Saluda Business Association questions city commissioner candidates

Published 6:23 pm Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Saluda’s downtown business community received strong support from the seven candidates running for city commissioner as they spoke at the Tuesday, Oct. 2 meeting of the Saluda Business Association (SBA).

Each candidate had three minutes to answer the statement and question: “Please tell us your opinion on the role the business community plays in the overall health of Saluda. And if elected, how do you plan to support the business community?”

Two candidates, Johnnie Kinard and George Sweet, currently serve as city commissioners. Other candidates running are Carolyn Ashburn, Karen Bultman, Mark Oxtoby, Hobart “Sunny” Pace and Ellen Rogers.

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Carolyn Ashburn: Ashburn said the best avenue for government to support business is the state’s Small Town Main Street program, which has adopted Saluda.

The fact that business community members work together to support activities that benefit them collectively . . . “is what makes Saluda so special,” she said. “They do embrace competition.”

Ashburn said she would like to see a marquee placed near the entrance to town, bearing a list of upcoming events and similar information.

Karen Bultman: “You (business community members) help pay the bills,” said Bultman. She noted that Saluda is a “well-managed and financially sound town.” As chairwoman of the board of the Saluda Center, Bultman said she is grateful for the town’s support. Good finances, she said, “is the best thing we can do for our merchants and the business community.”

Johnnie Kinard: “Without the business community, there is no Saluda,” said Kinard, who has served as a commissioner for 14 years. He compared scenes of downtown vacant lots in past years to the town’s current vitality. Kinard noted the difficulty of maintaining a town with Saluda’s “uniqueness and history.”

He emphasized his support of events such as the tailgate market and Coon Dog Day. He said she hopes to help Saluda continue to be “dynamic and economically viable.”

Mark Oxtoby: Impressed with the walkability of the downtown area, Oxtoby emphasized, “We have to be able to capture the Saluda that everyone wants to see as we grow.” Oxtoby pointed out the Saluda Arts Festival as being one of the best events of that type he’s seen.

“I don’t believe the city government should be an obstacle,” he remarked. “We have a good-functioning Main Street.”

Hobart “Sunny” Pace: “The businesses are what bring people to town,” said Pace, who added that he believes in “open and honest communication between the business community and government.”

Pace favors the continuation of the tailgate market and other existing programs. He said because of the health of the business community, people in town have a better chance to earn a living than in the past.

Ellen Rogers: “To live here and work here and be in this community is priceless,” said Rogers. She said she’d like to help “grow Saluda without losing that small-town feel … through collaboration and cooperation.”

Rogers said she feels downtown parking can be managed better, including the west lot on days not used by the tailgate market. More activities that attract the entire family are also needed, she said, noting Friday concerts at McCreery Park as a good example.

George Sweet: “The business community is essential to Saluda,” said Sweet.

“Without it, Saluda would dry up,” Sweet said. As commissioner, Sweet said he’s worked to improve the recently dedicated Pace Park, with public rest rooms. Working on better lighting downtown is also on Sweet’s list.

“Regarding the business community,” he stressed, “We don’t need to be telling you what to do. You need to be asking us.”

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said the present board is very supportive of the business community. “They’re volunteers (receiving a very small payment). They’re not doing it for the money,” Baisden continued. “They’re doing it for the love of the town.”