If you’ve never sat in a county council meeting, it is normally business-minded and professionally administered.
If you were there on Tuesday night, you saw none of the above. What you saw was a cross between a 3-ring circus, an episode of The View and an NWA wrestling promotional between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes on Saturday morning TV in the 1980’s.
Council members Joe Wood and Stewart Jones sparred for over a quarter of the 2-hour meeting. The ill will and hard feelings stemmed from discussion in executive session a few weeks ago to provide insurance to outgoing Sheriff Ricky Chastain for two years at his expense, a failed attempt to get RFPs to privatize EMS and an op-ed piece penned by Jones that was published on GoLaurens.com and The Clinton Chronicle.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about what was said in the meeting because you can read about it in the story published on GoLaurens.com, titled “Sparks fly as Wood is re-elected chairman of County Council.”
My issue is how the meeting was conducted. The meeting started with a nearly seven-minute rant by Wood about Jones and the legality of the decision to offer Chastain insurance.
Next, an attorney and a representative of Upstate Forever spoke to council about the proposed Dominion pipeline slated to go through Laurens County. Their opinion is that it is no good for Laurens County and is a pipeline that is not needed. They also spoke about what happens to property owners that may be in the line of the pipeline.
When they finished talking, Wood challenged them on the truthfulness of what they said. He came across as a bully and basically said that this pipeline may bring Laurens County $1 million in revenue so every other point is moot.
Jones spoke up in opposition of Wood and was quickly called on a point of order. I’ve covered county council for nearly 10 years and have very seldom seen a point of order invoked. It happened nearly eight times on Tuesday night.
The final showdown was in the councilmember’s comments at the end of the meeting. Jones challenged Wood on several points and even angrily pounded his fist on the desk at one time. Wood went on a 10+ minute rant about the op-ed article and ended his comments by telling Jones to “grow up”.
Open forum is not the time or place to air your dirty laundry, defend your honor or challenge someone to a fight at recess. The world is truly watching us now to see if they want to come to our county.
Laurens County is in need of growth. We need jobs and we need industry. We should be what Rock Hill is to Charlotte or what Chapin is to Columbia. We are not even close to being that with our neighboring Greenville. We seem to be sitting still while everyone else around us flourishes.
If I had $50 million and I was looking to locate my business in Laurens County and I went to the county council meeting on Tuesday night, I would have run out of that room like my hair was on fire and never looked back. Parts of the meeting were vindictive, self-serving and childish.
At times, I was embarrassed to be sitting in that meeting. I was embarrassed for the attorney and the Upstate Forever representative because they were disrespected by Chairman Wood.
The City of Clinton and the Laurens County Development Corporation are laying groundwork for future growth. I applaud them for that but it is a team effort. Laurens County Council has to be an asset in those dealings but right now they seem to be a liability.
I talked with a local contractor recently about their work and they said that most of their industrial work is outside of the county. They are working with automotive suppliers that feed a BMW plant that is right up the road from Laurens County. The problem is those companies are taking their business to outlying areas of the Upstate not named Laurens County.
The success of landing Sterilite and ZF Transmissions is a thing of the past. While surrounding counties have added jobs and announced big investments, Laurens County seems to be lagging behind. It’s now time to snag our next big fish and county council needs to come together to make that happen.