Richland Co. leader: Race 'probably' a factor in Renaissance opposition

Richland Co. leader: Race 'probably' a factor in Renaissance opposition
Council Chairwoman Joyce Dickerson said she believes race is probably a factor in the reason why there is opposition to the Richland Renaissance plan.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's dubbed Richland's "Renaissance," and the plan is as ambitious as the name.

The "Renaissance" would restructure county government by moving county offices to the site of Columbia Place Mall on Two Notch Road. The Richland County Judicial Center would move from Main Street to where the county offices are now at the corner of Hampton and Harden Streets.

The plan would also sprinkle in other initiatives and buildings like an Aquatic Center in Lower Richland, a historic trail, and an effort to "revivify" blighted areas.

The county made the announcement Tuesday afternoon to fanfare in a crowded council chamber (a recently refurbished chamber that officials say will remain intact under "Renaissance"), but not everyone there was sold on the idea.

"I understand that many of these council members may want to put their stamp on something before they leave office," said a skeptical Rashaad Egister, a Columbia voter, and taxpayer.

Egister feels like he and other voters were kept in the dark. He was surprised by news of the initiative after a critical vote on "Renaissance" last week.

"The public has not had a say in any of this at all. In fact, the way this has happened and the way this has not been put out in comparison to how vocal they are on their Twitter page really just doesn't seem like the Richland County Council that I know," he said.

Councilman Seth Rose – one of the five council members who voted against the plan in that narrow 6-to-5 vote last week – agrees.

"I'm not just concerned as an elected official," he said. "I'm concerned as a taxpayer and as a citizen because I think if this plan doesn't work out, it could really put the finances of Richland County in jeopardy."

But Council Chairwoman Joyce Dickerson disagrees. She said the public will have input in the finer details, and she said "Renaissance" won't bankrupt the county.

"The plan is to design the plan so that we can stay within budget," she said to WIS. "So that we don't bankrupt the county."

During Tuesday's announcement, four council members who voted against "Renaissance" – Bill Malinowski, Greg Pearce, Jim Manning, and Rose – were not in attendance. In an interview, WIS asked Dickerson how she'll reconcile the divided council.

"If you notice, we had, you know, just how partisan it was. We had two Democrats and two Republicans who didn't show up. They were four white males – if you want me to say it – they were four white males. They didn't show up. Now, but the public who elected them – they have to be mindful of the people who elected them," she explained. "Two of them are Democrats. Two of them are Republicans."

WIS asked her to clarify her comment and if she believes race is a factor in "Renaissance" opposition.

"Probably," she said. "I'm not going to say it's not. It probably does. I'm not ruling that out."

Meanwhile, Rose estimated that the "Renaissance" could cost north of $250 million. Dickerson didn't have an exact number but said taxes won't be raised to fund the sweeping initiative.

Copyright 2017 WIS. All rights reserved.