Sumter mayoral candidates separate themselves despite few sparks during debate

mayors-raceWith only two weeks left to influence voters before they head to the polls, the three men looking to be Sumter’s mayor for the next four years faced off Tuesday night, hoping to garner whatever last-minute support they could.

While described as a debate, the two-hour event at Sumter High School between four-time incumbent Joe McElveen and his challengers – Charlie Jones and William “Dutch” Holland – was in reality more of a forum, as the candidates fielded directly from moderator Lefford Fate and a group of local students but rarely interacted with each other.

mcelveen-and-jonesBecause of the format and each the lack of interplay, the candidates didn’t delve too far into any specific plans they had for the Gamecock City.  Still, throughout the evening the three men were able to establish overarching themes for why they felt they should get support from Sumter voters.

For McElveen, who is seeking his fifth term in office, the message to voters was one of an “ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” variety, touting what he labeled dramatic improvements in the city’s overall welfare during his tenure.  “The proof is in the pudding,” McElveen said, making several references to the city’s downtown revitalization efforts,  park expansion, and recent economic development announcements as proof that his leadership was working.  In addition, the 70-year-old McElveen, who is already the longest serving mayor in the history of Sumter, said he still has the passion to lead the community.

“I’m still energized.  I can still see what can happen,” McElveen said.  “We are on the verge of breaking loose.  We are going to see incredible growth in a few years.”

holland-at-debateFor his cause, Holland promoted himself not so much as having a radically different direction that he wanted to take Sumter in, but rather as a developed leader ready to head the community.  On several occasions the retired U.S. Air Force General sited his training and experience in the military, saying it gave him the type of objective leadership the city needs.

“I’m not a politician, but I am hell-bent on being a public servant,” Holland said, adding that the best way to improve Sumter’s quality of life standards would be to infuse more servant leadership into the municipality.   “Government is here to support the people, and not the other way around,” Holland said.

And while McElveen, as he has in the past, called himself the city’s biggest unabashed cheerleader, Holland tried to differentiate himself by saying he felt to make true changes in the community you have to be willing to recognize weaknesses in the city as well, especially when trying to convince either businesses or individuals to relocate to the area.

“You have to show the true side of Sumter, not just the best side, because that’s just reality,” saying that would be the first step in tackling any issues Sumter might face in improving it’s quality of life.

The third candidate, Charlie Jones, however, said he didn’t believe the city was headed in a strong direction at all.  Early in his comments Jones said he disagreed by and large with most of the decisions made by McElveen, city council and city employee.  Jones even said he disagreed with the form of government the Gamecock City currently operates under, saying he wanted to see the city change to a “strong mayor” system, where the mayor, not a city manager, makes many of the decisions involving municipal operations.

As he has with his campaign literature, Jones also made it very clear early in the evening that he felt the area’s black communities were being sorely neglected.

“There are no plans that I’ve seen that include the black communities of Sumter,” Jones said. “Resources seem to be going other places, and are going other places.”

“You go into the black community – you don’t have to look hard – some of them look like a third-world country,” Jones later added.

As was to be expected at event sponsored by the Sumter Board of Realtors (as well as the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce and the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina), many of the questions for the candidates focused on real estate questions, including topics like home ownership, property tax rates, community blight and home insurance rates.  These questions didn’t lead to much variance in the answers from the candidates.  However, one topic where the three men varied dramatically was the community’s “Penny For Progress” sales tax.

Calling it ”one of the most positive things we’ve done,” McElveen voiced full-throated support for the penny sales tax, going so far as to call for the community to strongly support another sales tax referendum in seven years when the current sunset tax expires. “If you want things to happen, you have to invest in yourself,” McElveen said.

Holland approached the topic with a bit more pessimism than McElveen, saying that while there have been some positive projects coming from the additional sales tax, it also created some unfunded liabilities.

 “I certainly don’t think that we need to establish this as the way we’re going to fund things in the future,” Holland said, pointing out several of the infrastructure projects created by the recent referendums would require a separate revenue source to keep them operational.

Jones said while he once considered supporting the sales tax, the way it was ultimately used made him adamantly opposed to it in its past, current, and any future form.

“It could have been (good), but it wasn’t,” Jones said, calling out what he perceived as a lack of assistance to Sumter’s black communities.  Sepcifically, Jones attacked the use of penny sales tax revenues for the county to purchase the Sumter Item building facility owned by Osteen Publishing, saying the local government overpaid for the facility and could have spent the money more wisely.  For Jones,   “If you use it for one or two good things, it doesn’t outweigh the abuse of the other things,” he said.

Biden coming to Sumter

Official portrait of Vice President Joe Biden in his West Wing Office at the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.Vice President Joe Biden will be in Sumter during the last week of this campaign season as Democrats make their final push for the upcoming general election.

While officially in town to promote the South Carolina Democratic Party’s “Get Out The Vote” campaign, Biden will be visit the Gamecock City on Tuesday, Nov. 1, supporting the campaigns of the two men from his party that are looking to represent Sumter County in the U.S. House of Representatives next year.

Joining Biden on stage will be political hopeful Fran Person, who worked for Biden for eight years and is making his first run at political office in his attempt to represent the state’s Fifth Congressional District, while longtime Sixth Congressional District representative Jim Clyburn has held the same office since the 1992 election.

While details have not been finalized, the event will be open to the public and is expected to be held around 10 a.m. at Morris College.  Wherever the event ends up being held, organizers are asking those wishing to attend register ahead of time, which you can do here.

Later that day, Biden will also visit Rock Hill, another key city in the Fifth Congressional District where his protégé faces Republican incumbent Mick Mulvaney.  Those wishing to attend that event can register to do so here.

Mulvaney to campaign in Sumter on Tuesday

mick-mulvaneyU.S. Representative Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, will be in Sumter on Tuesday as he looks to promote his bid for another two years representing the state’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes approximately half of Sumter County.

The congressman’s local stop on his District Tour is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at Chik-Fil-A on Broad Street, where he hopes to meet with local constituents.

The Sumter stop will be the first of a four-day, 11-stop campaign tour for the Republican incumbent seeking his fourth term in office, with other stops scheduled for Elgin, Kershaw, Rock Hill and Newberry, among other cities within the expansive district.  A full list of events can be found at the candidate’s website.

Initially elected to office in 2010 by defeating then long-time incumbent John Spratt, Mulvaney became the first Republican in 128 years to represent South Carolina’s Fifth District.  In subsequent elections he defeated Joyce Knott in 2012 and Tom Adams n 2014. This November, Mulvaney faces Democratic nominee Fran Person in the general election.

Church stabbing in Wedgefield leaves parishioner in critical condition

lewisA knife assault at a Wedgefield area church Sunday morning has left a parishioner seriously injured and his alleged attacker is behind bars.

The suspect, 65-year-old Billy Lewis of Byron Lane in Wedgefield has been charged with attempted murder and is being held at the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center.

Witnesses told law enforcement around 9:20 a.m. Sunday at St. Paul AME Shaw Church the suspect, sitting in one of the pews during services, suddenly stood and began attacking the man sitting in front of him, stabbing him several times.

The victim, described as a man in his 60s, was airlifted from the scene to Palmetto Health Richland, being treated for injuries that officials only described as severe.  A nurse who happened to be attending services as well rendered aid to the victim until paramedics arrived.

“This is certainly a tragic event,” said Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis. “As bad as it was, we are fortunate it was no worse. Our thoughts and prayers go out the church members as well as the victim and his family and the suspect.”

Counselors from the victims’ advocates office at the sheriff’s office are providing assistance to church members witnessing the event.

Ken Bell, spokesman for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, said investigators have not been able to determine a motive for the attack and said there is no known prior incident between the two men.  Bell said Lewis also has a past history of mental health issues, but that investigators do not know of any history of violence involving the suspect.

The investigation into the incident continues, and Lewis could face additional charges.

No Trick, Just Treat: Texas-based confectionery company coming to Sumter

welcome-signThe Sumter economy received it very own Halloween-style treat Thursday when Mount Franklin Foods, a Texas-based confectionery company, announced its plans to open a new local manufacturing facility.

Expected to bring 225 jobs to the area with a capital investment of $10 million, Mount Franklin will move into the facility recently vacated by Au’some Candy with plans to manufacture gummies and fruit-based snacks at the Sumter Industrial Park plant.

While rumors about a “significant” economic development had been hinted at by local elected officials for weeks and work crews had been seen outside the company’s new Sumter location preparing the plant earlier this week, Thursday’s unveiling was the first time the new company had been publicly discussed.

Greg Thompson, president of the Sumter Economic Development Board, said the opportunity to lure Mount Franklin to the area arose after local officials learned the equipment previously used at the Au’some plant had been purchased with plans to move the equipment back to Texas.

“We asked them for one opportunity to show them it might make more sense to keep the equipment right here and operate locally,” Thompson said.

The result, Thompson said, was a whirlwind recruitment, showing the El Paso-based company the community’s facilities, infrastructure, and educational resources.   A local celebrity was thrown into the mix after it was learned the company’s CEO, Gary Ricco, was a big baseball fan.

“We will shamelessly pull out all the stops to get someone here,” said Sumter mayor Joe McElveen, pointing to Sumter-native and 1960 World Series MVP Bobby Richardson in the crowd.

The speedy recruitment effort was enough for Mount Franklin officials to change their plans and decide to open the Sumter location, despite their closest current facility being nearly 2,000 miles away.

“Everyone we worked with exemplified Southern hospitality,” said Ricco.  “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.”

Stressing the importance for an educated workforce, Mount Franklin provided an additional treat when the company presented the Sumter School District with a $5,000 donation.

Local officials said they believe the jobs at the Mount Franklin plant will require a skill set many in Sumter already have, specifically because of the void created by the Au’some closing.

Back in 2011, the Chinese-based company announced a $6 million capital investment with plans to bring 120 new jobs to Sumter.  Au’some, however, never reached employment expectations, and in March of this year closed its doors, laying off approximately 60 people.

The new facility could bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. Even with recent declines in the area’s labor force taking many unemployed people out of the equation, Sumter still has the highest unemployment rate of any of state’s metropolitan areas.  In fact, the Sumter Metropolitan Area unemployment rate – which includes all of Sumter County – was at 6.5 percent as of August 2016, giving Sumter one of the highest rates in the southeastern United States.

Pajama-clad man blocking traffic wounds officer in assault

ketchum-scottA Sumter man standing in the middle of the road in his pajamas hospitalized a Sumter County Sheriff’s Office deputy Thursday morning after assaulting officers responding to Plowden Mill Road.

Scott Irving Ketchum, 34, of Livingwood Drive in Sumter, was initially spotted by motorists around 9 a.m. Thursday, said the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.  When officers arrived to the Plowden Mill Road location, Ketchum allegedly became confrontational.   Once the confrontation began, deputies used both pepper spray and multiple stun guns while trying to subdue.  Neither had any apparent effect, said, Ken Bell, spokesman for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office.

“He admitted he had been using drugs,” said Bell in one of the least surprising quotations of the year.

Ketchum was eventually subdued, handcuffed, and then treated by Sumter County Emergency Medical Services for decontamination before being transported to the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center.

The wounded officer, who has not been identified, was treated for lacerations to the face at a nearby clinic and has since been released, Bell said.

Ketchum faced outstanding warrants from the Sumter Police Department for his arrest at the time of the confrontation, and now in addition to those charges, faces two counts of first-degree assault and battery and one count of resisting arrest with assault.


Carter preparing for another shootout with police, law enforcement says

press-conference-carterSumter law enforcement believes the suspect from a September shootout with officers is still in the area and has boasted that he plans to have another shootout with authorities should they attempt to arrest him.

Dontrell Montese Carter

Speaking Thursday outside the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center, Sumter Police Department Chief Russell Roark said investigators believe 25-year-old Dontrell Montese Carter has also obtained another assault rifle, another vehicle, and is selling drugs in the area.

“We believe he is a danger, not only to law enforcement, but to the community at large,” Roark said.  “We can’t say that enough.”

Carter is accused of committing a series of violent crimes during the early morning hours of Sept. 18, culminating with the suspect firing multiple shots at officers with an AK-47 assault rifle after crashing his car during a high-speed chase with law enforcement, and has eluded capture since.

In announcing a $7,500 reward for information leading to Carter’s arrest, Roark also said investigators believe Carter is now driving a black four-door vehicle, perhaps a Nissan or Infinity, and is frequenting the Sarah Glen Drive and Windsor City Mobile Home Park areas of Sumter County.

In addition, “We believe he is continuing his criminal enterprise of selling marijuana, briefly stopping in local clubs in the Rembert area,” Roark said.

“This is something that we traditionally do not do,” Roark said about the reward.  “But given the fact about his propensity to violence, given the fact that his weapon of choice is a 762mm high-powered rifle, given the fact that he’s fired recklessly and law enforcement and the community at large, we need the community’s help.”

Carter is described as a medium-skinned black male standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing about 170 pounds. While Carter was described as having dreadlocks at the time of the Sept. incident, Roark said investigators believe he might have cut his hair since then.

Law enforcement strongly asks the public not to approach the suspect if he is spotted, but rather to immediately call either 911, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at (803) 436-2700, or Crime Stoppers at (803) 436-2718.

Dashcam video of the September shootout with law enforcement was released by law enforcement last month.  That video can be seen here:

Fortunately no one was injured in the gun battle, and no one was seriously injured in any of incidents throughout the Dalzell area in northern Sumter County leading up to the altercation with law enforcement, which allegedly began with Carter physically assaulting his girlfriend before firing multiple shots into the nearby home of a relative.

As we pointed out in a previous story, Carter has been awaiting trial on various violent crime charges, including attempted murder, since 2008, and has been arrested at least 14 times over the past eight years.

Sumter PD expects to have body cameras in place by December

RoarkA contract recently agreed to between the Sumter Police Department and Taser is expected to lead to all department officers being equipped with body cameras by December, according to comments by Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark at Tuesday’s Sumter City Council meeting.

With the five-year contract with Tazer – the company known better for its electrical weapons – the Sumter Police Department will receive body cameras for all officers, the docking stations and software needed to manage the equipment, and 8 Terabytes of data storage.  Funding to pay for the $304,000 contract with the company was provided by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety via the same legislation passed by the South Carolina General Assembly last year requiring all South Carolina law enforcement agencies to start using the body camera equipment.

That same law required the Sumter Police Department first adopt an official agency policy on the use of body cameras and have that policy approved by the state’s Criminal Justice Academy, which Roark said has been completed.

With the contract in place, Sumter police will begin receiving the cameras during the first week of November, and will then begin the process of training officers on how to use the devices.  Roark said he expects training to be completed and the cameras to be in use by either the end of November or the first week of December.

Roark said his department began studying the implementation of body cameras two years ago, and ultimately opted for the service contract because of the prohibitive costs, not of the cameras, but rather to manage the tremendous amount of data the cameras will likely generate.

“The body camera itself is not that expensive of a device, but storage of the data can be a very expensive piece of the puzzle,” Roark said.

With the contract, Sumter PD will also be able to replace the cameras for updated models halfway through the five-year contract.

Mayoral candidate Jones accuses McElveen, city council, of abandoning Sumter’s black communities

cjones2Sumter mayoral hopeful Charlie Jones has gone on the attack in his bid for office, accusing incumbent Joe McElveen as well as Sumter City Council of abandoning the city’s black neighborhoods.

Jones’ campaign, which previously was showing very little public activity in the run up to the November general election, erupted over the past few days as supporters went door-to-door distributing aggressive campaign materials to Sumter voters.

2013mcelveen-j“Mayor McElveen has been in office for 16 years, and has done absolutely nothing for Black Communities,” reads one of the fliers, clearly geared toward undercutting the incumbent’s support among black voters. “The Mayor knows he need (sic) Black Folks to get re-elected.   He also knows he only have (sic) to deceive Black Voters every 4 years to get re-elected by using his Black Community Surrogates.”

The same flier, written in first person, also accuses city officials of intentionally disrupting Sumter’s black neighborhoods.  “…what the City of Sumter is doing to Black People is like herding them from their communities like cattle, to sections of the city and county where there are much less services and opportunities for Black residents,” the flier reads.

With these campaign materials, Jones – the only black candidate in the three-man race involving himself, McElveen, and William “Dutch” Holland – directs readers to his website (which can be found here).  Upon visiting the site readers will find Jones’ platform, which he uses to make additional aggressive accusations against quite a few individuals and organizations, including McElveen, Sumter City Council, Sumter County Council, the Sumter County Democratic Party and other locally elected officials.

“…Our local Black Elected Officials sent to Columbia, Washington, DC, and the Democratic party leadership in Sumter also seems to supports the Mayor and others that are not anything for Black Communities. WE THE PEOPLE MUST WAKE UP AND TURN POLITICALLY AGAINST THESE TRAITORS OF ALL OUR PEOPLE (BLACKS & WHITES),” the website reads.

Editor’s Note: At this point in the post we have to take a break to point out the difficulties in reading Jones’ campaign materials.  We try not to be too overly critical of occasional misspellings or the once-in-a-while grammatical error.  We’re just as guilty.  Still, in this instance, much like the quotation above, the Jones campaign website is absolutely riddled with them.  Attempting to read the candidate’s platform is not for the grammatically faint of heart.  English teachers, who likely have a few choice words for us as well, should just skip the endeavor entirely for want to avoid an aneurysm.

The website goes on to accuse McElveen and city council of a myriad of leadership failures in the city’s minority communities, including failing to provide adequate law enforcement and intentionally diverting federal funding intended for these neighborhood to more affluent neighborhoods.

“Many Sumter Residents from all walks of life believe that there is major corruption in Sumter City and County Governments. We must stop corruption in the City of Sumter,” the site reads.

Jones will get the opportunity to present his arguments in person to the voters of Sumter during a debate next week involving the three mayoral candidates, scheduled to be held at Sumter High School.  Details to the event can be found here.

Recent readers’ polls by Sumter Citizen have found Jones receiving little online support from those participating in the surveys, and a recent analysis of the various campaign finance reports discovered Jones has yet to file any of the paperwork required by the South Carolina Ethics Commission for either his current bid for office or his failed 2014 run for Sumter County Council.  That report can be found here.

Sumter County residents now eligible to apply for FEMA individual assistance

downed-treeSumter County residents are now eligible to apply for federal aid as they try to recover from damages to their homes and property caused by Hurricane Matthew now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has added 15 more South Carolina counties to its Individual Assistance list.

With the addition, Sumter residents can now seek money for temporary rental assistance and home repairs, as well as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

To review or apply for the various programs, residents can either register online at or by calling (800) 621-3362. The phone number will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

When applying for these programs, applicants will need a number of items, including their Social Security number, the address of the damaged home or apartment, a description of the damage, information about the property’s current insurance coverage, a contact telephone number, an address to receive mail, and bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds.

In addition to Sumter, other counties now eligible for individual assistance include Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Jasper, Lee, Marion, Orangeburg and Williamsburg.

In addition to the Individual Assistance program, FEMA has also qualified Sumter County for public assistance, allowing the local government to apply for help in paying for debris removal.  By making this program available as well, Sumter County government agencies can be reimbursed for up to 75 percent of their costs in responding to the storm.