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Mayoral candidates headline last forum

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By Jesef Williams

Attracting business to the city of Lancaster, supporting economic development and changing Lancaster to a college town were hot-button topics on Monday evening.
The four candidates running for mayor of Lancaster discussed those issues and more as they appeared at the Before You Vote 2010 Candidate Forum at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.
Incumbent Joe Shaw, Donnie Birchfield, City Councilwoman Linda Blackmon-Brace and Mary Helen Yarborough are the mayoral candidates.
The forum also featured the candidates for City Council districts 1 and 5 and Lancaster County  school board districts 1, 4 and 7.
The forum was split into three parts – one for all the school board hopefuls, one for the City Council candidates and another for the four mayoral candidates.
During each segment, moderator Rick Jiran asked all of the candidates the same questions. There were some opportunities for candidate rebuttals as well.
Lancaster mayor
QUESTION: Why should someone locate his or her business in Lancaster?
BIRCHFIELD: “The city of Lancaster has people with a heart... I put our good workforce against anybody anywhere.”
BLACKMON-BRACE: She said Lancaster is fortunate to have a good school district, a strong chamber of commerce and a strong economic development corporation.
SHAW: He said the city provides excellent services, such as good response time for police and fire.
YARBOROUGH: She said she would promote “our very stellar ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating,” USCL, the county’s airport and closeness to an international airport in Charlotte.
QUESTION: How hands-on should the mayor be in terms of hiring, disciplining and other personnel matters?
BIRCHFIELD: “You should stand with your grievance board. What good is it to have a board if we’re not going to use it?”
BLACKMON-BRACE: She said she likes the city’s system of a grievance committee to hear cases regarding personnel. “I think we have a good process in place.”
SHAW: “I don’t think you can have a mayor and City Council people running the city. I like the system we have.”
YARBOROUGH: “I don’t think you should micromanage. Hiring and firing should not be political.”
City Council
Anthony Elder and incumbent Kenny Hood are vying for the District 1 City Council seat.
Incumbent John Howard and Derek Smith are facing one another in District 5.
QUESTION: What can the city do to attract more retail and dining establishments?  
ELDER: He said the city needs to invest more in what’s already here. “You cannot attract businesses if you don’t have places for people to go.”
HOOD: The city needs to “find a solution to the problem before they (existing establishments) start going out of business.”
HOWARD: “Everybody’s got a stake. The local citizenry has got to support what we already have here.”
SMITH: He said the city needs to lower its taxes on businesses. “That’s something that pushes people out of the city.”
QUESTION: What is the city’s top law enforcement challenge?
ELDER: He said gangs and drug dealers. “Our district has the highest crime rate there is.”
HOOD: “We are trying to bring crime back down.”
HOWARD: “You got to have neighborhoods cognizant enough to help law enforcement.”
SMITH: “Law enforcement is too busy worrying about the politicians. Allow law enforcement to do their jobs.”
School board
There are two contested school board races on the ballot on Election Day.
Leland Hughes, incumbent Don McCorkle and Kevin Sexton are competing for the District 1 seat. Donald Huffman, who was not at Monday’s forum, and incumbent Mary Etta Taylor are vying for the District 7 seat.
And due to Dr. Peter Barry death, the District 4 board seat is open. The race features Ronald Burke, Al Simpson and Bill Sumner.
That special election will be Nov. 30.
QUESTION: The district has been faced with steep budget cuts. Is cutting teacher positions based on student enrollment the best way to combat financial woes?
BURKE: “I do not believe in cutting teachers.” He said local leaders need to pressure state and federal officials to provide more funding for school districts.
HUGHES: “It’s not the best way. We need more teachers.” He suggests cutting mid-level management positions in the district.
McCORKLE: “I don’t think there is any magical solution to our needs. Unfortunately, (teacher positions) is one of the places that you have to cut.”
SEXTON: He believes teachers should be retained based on merit, not tenure. “Common sense goes a long way. We need to keep the best ones around.”
SIMPSON: “Unfortunately, the budget had to be cut from somewhere.”
SUMNER: “They did not have a choice at that time. We have to look at alternatives for dollars.”
TAYLOR: “We do have to keep it flexible, to make adjustments.”
QUESTION: Should a separate school district be created for the Indian Land area of the county?
BURKE: He said Ohio, where he taught, has areas with numerous smaller districts. “Do I believe in that? No.”
HUGHES: Dollars are what we’re talking. If we have two of more (school districts), it’s going to be way more expensive.”
McCORKLE: “It’s inconsistent with any good common sense. It would be costly.”
SEXTON: He said parents in Indian Land would like to have their own district. “You have to let the voters decide.”
SIMPSON:  He said Dillon County has three school districts and has problems with duplicated services. “We need to make work what we’re doing now.”
SUMNER: “I do not think two school districts will work.”
TAYLOR: She said there were inequalities when the county used to have four districts. “It definitely is something I would not support.”

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Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152