Editorial: Letts better choice in Richland Council District 8

October 31, 2012 

Michael Letts

— MICHAEL Letts doesn’t make the most compelling case for voters to elect him to the Richland County Council District 8 seat on Tuesday, but he doesn’t have to: Incumbent Jim Manning has practically made it for him through his questionable actions and spendthrift ways over the past four years.

Mr. Manning, a Democrat, has supported wrongheaded and dubious proposals that were not in the best interest of Richland taxpayers and citizens. He backed a superfluous $22 million soccer complex, voted to buy 44 acres along Garners Ferry Road for a highly speculative park project and supported extending the life of a landfill in Northeast Richland, invalidating the county’s hard-fought agreement requiring the facility to close.

He overspent his expense account two consecutive years and sought a policy change that would allow those who exceed their limit to spend even more if fellow members didn’t exhaust their accounts. He also led the charge to tax businesses to give Richland District 2 more money than it asked for despite the school board’s objections.

Mr. Manning takes pride in the county’s ongoing work to revitalize Decker Boulevard, including the purchase of a strip mall it plans to renovate for county offices. He also touts his support to get the county to hire an economic development director as well as a sustainability director.

But his zealous support for a sustainability chief led to some of the most bizarre behavior we’ve seen in an elected official. When then-administrator Milton Pope didn’t include that position in his 2011-2012 budget plan, Mr. Manning lashed out at a budget work session, and then sent a series of emails to Mr. Pope and council members that suggested giving the administrator a clothing allowance and a million-dollar bonus and erecting a statue of Mr. Pope.

Naturally, Mr. Letts, a Republican, has seized on Mr. Manning’s shortcomings. He says he would be fiscally responsible and would treat the public, fellow council members and county staff with respect. He says the county suffers from a lack of proactive planning, something he would promote. As an example, he cited the county’s approval of $50 million in new park construction and renovation without providing money to equip and staff the facilities. While Mr. Manning touts the planned renovation of Decker Mall, Mr. Letts said purchasing that property and then allowing it to sit for two years is another example of poor planning.

Although he raises many questions, Mr. Letts frustratingly shows no clarity or specificity when it comes to fixes, making it evident he is more interested in creating doubt than offering real solutions. He said he can provide “hundreds” of examples of problems in the county, but when pressed he named only a couple; even then he fell short on specifics about how he would make things better. He said he has heard from many people that they would not want to operate a business in the county or are leaving because of red tape; but he could cite only one example.

That said, Mr. Letts, a chief opponent of the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax on Tuesday’s ballot, would be a much-needed conservative voice on a council that can be spendthrift. But it’s imperative that he build bridges on the council and work toward solutions, not be an obstructionist.

Mr. Manning responds to criticism that he is a big spender by noting that the healthy surplus the county had when he entered office has grown. But Mr. Letts asserts that a healthy fund balance doesn’t justify wasteful spending.

We agree. District 8 voters should elect Mr. Letts on Tuesday.

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