By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald
[Editor’s Note: The event was held at the Herald Center, but the Effingham Herald was in no way involved in organizing, promoting, or broadcasting the event.]
About 40 people braved the rain on the evening of Sept. 14 for an event at the Herald Center that was initially going to be a debate between the two candidates for the Rincon City Council seat previous held by Damon Rahn.
The special election to fill the seat is Tuesday, Sept. 19.
The event was moderated by WSAV anchor/reporter Kaley Fedko.
Eric Hills, after initially saying he would debate, declined to participate and didn’t show up.
Kevin Exley then turned the event into a town hall where he first detailed more about his background and qualifications, then opened the floor to questions from the audience.
“I basically told myself and everybody here when I ran for mayor, it was 17 votes,” Exley said, referring to his loss to Mayor Ken Lee in 2021 by 17 votes.
“I did a debate here. And I felt like everybody looked at that and there was nothing,” Exley continued. “There was nothing there. There was no vision from my opponent. There was no vision at all. And I just had all these plans and all this energy, and so I decided, one thing I got on my side is time. I don't know how long I'm going to live, but I will tell you this. I will continue to run and I will not quit running until I'm able to make a difference in the city.”
Exley went on to give an example of how the current city council is not working for the citizens and how the citizens don’t trust the council.
“The people that are on council don't trust the person who's sitting next to them. It's pretty tough. I went through two years of and I heard it every time we had a council meeting,” Exley said. “I heard, ‘Man, these guys are not going to include you,’.
“Until we had the appeal hearing for the city manager here, we never heard the mayor say, ‘There was just four people that I choose to work for me,’ Exley charged. “What that means is, is there's two other people that get nothing. You get absolutely nothing. If you voted for that person, which everybody [on council] is around 300 to 400 votes, those 400 people times two get nothing. You have no voice because this is a strong council/weak mayor city, and council should be heard. So, no, people don't trust because the people on council didn't trust.”
Exley added that he’s learned a lot since his first time on the council and that he can be trusted. He’ll respect that maybe some people don’t like him, but he’s fine with that.
“What I don't like to see is people taking advantage,” Exley added.
For example, when Exley lost the 2021 mayor’s race by 17 votes, he was asked to challenge that vote. But he declined, saying at the time, “You have 8,300 registered voters in Rincon. We had 1,000 people come out for that election,” Exley explained.
“We had 1,000 people out of 8,300 show up for that election. And I just thought at that moment in time, why would I challenge that? Because there's enough people in Rincon to make a difference. But you can't make a difference if people don't vote,” Exley added.
Then he put the onus on the city. “You can't make a difference in your community when voting is not advertised. There's no signage. There's nothing. There's nothing to get excited about for Rincon voters here,” Exley said.
Exley spent the majority of the 2 ½ hour event detailing his thoughts on residents’ concerns, such as:
· Warehouses – “We are next to the fourth-largest port in the country. We’re going to grow,” Exley said. “What we have not done is we didn't fulfill our promise to the residents to create infrastructure and to keep things away from people's house. Everything that we do is backwards. You can't build warehouses, and then come back to do infrastructure later. That don't work. You put the infrastructure in place. You put hospitals in place. You put all those things in place and then you start letting the warehouses come in. They're not bad. They're just bad because we allow them to come in at different times. And we allow them in areas that we maybe should not allow them.”
· Term limits – “We need term limits. Two terms, three terms, doesn’t matter,” Exley said.
· Transparency – Exley added that signs are rarely posted about plans that may affect neighborhoods. “(The IDA) person should be at every one of those meetings reminding Planning and Zoning, ‘Hey, guess what? Somebody is talking about building this in Rincon,’ and Planning and Zoning at that point, immediately jumps on and starts talking about it and coming up with a plan; and then shows up with the IDA member and Planning and Zoning member to a council meeting and tells them, ‘Hey, look, we got this problem. We need to address this. We need to talk to citizens now because we're not talking to citizens. We're making decisions without doing that.”
Exley also talked about his ideas to alleviate traffic within Rincon, building the second entrance/exit to Picket Fences, preserving the wetlands and green spaces, the Rincon Golf Course, and recreation sites.
He concluded his town hall by urging everyone to vote on Sept. 19 and contact their neighbors and friends to get them to vote as well.