Richland County

Richland county citizens jump at chance to guard pennies

43 applicants want to serve on ‘watchdog’ group to monitor penny-tax-funded projects January 19, 2013 

  • The committee The 15-member Transportation Penny Advisory Committee (TPAC) will serve as a citizen “watchdog” group as Richland County embarks on a $1.07 billion initiative to improve roads, bus service, sidewalks, bike lanes and nature trails. Improvements will be made with proceeds from a local sales tax approved by voters Nov. 6. The citizen group will make recommendations to the council on the order of projects and keep tabs on progress, making quarterly reports to the public. Appointments have been made by each of the county’s municipal governments – Arcadia Lakes, Blythewood, Columbia, Eastover, Forest Acres and Irmo. Members so far are: • Todd Avant: commercial real estate executive • Trevor Bowers: health insurance salesman • Bob Brown: Irmo town administrator • James Faber: former state legislator/general contractor • Carol Kososki: conservationist • Virginia Sanders: community activist • Bobby Williams Jr.: restaurant owner • Bill Wiseman: managing principal with a Columbia construction management firm

— Volunteers with a diversity of skills and perspectives are willing to devote their free time to monitoring Richland County’s progress on new roads and other transportation improvements.

There’s a school-cafeteria manager. The former owner of a gas station.

A woman working on an advanced degree in public administration and another who’s an engineer-turned-financial adviser.

Someone with a background in pedestrian planning and at least three people who rely on the bus to get around town.

There’s even a former special agent with the U.S. Army in the mix.

Coming up Feb. 5, Richland County Council will sort through the 43 applicants for the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee, choosing seven people to represent the interests of county citizens.

It could take hours for the 11-member council to choose its appointees, at least five of whom must live in unincorporated areas.

No one can remember getting such a large field of candidates willing and able to serve – without pay – on a citizen board.

Based on their paperwork, most just want to see the $1 billion spent fairly, for the good of the entire county.

“I believe good citizenship requires involvement in the betterment of the community in which we live,” one man wrote, in a typical sentiment.

One applicant said flat out that she had supported the tax. Most didn’t give a clue.

A few, based on the tone of their written comments, almost certainly did not vote to raise the sales tax, which will pay for improvements to roads, bus service, sidewalks, bike lanes and nature trails.

Any other information you wish to give? the county’s questionnaire asked.

“Eagle Scout,” one man proffered.

“Current on all taxes,” another candidate wrote.

“Why not give me a chance?” one asked.

Among the high-profile names on the list are Derrick Huggins, the University of South Carolina’s transportation director, and J.T. McLawhorn, whose service on a citizens committee in 2008 set the stage for this year’s successful sales-tax referendum.

Val Hutchinson, who served on County Council until last month, representing Northeast Richland, put her name in.

So did Natalie Britt, the director of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.

Last week, council members received their homework: A sheaf of papers, at least two pages per applicant. Some added a personal pitch – a letter or resume. Others have been calling council members, asking for their support.

Councilman Damon Jeter said he’s looking for a mix of skills – someone good with numbers, for example; someone else who understands construction and the bidding process.

He also wants people who are independent-minded and able to communicate well. After all, the TPAC, as it’s being called, will give regular status reports to the public.

Jeter and Councilman Greg Pearce said the committee has to resist interference from council members, who may be tempted to try to influence which projects get started first, for example.

“If we get a good group of people,” Pearce said, “they can help move these projects from concept to reality quicker than County Council could do it.”

Pearce said he expects it will take a good half-hour just to decide on a process for voting on the candidates. As Councilman Jim Manning noted, some candidates for public office consider it an advantage to be high on the ballot.

So, to be fair, should they be considered in alphabetical order? By random drawing?

The only thing that’s been decided so far is that there will be no written ballot in an attempt to winnow the field.

The council will vote on all 43 volunteers.

In the end, the county will have a 15-member “watchdog” committee. Eight members already have been selected by the city of Columbia and other municipalities.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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