What kind of message does it send to the future leaders of Greenville County to see adults acting like many of the bullies they encounter on their school playgrounds?
First and foremost, it is an honor to serve the people of Greenville County. I undertake the stress of the job, the severity of the issues, and offer the following opinions based solely on my desire to see Greenville County continue to grow properly and follow the framework of the institution designed to ensure its success.
The County Council Meeting on 9-19-23 was the most embarrassing moment I've had as a Councilman so far. We have not only our constituents watching us act like children, but we potentially have children watching us act like children. What kind of message does it send to the future leaders of Greenville County to see adults acting like many of the bullies they encounter on their school playgrounds? This is not about any particular event that took place. There were many failures on each side of any given situation that could have been handled much more reasonably. We are better than that. And if we are not better than that, we need a massive change in both leadership and members until the problem is solved. Talking over each other, shouting, getting in each other's faces, preventing Councilmen/women from speaking, preventing the public from speaking, not respecting the gavel, continuing to approach fellow Councilmen/women as if they have "picked a team”, calling fellow Councilmen/women "racist bastards," and having to be separated and escorted to vehicles by law enforcement, do nothing but ensure that we will never get on the same page enough to accomplish actual work for Greenville County. Fortunately, the citizens are excellent bosses, so I am hopeful they are already discussing the best courses of correction. I say "we" because I have to take ownership of the Council's failure, even if I am not directly involved in the incidents. That's how real leadership achieves true stability.
Yes, all that and more happened in one night. Welcome to Greenville!!!
The votes that caused the issues:
* Project Woven: I voted no on this, partially because the District Councilman, Mr. Mitchell, gave excellent reasons as to why this was not negotiated in the overall best interest of the citizens, rather than the minimum requirements possibly to receive a tax abatement. I feel that our affordable housing tool has many more potential consequences than rewards and ultimately does nothing to provide the chance of home ownership to those seeking it. Instead, it has them still paying mortgage payment-level rental prices, with no method of saving for the future. On top of that, the property owner gets a 20-year tax break on over 200 apartments while only having to offer a reduced rate to 40 of them. What a deal for the developer in this current market, to be able to charge between $2,400 and $3,000 per month for market-priced rentals and still receive up to around $1,200 per month on the affordable ones? But where is the comparable deal for the citizens? I have asked several different people to show me the estimated amount of taxpayer money we are losing due to the affordable housing initiative over the 20-year period, and I never received anything. The rewards have to outweigh the risks, and the current policy doesn't do that for anyone except the property owner in my opinion. So, that's why I voted no.
* Vision 25: I voted no to allocating $30,000 worth of taxpayer money through council's discretionary funds to something that has no tangible paper trail. My understanding is that our discretionary funds were intended to go towards easily itemized things such as playgrounds, fences, repair of structures, or items for law enforcement, fire, and EMS. This was said to be needed to host events and celebrations. How do you itemize that? On top of that, there is already $100,000 of funding available for the events from donations and grants. Furthermore, it was made clear that the nonprofit was a 501c4, which makes it easier to hide where the money came from. And on top of that, one of the speakers admitted that they had actually raised closer to $250,000 for the initiative without County money. I can't imagine a scenario where I would take money from the taxpayers when I had already raised $250,000 (more than five times that from County support), especially when they can't even list what the event would cost. After saying that the County didn't have enough money to operate services without a tax increase, it made no fiscal sense to send taxpayer money to something that was already apparently well-funded. That, and the lack of transparency available for the public, is why I voted no.
The aftermath: I arrived home to find a link to a livestream in which one of our Councilmen decided to insinuate that I am one of three Councilmen who don't understand how Council is supposed to operate. This livestream also hurled accusations of racism many times towards two of our fellow Councilmen. It only went further off the rails when this Councilman said that he has known two of his fellow Councilmen for years and “neither are good writers/readers." This was just before the other gentleman in the conversation called people in the council chambers "backwoods redneck hillbillies." The most concerning part of this livestream was when this Councilman said that any item that was brought forward by either of these two specific Councilmen would be "dead on arrival." He said that because of the people in charge of all the committees, they would prevent anything that these councilmen brought forward from passing or even having consideration, so why would their constituents want to even vote for them again? I know that one councilman can't speak for the entire group, but this is not the first time I've heard of discussions about "punishing" those who did not vote with the majority, so it wasn't surprising to hear.
If any of these tactics are being used, I would like to suggest to my colleagues that this is not only punishing two or three people, but rather 150,000 people. Refusing to legitimately consider the motions, ordinances, or amendments of any councilman is, in truth, refusing to listen to the voices of the people in the districts they represent and sets a catastrophically dangerous precedent for any government entity to operate under.
I am hopeful that this livestream was just 30 minutes of poorly thought-out, overemotional, and in-the-moment hyper-inflated livestream accusations and hateful comments. Unlike this councilman during his livestream, I will not reveal his District or name.
There is so much more to all of this, and it's bad when so many things went wrong in one night, I can't fit it all into one post. But I will continue to explain my votes, defend my opinion, and bring you any information that I feel is in any way improperly being kept from the public. I am disheartened and encouraged all at the same time. I am disheartened that my colleagues can't bury past differences, but I am encouraged that there are at least a few of us who refuse to participate in the antics.
Oh, and if you hear ANYONE throwing around this notion that I am somehow racist…
You are more than welcome to fill them in, or send them my info and I will gladly explain to them how misled they have been. If necessary, I can even point them to where the true prejudice hides. I have the evidence and receipts.
Maybe the next Council meeting won’t resemble a hockey game!
Hope to see you there,
Benton Ezekiel Latimer Blount
Greenville County Council