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Liveblog: Smith vs. Barrow

Below is an edited transcript of contributing writer Anthony Noel’s live blog of Saturday morning’s debate between candidates for Greenville’s District 1 city council seat.

(We’d hoped share this debate via live video-stream, but a defective piece of equipment needed for the stream precluded our doing so. A new one is one the way from the supplier, and expected to arrive in plenty of time to assure the streaming of the remaining four debates.)

The debate series is sponsored by the Guardian, and Noel documented Saturday’s session live, as it happened:

10:35 a.m.: We’re ready to begin… The candidates shake hands and have taken their seats.

Lisa Ellison, Guardian editor, is reading the rules and format. Respondents each get three minutes to answer each question and a 90-second rebuttal.

Keith Cooper of the Benevolence Corps asks the first question, regarding morale and pay of city workers, and asks what each candidate would do to stem the tide of employee departures due to both issues.

Smith replies that policies have recently been updated and that the current council, at her lead, is studying pay increases to at least $15 per hour. She says for it to happen, it will require a joint effort.

Barrow acknowledges the importance of morale, and floats the possibility of mediators for resolving pay and morale issues. She says the city’s human resources function is an important part of the equation.

Dennis Mitchell poses the lead question in Round two: Please share your unique qualifications and what you feel will make you an effective councilor.

Barrow says new thinking and her passion for politics are her greatest offerings.

Smith vaunts her sorority involvement, work with the League of Women Voters, Neighborhood Advisory Board. Says she is a fighter who is accessible to all citizens, not only those in D1.

In rebuttal, Barrow thanks Smith for her service; Smith urges more people to get involved.

Round three: Cooper asks about how to reduce violence and crime, which too often leads to unfortunate injury and death.

Smith wants to show people that there are alternatives to crime, which often results from loitering and fighting. She mentions the after-hours basketball program she has spearheaded as one effective mitigator.

Barrow wants more police involvement, but not just for negative reasons, i.e., when crime is occurring. A more community-oriented involvement where police build relationships in at-risk areas is needed. She agrees with Smith that education is important, but touts stronger police-community ties.

Smith rebuts that greater police involvement was the subject of one of her first forums, and says it’s critical that citizens and police come together to let citizens know what is available.

No rebuttal from Barrow.

Round four: Mitchell asks how D1 will develop, about gentrification issues in particular.

Barrow says listening to residents is key. Cites the airport as a key driver of economic growth and development, but says citizens should not get lost in the pursuit of growth. Wants more community meetings around growth, learning what the issues are and voicing them.

Smith speaks particularly to drainage issues that have come with added growth and the necessity for addressing it. She agrees gentrification is a problem already and does not want her constituents priced out of their homes; says challenging city staff is key. Also challenging developers who buy up properties to rehab homes, rather than tearing them down and selling new, higher-priced ones to more affluent buyers, thereby displacing current residents.

No rebuttals.

Round five: Keith Cooper wants specific initiatives for dealing with unemployed youth during the summer months.

Smith: She is working with city staff on an unnamed program and expects there to be initial feedback within the next month. She says she’ll call it the “no-name job initiative” for now, and says she is working with Pitt Community College on its development.

Barrow suggests an initiative modeled on the national Stay in School program, partnering with local businesses, which she herself participated in.

Smith responds that she agrees that program is very effective.

Ellison calls a five-minute break.

Approximately 11:15: The five-minute break is just wrapping up, and we’ll be back to the debate momentarily.

The debate resumed with a question about getting offenders into work situations. Unfortunately I have been attending to a technical issue, so you’ll have to watch the rebroadcast on GPAT-TV to get the candidates’ replies!

Okay, round seven:

Keith Cooper says that issues of transparency are often sloughed off – citing Calvin Mercer specifically – with claims that questions to council members about enforcing accountability and transparency within the city workforce can lead to micromanagement of city staff by councilors.

Smith says she will continue to do what she does now when approached about transparency issues: Research the issue and meet with the stakeholders involved. She cited the resolution of issues with city sanitation workers and their managers through pursuing that strategy, and says she doesn’t consider it micromanagement, but her responsibility as an elected official.

Barrow said accountability is also key, and while she has not yet served on council, she agrees with Kandie that learning the root problem is the key to resolving issues.

In rebuttal time, Smith adds that part of the transparency issue is having discussions in public, not behind closed doors. She says the public comment period in city council meetings should be used to put issues on the agenda, lest the public becomes discouraged that its concerns are not being heard. She said it worked that way on a couple of issues recently, and that it needs to happen more.

Round eight: Mitchell, at the behest of Bob Williams, director of Community Crossroads Center, Greenville’s homeless shelter, asks how the city will deal with the increasing population of homeless people in Greenville.

Barrow encourages more outreach to the homeless and draws the connection between hunger and homelessness. She lauds the involvement of churches but wants more city involvement in outreach efforts.

Smith says 45 percent of homeless shelter residents are Greenville-based. She tears up and her voice quavers, saying she takes these issues to heart. Anyone can find themselves in this (homeless) situation, and we must stop looking down on the homeless and begin asking what we can do collectively. She asks people to imagine what they would do if they were in that position.

In rebuttal time, Barrow says it’s a touching issue when one thinks about the homeless and reiterates that more needs to be done, calling it deep-rooted, and agreeing with Smith that looking down on the homeless is not helpful.

In rebuttal time, Smith lauds Joy’s Soup Kitchen and the recently renovated homeless shelter.

Round nine: Cooper asks about each candidate’s vision for the city.

Smith says the new $34-million project at Reed and Dickinson is a hallmark project, and that her vision is making sure Greenville grows in smart ways, without being afraid to change the comprehensive plan if the situation on the ground calls for doing so.

Barrow: I’ve enjoyed living and working here in Greenville. She says the city should be flourishing and needs to begin with the youth population and other citizens to inform plans for development and growth. She calls again for more police involvement and presence, and more recreational opportunities.

Round ten: Mitchell asks a question from the audience: If the city is spending money to promote Uptown, what can be done to do more in West Greenville?

Barrow again pushes more outreach to the community, involvement between the police and community. She proposes neighborhood block parties, and other venues where the community can come together.

Smith cites by name a half-dozen city-sponsored events already happening in D1, and says the problem is a lack of attendance on the part of district residents. She cites the most recent National Night Out and that the food trucks helped make it a huge hit. She wants Uptown Greenville and the Chamber of Commerce to market the existing events to the African-American community, but also says the responsibility for not attending such events rests with residents.

Final question posed by Lisa Ellison, Guardian editor, handed up by Don Cavellini, co-chair of the Coalition Against Racism: How can you make residents believe that getting involved with government will lead to progress?

Smith says she often hears amazement from citizens that council members are accessible; many seem surprised that she responds to them when contacted. She says the citizens are the bosses, not city council. She lauds Patrice Barrow for opposing her in the fall campaign because it means more people are getting involved and excited.

Barrow: Showing people the difference that speaking out makes is key. Seeing is believing. Hearing from specific citizens is how hope becomes action. She says proving to people that their voice counts is how they come to believe that speaking out makes a difference and that the system works.

On to closing statements:

Barrow: I’ve lived here since 1997 and love the area. I have family here and visited them frequently before becoming a resident. Greenville is a great and growing city, she says, adding she is eager to work for Greenville, to bring change and to continue advancing the city.

Smith: I am a “warrior for the west” [West Greenville], will not back down, and will make sure constituents’ voices are heard. She wants all citizens to work together to achieve their visions for the city, and asked directly for their votes.

The debate wrapped up at about 11:45 a.m. Though I typed as fast as possible, I missed a lot – but you don’t have to! The full debate will be rebroadcast on GPAT-TV Channel 23 beginning next Friday, and continuing right up to Election Day. Check GPATTV.org for scheduling. THANK YOU FOR LOGGING ON, and please consider a donation or subscription to the Guardian; learn more by clicking here. Your dollars help cover the cost of staging this debate series, and allow us to pay our editor, along with the Guardian’s growing stable of talented contributing writers.

One Response

  1. Linda Leighty says:

    Thank you for adding a very important voter resource. I was impressed with the quality of the public discourse exhibited by both candidates. Is there any chance that the Guardian could do a profile of each of the challengers? I’m thinking in terms of a focused CV. Supporters and candidates cite previous city service or other qualifications without being as specific as I would prefer. Thanks

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