A Greenville County Council candidate forum hosted by three local nonprofit organizations Wednesday evening took a turn when Will Morin, the Democratic Party candidate battling for the District 27 seat held by Chairman Butch Kirven, accused Kirven of mishandling the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Morin, who said he was among the county residents who had contracted COVID-19, criticized the county’s lack of a mask ordinance and said a lack of leadership from the county council “has failed us.”
“There are over 300 bodies laying at Mr. Kirven’s feet, the lives of people who’ve died from COVID-19,” Morin said. “We need a mask ordinance and it is time that this be instituted in the county.”
Morin’s comments came in his opening introduction. He was the last candidate to speak during the hour-and-a-half livestreamed forum so Kirven didn’t have a chance to respond.
Asked afterward if he wanted to respond, Kirven said, “I’m not going to respond to an absurd statement like that.”
“I’ve done everything that I possibly can to encourage people to stay safe and keep people safe during this pandemic,” Kirven said.
Kirven has regularly encouraged residents to wear masks and practice social distancing and has warned that the virus is a real threat.
The council has not instituted or ever discussed a mask ordinance, despite leading the state in cases for several weeks in June and continuing to be at or among the highest case counts in the months since. Greenville County is the most populous county in the state.
Kirven, a Republican who has served on the council since 2004, is facing Morin in District 27, which represents parts of Simpsonville, Fountain Inn and the Five Forks area.
Most of the questions and responses in the forum focused on affordable housing, growth, public transportation, relationships with nonprofits and municipalities. The forum was hosted by Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy, Nonprofit Alliance and United Way of Greenville County and moderated by author and speaker Deb Sofield.
Candidates mentioned the need to better interact with the nonprofit community to understand needs for the social safety net for many struggling residents of the county during the pandemic.
Stan Tzouvelekas, a Republican running for the District 22 area from Wade Hampton Boulevard to Interstate 85 that includes Bob Jones University, said the council hasn’t used its $91 million share of federal coronavirus relief funding effectively in the community.
He said the county needs to work more closely with nonprofits, local cities and the arts community. For example, he said they need to find a way to fund the new convention center in downtown Greenville to house the BJU Museum and Gallery’s vast religious art collection as an asset to attract tourism.
Samantha Wallace, Tzouvelekas Democratic opponent for the seat currently held by outgoing Councilman Bob Taylor, said she wants nonprofits at the table when the county is prioritizing its budget and spending. The county is just beginning to experience pressure points of intense growth expected to bring another 200,000 residents over the coming two decades and needs to prioritize inclusion and diversity to build a safe community “from the inside out.”
Many of its current issues with sprawl and traffic are due to the outsized influence of developers and the county’s guiding document for growth – its new comprehensive plan – needs the council’s leadership to rewrite the county’s planning rules, she said.
Other candidates who spoke included:
District 20: Steve Shaw, Republican; Farris Steele Johnson, Democrat
District 21: Chris Harrison, Republican (uncontested)
District 24: Amanda McDougald Scott, Democrat; Liz Seman, Republican, incumbent
District 25:Republican candidate Ben Carper and incumbent Democrat Ennis Fant were invited but didn’t attend.
A video of the event will be posted online. This story will be updated when the link is available.