People took Georgetown County at its word, and many of them showed up to meet and greet the three finalists for a new Georgetown County administrator. About 150 people gathered in the Howard Center on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
The three finalists mingled and chatted with the crowd for about 45 minutes, and then each took a turn to talk about his background and what he could offer to the people of Georgetown County.
They spoke in alphabetical order, according to their first names:
• Brian Tucker, Economic Development Director for Georgetown County
• David Garner, Abbeville County Director
• Ray Funnye, Public Services Director for Georgetown County
One of these three men is likely to be selected on Tuesday, Oct. 22 to succeed current Administrator Sel Hemingway, who will retire in January.
During the regular meeting of County Council on Tuesday, members will go into executive session to discuss the candidates for the administrator position. After the meet and greet, County Attorney Wesley Bryant said that is the plan for the Tuesday meeting. “The expectation is to direct Walt Ackerman to offer the position and negotiate a contract.”
Council Chairman John Thomas said, “It was clear we’ve got three well-qualified applicants to choose from.” He also said he expects a vote to come Tuesday after the executive session discussion.
Thomas introduced each of the three men.
Tucker was born in Lancaster, S.C., a textile town. He went to Clemson University, and “while there, the textile industry in South Carolina died.”
“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through that. It planted a seed of an idea in my mind,” Tucker said. There was a lot of unemployment and tough times in Lancaster then.
After he finished college, he went to Greenville, which wasn’t the booming city it is today.
“But, they had visions and plans. I started to see the residents take ownership of plans.”
Tucker went on to North Augusta where he worked with the Chamber of Commerce, and “got into another strategic plan.”
“You have to have a long-term vision and a long-term plan,” he said.
Tucker, his wife and two daughters moved to Georgetown in 2012 to become the president of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce.
“I was struck by the natural beauty of Georgetown County. The second thing that struck me was the disparity between the haves and the have nots. I have never seen poverty – and wealth – like I have in Georgetown County. Quite honestly, it broke my heart.”
“When I transitioned over to this position (Economic Development Director), it was to try to help.”
“County government is working towards developing a sustainable budget. That involves helping to build up the tax base and building up reserves.”
In order to achieve these things, Tucker said, the county needs to talk about and seek answers to income inequality, race and disparity. “We need to have those conversations.”
“I’ve got passion. I want to help this county move forward for the next 20 years,” Tucker said.
“I grew up in Anderson,” Garner said. “I’ve spent the last 30 to 40 years of my life – the summers – in Georgetown County. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
“I’m married, and the father of five children. They range from 13 years old to 17 months.”
“Family is really what I’m all about. I love having a large family.”
“I came from a broken home. I was an only child and was raised by my grandparents.”
Garner said people might ask him two questions: Why Georgetown? And, what are you going to do for Georgetown?
“This is a diverse community,” Garner said. “I love diversity. I feel like you are more well-rounded.”
“Georgetown has seen a lot of growth. It’s one of the only counties in South Carolina that has seen growth over the last six or seven years.”
Georgetown has a well-rounded economy with tourism, industry and professional businesses.
The new Horry-Georgetown TEC Advanced Manufacturing Facility complements and expands on what’s already available at TEC, Garner said. Those will help train local people for jobs in both existing and new industries.
If he’s selected as the new administrator, Garner said he would be working with County Council and the Finance Department and auditor in presenting a balanced budget. They would work “to make sure that our revenues are accurate, they’re conservative … and that we also manage our expenditures.”
As Abbeville County Director he’s done that, and has helped that county achieve a balanced budget and an increase in the fund balance.
Garner said he started his career in fire and EMS and was fortunate to have people who took an interest in him and invested time and energy in helping him. He plans to do the same thing, investing in the people to help them grow.
Garner said people often distrust government, in part because they are used to being told “No” by government.
“I’m looking to change that. Tell them yes, give them what they need, so when you have to tell them no, they understand.”
“I’m really excited by this opportunity. I’m honored that County Council even saw the potential in me to name me a finalist.”
“You have some great employees, some great department heads, as is proof that you have two of them sitting here as finalists,” Garner said.
Funnye is a native of Georgetown County. After college and work in other places, he came back to Georgetown in 1992. In 2002, he became director of the Public Services Department.
“I’m happy to be here, as my family.” His wife of 27 years and his mom and other family members were present for the meet and greet. He and his wife have two sons and a grandson.
“You probably have noticed that my tan is a little better than Brian’s and David’s,” he said. “I ask that you neither embrace me nor dismiss me because of who I am, but because of my qualifications.”
“I want you to know that I have 27 years of distinguished accomplishments, and seven divisions … that I have been entrusted to do the work and help the citizens and the county grow further.”
He talked about his work with the Plantersville Village Flyers, a bicycle group that had an event planned over this past weekend. He’s founder and director of The Village Group. These programs work with youth. “These people are our future, and we have to invest in them to gain dividends for our future,” Funnye said.
He spent some time talking about three ideas.
The first is the importance of openness. He said he observes the interactions between Council, his colleagues and the citizens. “We have a disconnect in Georgetown County. I want to work with this community.”
“We need to be more open. I want our Web site to be enhanced … and share the decision-making process” so residents can understand how decisions mesh with resources.
His second idea is to work “to unify our county,” east and west, rural and urban. “We need to become one.”
“I believe because of the divides that we have now – historical or some other reasons, they hold us back. Georgetown needs a leader who has developed leadership ability. Someone who speaks the language of the Big Dam Community, the Santee community … but also Garden City and Litchfield.”
“I believe we are more alike than different.”
Funnye noted that over the past several years, as Georgetown County has faced hurricanes and flooding, people work together.
“They really change our perspective on life. In a crisis, we come together as a community. We help each other out.”
All parts of the county are important, Funnye said, and need help and protection.
“You might say we have a hurricane of understanding, but why can’t we be one after the hurricane?”
Growth for businesses would be good in all areas of the county. Inland areas have vast amounts of land that could support these businesses.
“I think there are promising opportunities to promote the natural, historical and eco-tourism aspect of our land.”
Funnye’s third idea is “to renew our faith in ourselves as public servants.”
“We have some of the most talented people in the state of South Carolina in our midst, and I want them to be able to be utilized and help them grow and develop their talents.”
He wants to get ideas from the employees as to how to do the work for the people of Georgetown County.
“Great ideas come from all levels,” he said, and he will encourage employees to share their ideas.
Funnye said he won’t make promises, “But I think that ideas about openness, about unity, about renewal, its time has come.”
“Our community deserves nothing less than that.”
Marvin Neal, president of the Georgetown branch of the NAACP, has previously voiced his thoughts that the county needs a breath of fresh air and new blood.
“I thought all three of them, their qualifications speak well. I don’t want to share any negatives for anybody. The good ol’ boy system has to go away for us to be effective.”
“We need a breath of fresh air, whoever it is.”
“And, we definitely need a forensic audit, whoever takes it, to make sure that breath of fresh air takes place.”
Separately, each of the three candidates expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet people and to be one of the finalists.
“Everyone had a chance to speak,” Tucker said. “County Council has a tough decision. I don’t think they can make a bad decision.”
During Tuesday’s Council meeting, members are expected to have a final discussion of the candidates in executive session and then return to open session to vote.
The Georgetown Times/South Strand News will post their decision online.