Columbia businessman says he’s tired of longtime councilwoman ‘not doing anything’

Incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine, left; Joe Azar
Incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine, left; Joe Azar

The challenger for a citywide seat on Columbia City Council has taken aim at council’s second-most senior member because she, in his view, isn’t doing enough.

Five Points businessman and frequent candidate for a council seat, Joe Azar, said he stepped in to challenge Tameika Isaac Devine, because, “People are so tired of her not doing anything,” he said.

“She has a lot of baggage that is questionable,” said the challenger – now a 12th-time candidate for a seat on city council.

The record Azar finds to be marred by questions about the incumbent’s judgment, Devine doesn’t mention in her campaign for a fifth, four-year term.

Devine said the current make-up of city council has produced better public policy decisions. “Our council right now works real well together ... and we’re actually getting things done. It’s probably the best it’s been in the last five, six years.”

That encourages her to stay on council.

“I never had an inkling that I wouldn’t run,” said the 44-year-old attorney and mother of three, who says she is an independent thinker. “I haven’t toyed with the idea of running for another office,” she said of speculation that she wants someday to be mayor.

If re-elected, Devine said her focus will be on improving the Columbia Police Department, especially through newer technology and by strengthening its community programs that team police with residents.

She also will work on wellness programs for city workers and the public.

By offering more programs to help with hypertension, diabetes and obesity, city workers will file fewer and less expensive medical claims because they are living healthier lifestyles, Devine said.

The city is looking for an insurance company that will help with those initiatives, she said.

And, putting more effort into greenways, sidewalks and bike paths will promote wellness. That kind of investment will help attract or retain millennials, which the city needs to stay vibrant, Devine said.

At 66, perennial candidate Azar said he will have more time to dedicate to a council job because in January he plans to turn over the day-to-day operation of Upstairs Audio to his employees. He will not step away entirely, he said of the business he founded in the early 1970s.

Azar recites a list of criticisms that have entangled Devine, including:

▪  A $280,000 federal loan in 2009 for her mother to buy an office building, which the agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said violated its regulations that deal with using the money to create jobs. The city repaid the loan and Devine’s mother reimbursed the city.

▪  In 2003, Devine’s law firm handled closing for the purchase of houses that were to be razed to make room to expand Dreher High School. Richland 1 paid above-market prices and high fees to acquire property, The State newspaper reported.

Azar said his overriding campaign issue is reducing property taxes by instituting service fees on nonprofits that don’t pay city taxes but consume city services.

“We have to pay excessive (tax) rates because the churches down the street don’t pay a penny ... when the fire truck rolls up.”

The fee, which he said he has long advocated, would be levied against any nonprofit, including the University of South Carolina, which is in the heart of the city and owns lots of property, and state government agencies.

Long a critic of how City Council has managed the water and sewer system, Azar wants to create a separate, elected agency that would operate the systems.

“The city of Columbia has proven it cannot handle the system,” he said, of the years when council, including Devine, would divert tens of millions of dollars into projects not related to maintaining the utility system. Columbia is under a federal requirement to upgrade sewer lines, which is projected to cost $750 million.

Election Day changes

Here’s a summary of differences that Columbia voters will encounter on Nov. 7 compared to the city election in 2015.

▪  14 more voting machines.

▪  110 more poll workers at 75 precincts, two more precincts than in 2015.

▪  4 more computer technicians assigned to fixing glitches in voting machines.

▪  4,508 more registered voters.

▪  11 new or combined locations for precincts, largely because some precincts have too few voters to merit opening polling sites. Another factor is that some former locations do not meet accessibility standards for disabled voters.

TO CHECK WHERE YOU VOTE AND WHICH COUNCIL DISTRICT YOU LIVE IN: Go online at scvotes.org and click on Check My Voter Registration on the right side of the screen

SOURCE: Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office