Economic Development Situation at a crossroads

First Byline: 
David Purtell - Staff Writer

UPDATE: Blackville Mayor Mike Beasley said Friday the three mayors were not able to get their proposal to County Council Chairman Freddie Houston this week because of the havoc caused by winter storm Pax and the fact that Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton's store, Buck's Hardware in Barnwell, burnt down Tuesday night. Beasley said he hopes the mayors can get together in the next few days and finalize their proposal and recommendations regarding the Economic Development Commission. 

Original Story:

A critical point in the mess that is the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission could be reached soon.
The mayors of Barnwell, Blackville and Williston were supposed to give their proposal for how to move forward to county council Wednesday, Feb. 12. How County Council reacts to the proposal will dictate many things moving forward, including whether the situation lands in the courtroom.
After discussion, the three mayors planned to put in writing what they think is best for the EDC and the properties it managed. The mayors said they want formal, written assurance from county council that the EDC properties will be used for economic development.
A major concern among the mayors is if the EDC properties - donated by the EDC board to the towns late last year - are given back to Barnwell County then county council will, at some point, vote to sell them.
County Council members have maintained they have no plans to liquidate the properties.
County council met with Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton and representatives from Barnwell and Blackville Feb. 6. Mayors Mike Beasley and Ed Lemon were not at the meeting because of prior engagements - Beasley had a high-school basketball game to coach and Lemon was out of town on his annual camping trip.
County council expected to hear the mayors' proposal at the meeting, but Stapleton said nothing had been finalized among the mayors and that it wouldn't be right for him to speak on Lemon and Beasley's behalf.
After discussing the situation in closed session, the parties decided the mayors would give their proposal to council in writing by Feb. 12.
After the meeting, County Council Chairman Freddie Houston said he thinks the whole situation will result in improved relationships and communication between the county and the municipalities.
Stapleton said he thought the meeting ended up being productive even though there was some confusion at the beginning about the exact purpose of the meeting.
He said it is a "joint effort among the mayors" to come up with a solution that satisfies the wishes of the three municipal councils.
"I would just like to get back to the business of economic development," Stapleton said.
Reached by phone Friday, Blackville Mayor Mike Beasley also said he wants everyone to work together but did express concern about the regional concept of economic growth that county council is pushing for. He doesn't want to see Barnwell County miss out while all the growth happens near the coast.
"I have to protect my citizens," he said.
Beasley said everyone needs to have "an open mind and open attitude." He said when people try to do things their own way it creates misconceptions.
"This got started because of people trying to do their own thing and not working together," he said, "Industries want to see the county and towns working together."
Beasley said in the future he wants there to be regular meetings where representatives from all the towns and the county come together to share ideas.
Monday, Barnwell Mayor Ed Lemon reiterated Beasley's point about cooperation. He said the county and municipalities need a working relationship and that there has been a lack of harmony in recent years.
He said he thinks the EDC situation can be fixed outside of a courtroom.
Lemon's chief point is that the EDC assets stay with Barnwell County and aren't liquidated. He wants to make sure the municipalities are not left out of the decision process.
"It's not that I don't trust them, but it's the fact that the county council can change," he said about county council having the final say about the properties.