Wednesday, November 26, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

We had a ton of calls from folks wanting to talk about last week’s column on the Jasper County School Board redistricting, and public input meetings. The overwhelming majority of communication was positive. It is absolutely in concert with my impression that the local stakeholders are ready for a profound change in how their schools are administered. That change begins with an honest, publicly endorsed reapportionment.


After seeing my column in print, I was a little taken aback. Usually, I am a bit more circumspect in how I write about things where folks can potentially get their feelings hurt. Honestly, I was more than a little irritated by the shamelessness of the effort to game the system by having outsiders giving testimony obviously influenced by a single source.


If I was unduly harsh or hurtfully candid, it is because I think that this matter should be approached with the understanding that quality education for the upcoming generation of Jasper children trumps the petty political concerns that seem to have done a lot, if not to create, then certainly to perpetuate the current systemic failure. This is about the real life prospects of many young people, as well as the future economic viability of their home communities. It shouldn’t be the grist for the petty politics mill.


As your representative, I take this very seriously. I know many of you personally. We, in the delegation, have heard your stories and seen first-hand the manner in which the majority on the school board has behaved regarding your concerns. One way or another, this situation will improve. If not, it is not unprecedented for the state to assume control of a school district to institute basic systems and controls. We all hope it does not come to that.


On a more positive note, I want to return to local topics in Bluffton, specifically the topic nearest and dearest to all Blufftonians. That is, of course, the May River, and how we can work together to return it to a pristine condition. You may remember that for the last couple of budget cycles, water concerns in southern Beaufort County saw a fair number of our tax dollars repatriated to the area. I want to give a little background on that.


Our friends at the SC Department of Heath and Environmental Control (DHEC) have a big job and not as much funding as they would like. Consequently, they prioritize their support very carefully. To that end, this legislator brought Marc Orlando and Shawn Leiniger, from the Town of Bluffton, up to Columbia to meet with the proper folks from DHEC. They gave an explanation and rationale for water quality funding that was both impressive and persuasive. They gave details on what the river means to our economy, with appropriate facts and figures, as well as what the river means to all of us, in terms of our coherence, unity, and prosperity as a community.


Not only was the initial presentation well received, Marc, now Bluffton town manager, periodically invites DHEC officials down to Bluffton to see how those dollars are spent, and explains how we get strong bang for every dollar invested with Bluffton for river improvement.


From my seat on Ways and Means, it is gratifying to see the DHEC folks use their relationship with Bluffton, and how good their return on investment has been, in committee testimony to justify and explain the need for future appropriations. Also, I am confident that Marc and Shawn are willing and certainly able to articulate the state’s position back to the town, so the town can continue their productive relationship with the state. Having competent people, with good communication skills, makes government at all levels work the way it is supposed to work.