Monday, June 2, 2014
Berkeley County Supervisor candidate Jerry Beckley sat down with the Gazette and voters May 28 for coffee and a discussion of his candidacy during the last Coffee with the Candidates at the Corner Cafť in Moncks Corner.
Beckley is running for office for the first time, and is assistant vice president of information technology at Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union.
He is one of three candidates vying for the Republican nomination during the June 10 primary.
His fellow Republican candidates were a part of the Coffee with the Candidates series earlier this month. Moncks Corner Mayor Bill Peagler took part in the series May 14, and incumbent Dan Davis took part May 21.
The following questions came from Gazette reporter Lindsay Street and the audience:
How will you transition from the private sector to the public sector?
I have 15 years experience in state and local government. The concepts between private and public are the same. You have to prioritize where youíre going to spend your money. We need to look at things we need to do with the county. A budget is a budget is a budget is a budget at the end of the day. Working with a credit union, we are member-owned ó itís the exact same thing in the county. You pay for your membership with tax dollars.
What is the biggest issue facing Berkeley County?
There are two issues: emergency services and manufacturing jobs. I can only tell you what I see. I see emergency vehicles with a lot of miles on them, police cars with paint coming off them. The first job of any county is to protect its people. And, secondly, we need industrial development in Berkeley County. But as supervisor, one of the very first things I want to do is have the books audited. Letís see where our money is.
How will you fix those issues?
Iím not going to lie to you ó not everything makes the cut. I have to get in there and tear that budget apart. And then you microcosm inside each budget. Itís a scalpel approach, not a machete.
County council has a significant political divide. Are you interested in fixing that split?
You have to know when to negotiate and you have to know when to stick to your guns. Politics is a contact sport. If they donít want to fix it, it canít get fixed. But all I can do is be the best for the citizens and stick to my conservative principles. Itís almost gone past the point of repair on council. Itís turned personal. Iíd be glad to work with anybody, but at the end of the day, I have to do whatís best for the people of Berkeley County.
This election could turn the tide toward having what an audience member described as more ďliberalĒ council members. How will you work with a ďliberalĒ minority?
You canít just throw your head in the sand. You have to fight your battles. The voters have changed the council to more conservative in recent years. We have a $1.8 million surplus this year. Something has worked. Why donít you return that to the people of Berkeley County? You shouldnít be making a profit. But you do need to have a safety net, and to fund certain things.
The county is about to hold a public auction of American LaFranceís business personal property to recoup the companyís $650,000 debt to the county. Do we need to rethink economic development?
You have to balance between a tax break and giving away the farm. Ten years for a deal is about right. We need to have people on staff very in-tune with the industries we have. Iíd like to put together a team that searches for businesses worldwide. Thereís no reason we canít bring business here. Go sell the county to people. Charleston canít really expand anymore. Berkeley County is perfect if you think about it: we have all those places in the upper part of the county that need businesses and thereís a lot of land up there.
What will you do about impact fees?
You have to wean yourself off ... Iíd say 10 to 20 percent a year until youíre off of it. I believe in a phased approach. Itís the scalpel. Fee is a euphemism for a tax. Berkeley County has a lot of growth it can still do. As it grows, you can reduce the impact fees. Government can get a little bit out of hand with fees. Itís a way of pulling in revenue.
Speaking of fees, Berkeley County will now charge a $15 fee for nonresidents searching divorce records. Should there be more fee-per-use charges in the county?
At what point does it become weíre feeing people to death? I struggled on the divorce fee. We are using it to make revenue. And things like this happen because people arenít watching. During the last supervisor race, 16 percent of the (participating) voters made 100 percent of the decision for the rest of the county. With fees, youíre just nickling and diming people to death.
Is Berkeley Countyís government too big?
Yes and let me preface that a little bit. We have some bloated departments where we can combine efforts. Iím not saying Iím firing anybody, but that we can work together through attrition.
Would you prioritize hiring Berkeley County residents for county jobs?
If your best and brightest are already in the county, absolutely. And if youíre hired from another state, I think you need to live in the county so citizens can look you in the eye when they go to church. In the South, thereís a Good Olí Boy system, and I donít think thatís right. I will hire the best person.
Should the county reopen a satellite office in Goose Creek or pursue more online technologies to help citizens who live far from Moncks Corner?
You can already do online payment to a certain extent. Do I believe in satellite offices? Yes, I do. Thereís a difference in expanding government and extending a service to the people. I donít think youíd have to hire more people to get that done. Perhaps a book-mobile type service is needed to travel the rural sections of the county on certain days.
What would you have done differently when Daniel Island recently courted annexing to Charleston County?
There are two issues surrounding Daniel Island: schools and county government. It has to do with giving them some attention. We can do little things that will make a big difference in relations, like satellite offices. At least twice a year, I want county council working down there. Maybe once a quarter. What they want is somebody to listen to them.
If you have meetings outside of Moncks Corner, what about the immobile livestreaming and video system set up at council chambers so people can watch from home?
You can do livestream from the cheapest camera in the world. It can be done.
Free speech advocates pushed against the countyís political sign exception, definition and time-limit. What do you think the longterm solution should be?
I think 30 days is a reasonable time limit and I think we ought to limit the size. Not the content. But we need to approach this the day after the election.
What is your greatest weakness?
I tend to get into the weeds a little too much. I love to understand things ad nauseam. I want to know the answer.