A Columbia attorney has joined the race for Richland County Council in District 8.
Overture Walker, managing partner at the Stoney & Walker law firm and a former City of Columbia municipal judge, announced his intention to run for the seat. Walker will run as a Democrat.
The District 8 seat currently is held by third-term Councilman Jim Manning. However, Manning announced in September that he would not seek re-election in 2020 and would step aside at the end of this year to focus on his consulting business.
Walker is the second candidate that has announced a run for the District 8 seat. Businessman Hamilton Grant also intends to seek the post as a Democrat.
County Council’s racially diverse District 8 is in the northeast part of the county, and includes the Decker Boulevard International Corridor commercial district. Filing for the election will open in March, with a primary in June and a general election to follow in November.
Walker, 39, has a long legal background in Columbia. He graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law and currently has a law office on Blanding Street. He formerly worked as a public defender in the Fifth Circuit, and served as an assistant city attorney with the City of Columbia. He was a city judge for four years, but stepped aside from that role so he could pursue the County Council seat.
Walker says he'll to work to help restore citizens' faith in a county government that has been hit with several controversies in recent years.
"In recent years I've watched as there has been a deficit of confidence gradually develop in our county government," Walker says during a recent chat with Free Times at his Blanding Street office. "Whether it was some of the controversy surrounding the [transportation] penny, whether it was some of the stories reported out of the former solicitor's office, whether it was the controversy surrounding the buyout of the former county administrator [Gerald Seals], all of these things sort of contributed to people not feeling too good about their county government and wondering if their county government was, in fact, working for them."
The Richland Transportation Penny, approved narrowly by voters in a contentious 2012 election referendum, is a program that is slated to collect about $1 billion during a 20-year period for various roads and transportation projects, and is a critical funding source for the regional COMET bus system.
But the penny program has proven controversial from the beginning, and has been beset with legal issues. Among them was a probe from the Department of Revenue that began in 2015, which was followed by lawsuits between DOR and the county and, ultimately, a state Supreme Court opinion that called into question a number of things that penny funds were being spent on. The revenue department and the county continue to negotiate the appropriateness of certain spending.
Walker notes there have been positive aspects of the penny tax, including more than 60 dirt roads paved, more than 30 sidewalks installed and 150 roads under construction. He acknowledges that "mistakes, in good-faith, were made with the program," but says he'd work to help restore the public's confidence in it.
"The people of Richland County voted for the penny, so we have to ensure that it succeeds," Walker says. "Failure is not an option. To ensure transparency and accountability with the penny going forward, it's important to perform an annual audit and empower the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee, which conducts oversight of the program."
Walker, a resident of the Parliament Lake neighborhood, says he's already been meeting with potential voters, and that some have said they're concerned about traffic in the district, and have expressed a desire to see more responsible growth in the rapidly developing northeast part of the county. He says he hasn't heard many complaints about crime, but notes public safety has to be a key priority.
"We have to make sure that law enforcement and our responders have the resources needed to protect our communities while expediting response times," Walker says.
Council seats up for election this year include District 2 (currently held by Joyce Dickerson), District 3 (Yvonne McBride), District 7 (Gwen Kennedy), District 8 (Manning), District 9 (Chip Jackson) and District 10 (Dalhi Myers).