EDITORIAL: Officials should be more open about Project Jackson

The people of North Augusta made their voices heard last week in the election. Mayor Lark Jones, who ran unopposed, will once again serve as the city's mayor.

The shake up, however, came in City Council. Political newcomer Fletcher Dickert not only won a seat, but he also had the most votes. Of 1,358 ballots cast, Dickert had 1,067 votes, which gave him 55 more than Pat Carpenter, who is poised for her sixth term. Another newcomer, David McGhee, had 754 votes. The only one left out was Arthur Shealy, who had 651 votes.

The precinct that represents Hammond's Ferry is North Augusta 29. The breakdown for that went 107 for Carpenter, 106 for Dickert, 125 for McGhee and 67 for Shealy. The precinct that represents The River Club is North Augusta 25. The breakdown for that one was 78 for Carpenter, 95 for Dickert, 64 for McGhee and 52 for Shealy.

North Augusta 29 was the second highest turnout while North Augusta 25 was seventh.

Many have been quick to point this as an indictment against Project Jackson from the public - as though voting against Shealy was a vote against the project. According to Dickert, that couldn't be further from the truth.

"I think that as many votes as I was able to get, and, for David to get more than Arthur is not something that states for or against Project Jackson, (but) the City is ready for some change in leadership," he said. "I don't personally see a correlation between my success and David's success with Project Jackson. If you look at the precinct numbers in terms of voter turnout, the River Club who is most vocal against it didn't even come. Their precinct had low voter turnout."

Dickert, who stated he has neither come out for or against the project, noted most of his concerns come from the City's finances. He stated that Project Jackson would have to get farther down the road before some of the fogginess could clear up, and that the town may be doing itself a disservice by not yet seeing some of that clear up. It's a sentiment that McGhee also agrees with.

"Some major issues are tied up with Project Jackson, and unfortunately, the general public doesn't have all of the information," he said. "I don't have all of the information right now. It's a big undertaking that the City is going to take."

"One of the main things - the TIF needs to be approved ... Some things may be voted on before we get in there, but I don't know for sure."

For his part, Shealy feels as though the project was a deciding factor. "My general thesis is that the baseball stadium issue determined the outcome of the election. My support for that statement is that Pat Carpenter always gets more votes than anybody else. This election, she came in second to a newcomer. Also, no incumbent has lost a North Augusta City Council election in at least 25 years. I'm an incumbent, and I lost," he said.

"Other candidates have challenged incumbents and worked as hard or harder than Dickert and McGhee and still were unable to unseat the incumbent," Shealy said. "Given these facts, my conclusion is that the baseball-stadium issue caused a lot of oppositional voter turnout. I was perceived as being pro-baseball stadium, and I am."

Given these statements, it's fair to say that Project Jackson may have swayed the election. If anything, there is a very clear message in what these leaders are saying and getting from constituents. Our City leaders must do a better job in being willing to discuss with the public every thought process and development regarding Project Jackson, even if the project is still in its infancy. More public question and answer sessions should be scheduled along the entire process. The City doesn't legally have to do that. However, as the officials that we vote in to represent us, they should do it any way and willingly.