Once a Conservative Southern Town, now Spartanburg is in Need of a Real TeaParty

Spartanburg looks like a sleepy little town. There are few controversies here (unless I start them), and you would not expect to find a swamp where there are so few outward signs of disagreement between the people and its leaders. In other words, the people are pretty compliant.

Perhaps Spartanburg’s history as a textile town helps explain the complacency here. Reading histories of the town, supplemented by histories of the South, one learns that education has always been strongly encouraged, along with the Christian faith.  Prior to the 1920’s, there was never a great deal of wealth; there were no plantations and yeoman farmers were the rule. However, the advent of the textile mills, coming as they did with paternalistic villages, had an effect on public outspokenness. Without a strong middle class, vigorous citizen participation seems to have been replaced by the more passive tendency to keep one’s opinions to oneself.

In the past, the newspaper published opinion pieces by local residents, myself among them,  but feedback was rare, even when the paper ran pro and con debates on questions of public interest. In recent years, the paper has not published anything of mine longer than a letter. This may be due to a 2015 OpEd that  I wrote about the efforts of local churches to influence government officials, the chamber of commerce, and school districts to work with World Relief, (a non-government organization aka NGO) to welcome former refugees from U.N. camps, mostly in Africa and the Middle East and for which this NGO, receives $1900 per capita while the federal government pays transportation and initial costs.

Settling the ex-refugees involves signing them up for all public assistance programs (they go to the top of every waiting list), helping them to get jobs, and finding churches to adopt them find housing, furniture, clothing, jobs and other necessities.

Under the Obama Administration, the goal of the program was to “welcome new Americans, ” not to assimilate, but to rise to the top of their own communities within communities, and once there are 350 of these, to help them form their own nation within a nation.

At the time, I did not know very much about World Relief, the tireless blogger, Ann Corcoran (see RefugeeResettlementblog.wordpress.com), or the part churches play in facilitating the new Babel – moving people all over the world to settle them permanently in far away locations.  I could only point out some of the pitfalls of a program that transforms neighborhoods and whole cities without any input from ordinary residents. I noted the problems now facing Lewiston, Maine, a town similar to Spartanburg in that it is a former textile town, where the resettlement program has been going on for years, assimilation has not happened, welfare costs have soared, education has suffered and taxes have increased. I suggested the program would be expensive (SC was late to this party so it has only spent between 600 and 700 million dollars to resettle refugees.

In my letter, I called for community input into any plans to pursue such a program; this is actually required by law in every community, every year programs like World Relief operate in our cities; but it is interpreted as only requiring World Relief, etc., to talk to “stakeholders,” most of whom derive benefits either for themselves, their organizations, or their businesses from these programs. The paper published my letter and the online version generated scores of local comments, 90% favorable to my opinion. I’d never seen so much online feedback for a local article. In fact, the paper got so many complaints about the Refugee Resettlement Program, that it cut off the comments after a few days.

Spartanburg is not DC, which is a big swamp, but Spartanburg does appear to be progressing in the direction of a little swamp. The city fathers are not well-paid, but dollars are not the coin of the government realm – that coin comes in the form of influence and influence increases as government personnel have more and more money.   Oligarchs never consult the people, but wise oligarchs pretend to do so. Thus the newspaper at that time was wiser than the government.

Our government oligarchs are particularly unwise as they do not even pretend to care what ordinary people think, even when the majority of people are intelligent and have good opinions. Here are some recent examples of oligarchical behavior by the city and county councils of Spartanburg, SC.

In 2013, after numerous meetings and 4,000 signed petitions (in a city of 30,000 souls), the inner city school district allowed the city, which was administering the district’s beautiful, well-built mid-80’s indoor pool, (paid for by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to break their lease with the city that required the city to maintain and manage the pool, and instead, close it, blow it up, and bury it. The official reasons given for destroying The Spartanburg Swim Center were to save the city $500,000 per year in operating costs (although the pool had been run as an inexpensive amenity for years and a big part of the cost was the summer program that served the children in public housing near the pool every summer )  and to avoid “huge” repair expenses, which turned out to be only $10,000 to replace the pool lining and refill the pool.

How do I know how much it was going to cost to put the pool back into commission?  I invited an entrepreneur from Greenville who already owned and managed several pools to come look at it and tell me how much it would cost to get it back into commission. He said it did not require anything, but if he could buy it, he would replace the liner just because the pool was already empty, and the liner was getting some age on it and within a few years would need replacing;  he said he would also replace the glass windows because they had become dull over time. He offered to buy the pool and promised he could allocate time for public use, and still make a profit.  He figured it would take less than a week to get the pool up and running.

A citizen “Save Our Pool” committee proposed a plan that could have saved the pool, but no one in public office in the county wanted it saved.  The City Manager actually said all of the resources available had to go to the Northside of Spartanburg because modern city management does not spread money around cities but concentrates it in one part. Hmmmm, if true, things have sure changed since I studied government planning in graduate school

Now, just three years later, the city wants to spend many millions of dollars to build a new pool on the north side of the city, between two excellent colleges. To make room for their dream community, the oligarchs have moved out the poor and replaced their homes. I guess you might call it “urban renewal.” The goal appears to be a community composed of college faculty, students, and newly re-settled former refugees.

The area where the pool used to be is in the dead center of the city, convenient to all and close to the projects, making it convenient for even poor kids to get to swimming lessons and summer programs at the pool. For now, at least, there is no indoor pool, nor a comparable outdoor public pool. If the Northside pool gets built, it will probably not be used for summer programs for kids in the projects and the high percentage of swimmers that Spartanburg has now, will decline. The current estimate for a new pool is $16,000,000. City officials say they will get a grant to pay for it.

Because the city has a mold problem in one of its government buildings (due to the unwise purchase of a commercial building some years ago that had existing water problems), taxpayers are going to have to pay for five new government facilities. For years government officials have complained about the lack of a good tax base in the city because most prime real estate is occupied by nonprofits. No one has given a good reason why some or all of the new government buildings cannot be built outside of the downtown, like Greenville has done. This especially makes sense for buildings that are supposed to house county, or city and county functions. However, we have been told that lawyers, who like to walk to work, might be inconvenienced or maybe because cheaper costs might mean less money for the oligarchs to spend.

Business taxes and start-up costs are high in Spartanburg, both in time and money, and that is probably the main reason we have relatively few businesses downtown. New businesses have to deal with a superfluity of taxes and regulations and with a scarcity of locations. Just recently the city proposed giving away seven acres of land between a park and a hotel to a company from Florida planning to build “luxury apartments.” The company only needed 2 acres, but our generous city council gave them seven.

In 2015,  Spartanburg High had a leaky roof and a new high school seems to be the only solution considered. It was not hard to convince students that they also needed their own $50 million dollar stadium ($50 million plus tens of thousands annually to maintain it). Currently the district rents Wofford College’s Division I stadium just about four miles away from Spartan High.  Wofford charges enough to cover maintenance and personnel for the Friday-night home games, and makes the high school students welcome; it certainly doesn’t make money, but contra statements by district officials, Wofford never suggested ending the relationship. The school district decided to borrow $185 million and raise taxes to fund the building of a new high school, a football field, renovating the old high school to accommodate the middle school, tearing down two elementary schools, and building a new, two-story elementary school to accommodate the 600-800 students displaced from the two schools that are closing.

The inner city is not growing and the push to build new buildings seems over-wrought and unnecessary to this pro-education observer and to most of the people here who understand the facts, and not the propaganda. Absent a very few letters to the editor, there was no balanced public discussion about the need for the additional property tax to fund the new school buildings. Those in opposition were painted as anti-education, including myself, a life-long educator, wife of an educator, daughter of an educator and the mother of an educator.

When a public forum was announced for the week before the referendum that was scheduled for March 16, 2016 (when nothing else was on the ballot), I noticed there was no one on the panel opposed to the tax increase, and volunteered to represent another viewpoint.  The editor of the local paper was the moderator, but he did not moderate. He allowed a state representative to accuse me of racism for not campaigning in the black churches like the Superintendent had been doing for over a year. Over a year?  That was news to me. We only learned about the planned referendum a couple of months before the special election date— and campaigning in churches? It actually never occurred to me to go to churches to campaign. The forum was anything but balanced.

But hey, these are mostly just money and trust issues unless you count the personal cost many disabled people have faced losing their warm therapy pool, the break-up of the multi-generational, multi-racial, diverse group of people who had formed a great, natural community at the pool, swimming or exercising daily from 8 to 10 a.m., or the discomfort of the high school swim team which now swims outside into October, even though it was one of the specific groups for which the school district originally requested HUD grant money for a pool. Interestingly, only one of the scores of parents of the swimmers who are now swimming outdoors, showed up to voice opposition to tearing down the pool, but hundreds of other people did.

Also affected by the closing of the pool were fire fighters, police, ROTC cadets, scuba divers, swim teams, scouts, and future life guards, all of which used to train at the Swim Center, and of course the parents of children who depended on the summer pool programs that entertained their kids every day of the summer for $1.00 or $2.00 per day, and the minority population that was displaced from their homes and in some cases from their jobs by the Northside project and the influx of migrants seeking low wage jobs. Finally, the school district is spending money on bricks and mortar instead of on real education – and that’s another big loss.

But worse than these gross mis-steps are the resolutions the city of Spartanburg recently adopted at a city council meeting. These were drawn up and read by the City Manager and in the name of the Mayor (who was absent): 1) “Affirming the City of Spartanburg’s Commitment to Encourage All Residents, Civic Institutions, Businesses and Partners to Promote Policies and Practices to Support a Neighborly Community,” (which the city manager made clear in was another way of announcing a desire to be a Sanctuary City) and 2) “In Support of Extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program and Permanent Legal Status for Dreamers.”

Fortunately we are getting a new council member, Max Hyde – a very smart, conservative lawyer, but if he remains true to his beliefs, he will be vastly outnumbered. In the hope that we citizens can help, the old Boiling Springs Tea Party, has been newly recommissioned as the “Real Spartanburg Tea Party” and will be there to encourage our new councilman and to hold our representatives accountable. Spartanburg has had two tea parties, the Boiling Springs Tea Party established in February, 2009, and the Spartanburg Tea Party established in the summer or fall of the same year.  The Spartanburg Tea Party has now lost its leadership. The leader has reinvented herself as a paid GOP consultant and helped rally support for the two huge tax increases mentioned above.  Worse, she helped elect a Republican County Chairman who joined with her and the Chamber of Commerce in promoting the latest tax increase. (Full disclosure, I was once a chamber of commerce employee – back in the days when it existed to help small businesses as well as large corporations.)

The Real Spartanburg Tea Party is going to have its first meeting this coming Wednesday. We’ll discuss the issues we want to work on initially – Smart Meters, DACA, Sanctuary Cities, taxes, and Common Core are all on the list, but that’s just my list; I want to know what you are interested in. Please come and help us. Since I only live in one city, I do not know if my city is unusual, but I am fairly confidant it is not. I am guessing our city manager goes to city manager meetings and gets ideas to bring back to Spartanburg.

If you live in another city, please tell me what’s happening in your city.

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