they “serve those in need with a hand up instead of a hand out by encouraging, educating and empowering people.”
“They help make people better, and a rising tide raises all the ships,” Anderson said.
As for what he’d like to do about the rapid growth in the area, he said he wants to build on many things already in the works.
“Improving quality of infrastructure is part of that quality of life, and the bridge … is just as important,” Anderson said. “We need to put a way for water to be able to go underneath 501 business. That I believe will help alleviate flash flooding in addition to box culverts under 501 and 701. We’ve purchased hundreds of acres of property so water has somewhere to go. If we can make it where water can spread out, at a slow rate, then I think that will help flooding problems so much.”
There isn’t a magic answer though, he said.
“There’s not one answer to any of our problems. There are many things in place, and as they come together, I think it’s going to make it better,” Anderson said.
City council hopeful Barbara Eisenhardt said she has twelve years of township supervisor experience from her time in Pennsylvania, when she worked extensively with the Planning Committee, Water and Sewer Committee, Park and Recreation and Finance areas, and oversaw the needs of approximately 20,000 residents.
“We listened intently to their needs, wants and issues. I made it my personal vow to ensure that all voices were heard and that I was the best advocate I could be for all residents,” Eisenhardt said.
She also was an emergency room nurse for almost 30 years.
“Knowing how to collect information, evaluate the options and troubleshoot a problem led to my success as a nurse and as a 12-year township supervisor,” she said.
Eisenhardt said she has been out in the community meeting residents since August, and has been listening to the concerns of the citizens.
“Hearing what is important to you makes me the ideal candidate who will best serve the residents of Conway on city council,” Eisenhardt said.
The three things Eisenhardt would most like to accomplish on council are to ensure that open and transparent government is a priority and all city council meetings are televised; to say “no” to developers who expect to build more than the land can withstand, including charging developers impact fees, not existing taxpayers; and to restrict the amount of impervious surfaces to help prevent flooding.
In addition, she said over-development is bad for everyone.
“Some growth is good…restricting the amount of development and doing a better job to protect the environment will limit [growth] and will help to prevent flooding,” Eisenhardt said.
She added that strict enforcement of “infrastructure first before development” will ensure that any development built will have the resources (such as roads, schools, water and sewer), “so that existing taxpayers are not on the hook to pay for these much-needed resources.”
Justin Jordan said his experience working for 24 years in the medical equipment field dealing with government contracts and being a business owner for eight years can be an asset to Conway City Council.
He is also the co-founder of Conway Cares, a local nonprofit formed during Hurricane Florence to help flood victims. The group fed nearly 600 flood victims and adopted eight local families at Christmas, and continues to assist families in need from lawn care and meals to helping single mothers obtain needed baby supplies for their children.
Jordan also currently serves on the committee responsible for planning, building and designing the city’s new inclusive playground, raising over $100,000 in private funds.
“I’m just a local guy that has a true passion for service. I love our city and want to see it flourish for generations to come,” Jordan said.
One of his top three priorities, if he were elected, would be to curb flooding by working with local, state and federal resources to get Crabtree Canal “properly addressed, cleaned up and maintained.”
He would also improve the city’s stormwater ordinances and requirements.
“Currently we have the most lenient ordinance in Horry County. We need to get it on par [with other areas in the county],” Jordan said.
Jordan also joins Eisenhardt and Anderson in wanting to improve infrastructure.
“We must invest in our infrastructure that directly impacts the health and welfare of our citizens and environment. We have pump stations and waste water facilities in extremely vulnerable locations and we must address these immediately,” Jordan said.
He also notes that it is imperative that there be another way across the Waccamaw River, and supports the proposed Busbee Bypass.
“We currently only have four ways to cross the Waccamaw – two in Conway, one on Highway 9 and one on Highway 22. Two of those options flooded recently…” Jordan said. “We need to begin conversations and lobbying local, state and federal resources to get this project funded and built.”
In terms of dealing with the area’s quick growth rate, he noted that storm water, utility services, schools and roads need to be improved to handle the flow of traffic from future growth.
“Obviously we as a city cannot control some of these issues, so we must work closely with our county and state offices along with the school district to make sure that we are all on the same page to accommodate the continued growth,” Jordan said. “If we do not address these things, Conway as we currently know it will not be the same for our children and grandchildren.”