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S.C. Profiles in Courage

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

by Phil Noble

As a very young boy of nine years old, I first became interested in politics when my father off-handedly encouraged me to watch the Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate in 1960. It changed my life – literally.

After the debate my father asked me what I thought and I responded, “I kinda like that Kennedy guy.” My dad then replied, “Why don’t you go help him in the campaign?”

I was stunned by the very idea that I, as nine year old, could actually be involved in something that I just saw on television. So, the next day after school I got on my little red bicycle and rode down to the local Democratic Party headquarters and walked in the front door, fully expecting to see John Kennedy sitting behind the desk. He wasn’t there.

My disappointment was soon overcome by the excitement of the sounds and activities of the campaign office – the phones were ringing, folks were nailing signs together, an old fashioned mimeograph machine was cranking in the corner churning out flyers, volunteers were talking about the debate we had seen last night while licking stamps and stuffing envelopes – and there were huge posters on the wall of my newfound hero.

For a nine year old, it was about the most exciting thing I had ever seen – and I was literally dumbfounded by the very idea that I could be a part of it.

I eagerly jumped in with both feet and, from then on, I spent every afternoon after school and on weekends at the campaign office. To the adults, I quickly became the campaign pet – they would pat me on the head occasionally and throw me a bone of a new job to do. Sweeping the floor, handing out leaflets, going for coffee or whatever an adult asked me to do – I eagerly did.

I felt like I was helping to elect a President! That experience lit a fire of passion for politics and public service that still burns within me more than 50 years later.

Probably the first adult book I ever read was Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. I didn’t really understand much but I did grasp the basic premise that it was a rare and special thing when someone in politics was willing to stand up and do what they thought was right, even if it was unpopular to the point of their suffering political defeat.

Now fast forward about fifty years or so and consider the case of the only two South Carolina politicians – both Republicans – who have received the Profiles in Courage Award. The award is presented annually by the Kennedy Library in recognition of political leaders who have taken a principled stand on issues that were politically unpopular.

In 2003, former Governor David Beasley received the award for his strong leadership and support for taking the Confederate flag down from the State House dome. And this year, former Congressman Bob Ingles was afforded the same honor for his courage in sounding the alarm about the dangers of climate change. Both took their stand in the face of overwhelming opposition from their own party and most agree that it was that stand that caused each to lose the next election.

Although such courage is rare in politics, we in South Carolina have had other notables who demonstrated the same courage to speak out for principles that were highly unpopular at the time, but history has shown was right. Below, are just three such examples.

The Grimke Sisters, Angelina and Sarah, were born into a family of the bluest of blue bloods of early 19th century Charleston aristocracy. In keeping with the times, their family owned large plantations and hundreds of slaves. Both began to publicly question the morality of slavery and were eventually forced to leave their beloved Charleston. They went to Massachusetts, where they became fierce and effective advocates for both abolition and women’s rights.

James L. Petigru was Attorney General of South Carolina and was called “the first citizen of the state” for his devotion to our state and its people. However, he strongly opposed secession. It was Petigru who, in December 1860, while standing on Meeting Street in Charleston watching the delegates file into Institute Hall to sign the Ordinance of Secession, uttered those famous words that I believe best describe our beloved state: “Poor South Carolina, too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”

Judge Waites Waring is probably the best known recent example. As a Federal judge in the 1950s, his rulings in a number of civil rights cases shocked his fellow South Carolinians but paved the way for many landmark cases, including the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education case that outlawed segregation. He was so ostracized by his fellow citizens of Charleston that he eventually moved to New York.

These are just a few of the most famous examples but there are surely countless others that are less well known but just as important.

I’d like to ask readers of this column to send me information on other South Carolinians in politics – particularly on the local level – who deserve a South Carolina Profile in Courage Award for their principled but unpopular stand. Send them to me via the email address below and I’ll publish the best of them in a future column.

We have far too few profiles in courage in politics today – either in South Carolina or nationally – and we need to recognize those brave souls who demonstrate such courage.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. phil@scnewdemocrats.org   www.SCNewDemocrats.org

My Brain on NASCAR: The Phantom Menace

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott

By Cathy Elliott

May 20, 2015 –– It occurred to me after I watched the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 16 that I have spent precious little time this season talking about the “all-stars” of our sport. Instead, I have stayed true to form and gone off on a series of odd tangents on things like inappropriate terms of endearment and Tiger Woods.

I have done you a disservice. I feel badly about it. So this week I have decided to take a deep breath and make a decision … to keep right on doing what I’ve been doing. Sorry.

Well, truth be told, that’s not the truth. I’m not sorry. After spending the past couple of years contemplating NASCAR’s future prospects and thinking things were looking pretty bleak, I have come full circle – or perhaps I should say full oval. We have discussed Brett Moffitt this year, and Chase Elliott. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson always seem to be in the conversation (and in the thick of things on the racetrack).

This week, it is time to talk about NASCAR’s current number one Number Two: Erik Jones.

Like the old joke about how Democrats vote – early and often – Jones has wasted no time making a name for himself since Kyle Busch Motorsports signed him to drive in five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) races in 2013. Success came early; Erik finished second in his third career start and later that same season became the youngest driver to win in the history of NASCAR’s high-level competition, at the age of 17. (He lost the top spot to Cole Custer the following season, but still, it was pretty impressive.)

In 2014 Jones moved up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Joe Gibbs Racing. He competed in three events for JGR that year, and earned another winner’s trophy in the NCWTS, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; that’s his boss Kyle Busch’s hometown, by the way. Way to go, Erik.

On April 10 of this year Jones won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, but probably the biggest moment of his career came when he made his unofficial debut at Bristol Motor Speedway after his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin was sidelined by neck spasms. It was subsequently announced that he would take over driving duties in the No. 18 Toyota until Kyle Busch – who was seriously injured during Speedweeks at Daytona – was medically cleared to reclaim the driver’s seat.

Long story short, Jones is making headlines in a big way. As far as NASCAR trajectories go, he appears to be on a straight and focused line to the front of the field.

He certainly has proven himself willing to do whatever it takes to make it big, even in temporary situations. I think I heard somewhere that Jones will be filling in as an interim late-night talk show host until Stephen Colbert takes over David Letterman’s former seat, and there are also rumors that he has been tapped as an understudy for the title character in Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, a legendary leading man with a long and successful career whose name, by the way, also happens to be Erik.

Coincidence? I think not.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

“Michelle Obama and Racism” by Stuart Neiman

"Michelle Obama and Racism" by Stuart Neiman

“Michelle Obama and Racism” by Stuart Neiman

“Lindsey Lap” from The Times and Democrat

"Lindsey Lap" from The Times and Democrat

“Lindsey Lap” from The Times and Democrat

“Pressed Press” from The Times and Democrat

"Pressed Press" from The Times and Democrat

“Pressed Press” from The Times and Democrat

“Air Deodorizer” from The Times and Democrat

"Air Deodorizer" from The Times and Democrat

“Air Deodorizer” from The Times and Democrat

The Myth of the Lost Cause and the Reality of SC’s Future

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

Over 60% of us who live in South Carolina today were born here. As native South Carolinians, we grew up imbibing the history, heritage and myths of the South. And there is no stronger myth of the South than the myth of the Lost Cause, as beautifully and brilliantly portrayed by the 1939 romantic historical film epic, Gone With the Wind.

The irony is that the myth of the Lost Cause was just that – a myth. And it is only because we have begun to transcend this myth with the new realities of South Carolina – best exemplified by Gov. Nikki Haley – that we are now in the process of building an economic powerhouse of a state in the global economy of the 21st Century.

First the myth. This is not the place, nor is there sufficient space to track the brutal historical realities of slavery, the Civil War and the Old South, and their transformation over time into the romantic myth of the Lost Cause exemplified by the countless monuments to Confederate heroes in town squares and on courthouse lawns across South Carolina.

The myth of the Lost Cause also manifested itself in the accompanying regressive social and political structures that dominated our state for most of the 20th Century – and also gave us the economic stagnation created by a poor education system, low wages and a hard-working but inefficient workforce.

If we look across history and across the world, we see that these creations of national/cultural myths are not unique to our South and they often arise out of military defeats. Sometimes they can be positive, sometimes negative.

Much of Upstate South Carolina was settled by Scots-Irish who fled from Scotland to Ireland and then to the New World. The Scots created their own national myths based on the lore of the fight and plight of Bonnie Prince Charles and the uprising of the Jacobites in 1745. Out of this defeat, and three generations later, Sir Walter Scott and other romantics created many of the popular legends of Scotland – right down to the modern representation of family name clans with kilts of distinctive plaids. Much of this is myth, as traditionally Scots used whatever plaid that took their fancy – but don’t try and tell that to the folks at all the Highland games and clan gatherings held across the country and around the world. It’s a harmless myth.

An evil example of the creation of national myths came after Germany’s defeat in World War I. Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists propagated the myth of the Jews stabbing Germany in the back and thus causing the humiliation of Germany’s defeat in World War I. This Nazi myth led directly to the genocide of the Jews and untold atrocities against millions of others.

Now back to South Carolina. The myth of the Old South that was so pervasive in our state has shaped huge parts of our state’s culture and its politics. A component of this culture is a suspicion, often leading into hostility, towards “outsider” (AKA Yankee) ideas, institutions and people.

The great irony is that it is precisely these outsiders who have had such a huge positive impact on our state and are largely responsible for the economic vitality that exists today. After World War II, Senator Strom Thurmond, Rep. Mendel Rivers and other South Carolina politicians used their seniority in Congress to get billions of dollars pumped into the state’s economy via military installations – while at the same time ranting and raving about the evils of the federal government as The Great Satan, just one step this side of Gen. Sherman’s invading army.

And in the next generation it was not just Yankee money from non-Southern business investments that were South Carolina’s life blood, it was foreign investment – from “ferigners.” It was Michelin, BMW, GITI, Continental, Horst, and countless others – and now Volvo – that have pumped billions of dollars into our economy and created hundreds of thousands of jobs and made our state one of the leading states for per capita foreign investment.

Another great historic irony is that the current face of South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley, is the antithesis of any stereotype of the South as the domain of the good-ole-boy-style Governor Bubba. She is young, telegenic and of Indian descent.

Now, I’m a lifelong Democrat and I’ve never voted for Haley, but I’m not so partisan that I cannot see that her unique story can be a major asset to this state — and one that we and she should use to the fullest. She has three-and-one-half years left in her term and she should use this time to travel the world and tell South Carolina’s story. She should not just pursue new businesses and investment, but also use her time to build global partnerships among schools, colleges and universities, cities, and other state institutions and organizations – think sister city programs as a model.

Sure there will be some partisan cheap shots about not taking care of South Carolina or taxpayer-financed foreign vacations, but if she uses good sense and doesn’t go overboard on spending (as she has in the past) then her critics won’t get much traction.

The future of South Carolina is global. And we need a governor who understand this, and will work to build the relationships needed to make it happen.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. phil@scnewdemocrats.org www.SCNewDemocrats.org

My Brain on NASCAR: Bigger is Better

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott

By Cathy Elliott

May 19, 2015 — It is a rare occurrence, but occasionally in the world of professional sports an individual comes along who becomes the standard bearer for his particular field of competition.

It’s generational, to some degree. My Michael Jordan may be my kid’s LeBron James, for example, or your dad’s long speeches about the genius of Fran Tarkenton may mirror your own enthusiasm for the athletic stylings of Tom Brady … although Brady may have gotten a little deflated in your eyes given current events. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

In NASCAR discussions, the names you would probably hear most often would be guys like Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and David Pearson, or Jeff Gordon, or any of the available Earnhardt or Allison options.

But the NASCAR name least likely to come up when playing our own personal version of “Celebrity Sports” is the most influential figure in the history of stock car racing: William Henry Getty France. In a new book titled Big Bill: The Life and Times of NASCAR Founder Bill France Sr., author H.A. Branham tells us why.

In the interest of full disclosure, Branham has been a great friend of mine for well over a decade, occupying a permanent spot in the highest of my personal esteem levels. This lofty position is due to the fact that during one particularly memorable NASCAR Champion’s Week in New York City, Herb got me closer to Academy Award-winning actor/director Kevin Costner than any mortal woman should be allowed to go. Seriously, it was like looking into the eyes of the sun.

More to our point here, when he is not making overage fangirls’ dreams come true, Herb Branham is a terrific writer with a particular talent for taking reams of research and crafting them into biographies and compilations that read more like James Patterson novels than the Encyclopedia Britannica. In other words, they’re that thing that reading is supposed to be, no matter what that Tolstoy guy says: Fun.

BigBill“Big Bill” France – so labeled for his six-foot, five-inch stature – was the original visionary wheelman of the NASCAR world, a racer and mechanic who corralled the loosey-goosey world of stock car racing in the 1940s and ‘50s into the billion-dollar business of today. Along the way, he was targeted by Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, and met with Bobby Kennedy, who at the time was America’s attorney general, about resolving that particular problem.

He learned – or maybe even created – the art of stock car racing public relations, giving fans exciting new venues to visit and interesting superstar drivers to care about, from moonshiners to war heroes. He got a bunch of disparate people together in a Daytona Beach hotel room and, many bottles of whiskey and hundreds of cigarettes later, they emerged as a united sanctioning body called NASCAR.

With a big tract of swampland, a loan of a few hundred thousand dollars and a ridiculous 15-month deadline, he built Daytona International Speedway, now known as the World Center of Racing, and established the sport’s richest and most famous event, the Daytona 500. By comparison, Chicagoland Speedway, one of NACSAR’s newest facilities, took nearly two years to construct at a cost of $130 million.

France wasn’t one to sit in a fancy ivory-tower office and survey his empire, but instead was ready and willing to get his hands dirty when the situation warranted it. In one particularly memorable incident, fisticuffs were involved … but you’ll have to read the book for more details on that one.

Big Bill was also a devoted husband and father, planting the early seeds of the family-values atmosphere still so much in evidence in today’s NASCAR.

I bookmarked one particular line in the book as I was reading. France’s daughter-in-law, Betty Jane France, was telling the story of driving around the track at Daytona with Big Bill before the first Daytona 500 was ever run, when he made the following comment: “This is really going to be something one day.”

That may be the understatement of the century.

In addition to Big Bill: The Life and Times of NASCAR Founder Bill France Sr., H.A. Branham is the author of Bill France Jr.: The Man Who Made NASCAR; The NASCAR Family Album; and The NASCAR Vault. Find his work at your local bookstore, or at your favorite online retailers including amazon.com and bn.com.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

S.C. lured Volvo with $204M incentives package

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published May 11, 2015

South Carolina lured Volvo Cars’ first American factory to Berkeley County with a roughly $204 million incentives package.

Volvo announced this morning that it had chosen Berkeley County for its car manufacturing campus. Gov. Nikki Haley and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, alongside about 20 business leaders, held a news conference Monday at the Governor’s mansion in Columbia to share details of the announcement.

The company plans to invest $500 million in the site and create 4,000 jobs in the Lowcountry over the next decade.

Among the incentives, an estimated $120 million will come from state economic development bonds, if approved. An additional $30 million will come from state Commerce Department grants. Additionally, Santee Cooper will provide an additional $54 million in incentives to the project.

Hitt said the state Commerce Department plans to seek funding in the coming weeks from the Joint Bond Review Committee, the state Budget and Control Board and the Coordinating Council for Economic Development.

Most of the funding will be used for public infrastructure, including a new highway interchange and roadways to the industrial park “that right now has no infrastructure whatsoever,” Hitt said. On-site rail is a possibility for the site, though few details on that were available.

“Rail is an essential part of the long-term development of the site. … A strategy is in the works,” said Commerce spokeswoman Allison Skipper.

Santee Cooper’s board of directors unanimously approved the purchase of the 6,800-acre Camp Hall Tract off exit 187 along Interstate 26 on Sunday.

About 2,880 acres of the 6,800-acre site will be used by Volvo. The remaining land will be used for future industrial projects, Volvo suppliers or future Volvo expansions.

“We will build an industrial town along Interstate 26 and populate it with 4,000 people over time,” Hitt said of Volvo’s presence in the industrial park.

Volvo Cars will be the anchor tenant of the industrial park. Berkeley County will eventually own the Volvo site, according to Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore.

The Berkeley County factory, to be located in Ridgeville, will make latest-generation Volvo models for sale in the United States and for export to global markets through the Port of Charleston. The factory will employ up to 2,000 people over the next decade and up to 4,000 people in the longer term, the company estimates.

Details on the types of jobs and wages were not yet available. ReadySC, a division of the S.C. Technical College System, is assisting with recruitment and training for positions at the new plant.

Talks began with Volvo in July. At least five other states, including Georgia and North Carolina, were among the finalists for the plant, according to Hitt.

The announcement was a culmination of collaboration among state agencies, Commerce officials, incentives and networking efforts, according to Haley and Hitt, who traveled to Europe and New York to meet with Volvo officials.

“We will very much be proud to say that we now build Volvo cars in our state,” Haley said.

Construction of the Volvo plant will begin in early fall, with the first vehicles expected to roll off the assembly line in 2018. The plant will have the initial capacity to produce up to 100,000 cars per year.

The Volvo site is a huge win for the Lowcountry’s automotive and advanced manufacturing sector, and Volvo is the second European company to announce an automotive facility in the region in two months.

“The transformation of South Carolina into an advanced manufacturing state has been an incredible change that continues at a remarkable pace,” Hitt said.

Berkeley County was chosen for its proximity to the Port of Charleston, easy access to infrastructure, a well-trained labor force, experience in advanced manufacturing and attractive incentives, the company said.

Volvo Cars, owned by Chinese automaker Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Go., plans to use this plant to transition from an automotive importer to a domestic manufacturer. Volvo began importing cars to the United States in 1955.

The U.S. plant is part of the company’s plan to double global sales, boost market share and increase U.S. sales, which have been lagging in recent years.

“Volvo Cars will do much more than make automobiles in Berkeley County. Volvo will raise the standard of life throughout the Lowcountry and throughout our state,” Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter said.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

“Bernie bid” from The Times and Democrat

"Bernie Bid" from The Times and Democrat

“Bernie bid” from The Times and Democrat

“In the morn” from The Times and Democrat

"In the morn" from The Times and Democrat

“In the morn” from The Times and Democrat

“War on” from The Times and Democrat

"War on" from The Times and Democrat

“War on” from The Times and Democrat

Editorial: Senate agrees to put body cameras on police, but videos are kept secret

Herald-Journal

We already suffered from a lack of information long before the S.C. Senate decided that police body camera video should be kept secret in most cases.

For instance, much of the reason there is so much strife in Baltimore this past week is because the public still has too little information about how Freddie Gray’s spine was broken while he was in police custody, eventually causing his death.

An attorney for the family of a man shot and killed by police in Spartanburg County is raising questions about that incident. We still have too little information about that shooting. Law enforcement authorities have refused to release routine public documents, including the incident report and the original warrants police were trying to serve on the man.

A police officer in North Charleston who shot and killed Walter Scott is charged with murder. But until the video a bystander shot of the shooting appeared on the websites of the Post and Courier and The New York Times, police were insisting that the man had attacked the officer. If the video hadn’t been shot or hadn’t been released to the public, would we know today what had happened to Walter Scott?

The key to building trust and accountability is transparency and openness. We need more information to the public, not less.

The General Assembly should consider this fact. The state Senate passed a bill last week that would start the process of putting body cameras on police officers throughout the state. It’s a worthwhile idea. Many departments have already started doing this without a state mandate.

But the senators voted to keep the video from the public in most cases. They decided that only when a complaint is made against an officer or there is “heightened public interest” will body camera video be released. Senators said they were concerned about privacy rights, but they rejected an alternative that would have withheld only those videos recorded inside private spaces.

The default policy should be openness, not secrecy. The law shouldn’t state that all videos are secret unless there is an allegation against an officer or “heightened public interest.” The law should make it clear that the videos are public documents that have to be released unless a judge finds that there is a significant privacy concern in releasing the video and that there is no public benefit to be gained by doing so.

That would address the concerns of privacy and transparency. The version of the bill passed by the Senate will make it too easy to keep these videos out of the public eye, even when they should be released in the public interest.

Across the nation, there is increased public concern about police actions. The way to address those concerns is with more information, not less.

Editorial: Public has the right to view dashcam video

The Post and Courier

Video from a bystander’s cellphone made a big difference in how North Charleston handled the shooting death of Walter Scott by then-officer Michael Slager. After seeing it, officials quickly fired the officer and charged him with murder.

Video of another shooting is also making a difference in North Augusta — but in a bad way. Police are refusing to release dashboard camera video that reportedly captured a shooting death in which a policeman has been charged.

In doing so, the police are ignoring the state’s Freedom of Information laws. That’s not smart, nor is it fair to the public.

In February of 2014 North Augusta Public Safety officer Justin Craven chased Ernest Satterfield, a black motorist, for nine miles under suspicion of drunk driving. Mr. Satterfield did not stop until he was in the driveway at his home. According to a report by Edgefield County deputies, cited by The Associated Press, officer Craven ran up to the car and fired his gun. Deputies reported that Mr. Craven, who is white, later told them that Mr. Satterfield was trying to grab the gun from his hand. The public has a right to see whether the video corroborates that account.

The prosecutor initially charged the officer with voluntary manslaughter, but the grand jury disagreed and indicted Mr. Craven for the lesser charges of misconduct in office and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle.

Both SLED and the prosecutor have said the video won’t be made public until Mr. Craven’s trial. They say releasing the video before that could make it difficult for the officer to get a fair trial.

But a 2011 court ruling concluded that law enforcement agencies can’t refuse to release dashcam videos without providing a specific reason such as concerns about revealing the name of a suspect before an arrest or the location of a sting operation.

There is no such exception being sought in this case, and there is no good reason not to adhere to the FOIA.

Black civil rights leaders are unhappy that the grand jury reduced the charges. They contend that authorities are hiding information.

Haven’t officials learned anything from other shooting deaths involving police? It’s vitally important to get correct information to the public as soon as possible. And in the matter involving the dashcam, it’s the law.

It is time for South Carolina officials to stop considering the Freedom of Information law an inconvenience that they can ignore when it suits them.

And being open and honest is not just the law — it’s the right thing to do.

SC Kids Doing Worse – Part 2

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

Last week in this space, we reported on the annual Kids Count study on the status of children in the country and for each of the 50 states. For our kids in South Carolina, the results were not good, as we as a state had slipped two places in the rankings. Last year SC ranked 45th of the 50 states in the well-being of our children, the same place as in 2013, but down two places from 2012, when we ranked 43rd.

We are gaining speed in the wrong direction.

Most weeks, I hear from people around the state with their comments on my columns. Sometimes they say some very nice things, and sometimes they say some not so nice things. Last week, after writing about Kids Count, I heard from Connie Dykstra from Bluffton, who until recently was involved with the organization nationally, and Melissa Strompolis with the Children’s Trust Fund, which runs the project in South Carolina. They gave me some valuable background information, and also some very good data about how our kids are doing in each of the 46 counties of the state.

Here’s what they told me. The Annie E. Casey Foundation started the Kids Count Project in 1990 and South Carolina began participating that same year. Similarly to the Casey Foundation nationally, in SC the Children’s Trust Fund uses the Kids Count data to create recommendations, and to advocate for policies that benefit children.  All of this information, as well as and their legislative agenda of nine policy recommendations for improving early care and education in our state, is on their website at SCChildren.org.

In looking at the comparative data for each of SC’s 46 counties, it is clear that there is a wide gap between the well-being of our children in the urban/suburban and rural areas. Below is a listing of how each county ranks, grouped into four tiers from the best to the worst. The results show that Tier 1 (the highest ranking counties) are generally urban/suburban counties and those in Tier 4 (the lowest ranking counties) are rural counties.

Tier 1 – York, Lexington, Dorchester, Pickens, Greenville, Beaufort, Spartanburg, Calhoun, Berkeley, Richland, Charleston

Tier 2 – Kershaw, Edgefield, Anderson, Oconee, Newberry, Horry, Abbeville, Lancaster, Greenwood, Aiken, Saluda

Tier 3 – Sumter, Florence, Chesterfield, Georgetown, Cherokee, Union, Laurens, Hampton, Darlington, Bamberg, Orangeburg,

Tier 4 – Clarendon, McCormick, Chester, Barnwell, Jasper, Fairfield, Dillon, Colleton, Marlboro, Marion, Lee, Williamsburg, Allendale

An even more stark comparison is the ranking of counties along Interstate I-95 (often called the Corridor of Shame) compared with counties off Interstate I-85, which crosses the upper part of the state. Remember, a low number is good in that it is where the county ranks on the scale of 1 to 46 counties.

Interstate I-95 countiesDillon 40, Marlboro 42, Florence 24, Darlington 31, Clarendon 34, Dorchester 3, Colleton 41, Hampton 30, Jasper 38.

Interstate I-85 countiesOconee 15, Anderson 14, Greenville 5, Spartanburg 7, Cherokee 27

Another interesting way to look at the data is to compare the urban/suburban areas to each other.

Upstate – Anderson 14, Greenville 5, Spartanburg 7

Columbia – Richland 10, Lexington 2

Charleston – Charleston 11, Berkeley 9, Dorchester 3

In trying to sort through this avalanche of numbers from the column last week and this week, the question is: What does all this mean? There are two basic conclusions: first, the children in South Carolina are in bad shape; we rank 45th of the 50 states – and we are losing ground. And second, even within SC there is a wide disparity of well-being among children, with those in the rural areas suffering the most.

Now, to anyone who reads a local paper, drives through rural parts of our state, or can simply observe the children around them – none of this will come as a great shock.

We as a state are guilty of child abuse.

The great tragedy is that no one will go to jail as a result.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. phil@scnedemocrats.org  www.SCNewDemocrats.org

Missing Newberry girl’s parents had tried to keep pair apart

The Newberry Observer

 Courtesy photo Alysia Skipper has been missing since April 30. Her parents said she left with no clothes, wallet, identification, money or a phone. The only items she appeared to take was what she was wearing, her journal, the book she was reading and a pair of shoes.

Courtesy photo
Alysia Skipper has been missing since April 30. Her parents said she left with no clothes, wallet, identification, money or a phone. The only items she appeared to take was what she was wearing, her journal, the book she was reading and a pair of shoes.

 

NEWBERRY — Dale and Karin Skipper are anxiously waiting to hear from their 16-year-old daughter Alysia Skipper, who they believe left Newberry with Jonathan Dennis in the early morning hours of April 30.
Alysia Skipper and Jonathan Dennis, 15, have been missing from their respective homes since April 30, according to local law enforcement. They are believed to be in a 2006 Hummer that was taken from Jonathan’s home.
Dale Skipper said they had separated the two teens because there were other issues presenting themselves, including some previous incidents that made them wary of their daughter spending time with Jonathan Dennis. The two had dated in the past.
“We had separated them because there were other issues going on,” Dale said. “We had seen a text we didn’t like from him and saw issues we did not like. We were warned by other people that we should keep them apart, so we separated them and started monitoring her text messages pretty much consistently.”
Skipper said Alysia had her phone while in class at Newberry Academy so they could track her, but got word Jonathan, who attends Newberry High School, had been borrowing other people’s phones to text their daughter.
Skipper said they took their daughter’s phone and changed the number, trying to prevent contact between the two teens.
Karin said the two were still managing to stay in contact so they filed a no trespassing notice on April 17 against Jonathan Dennis to keep him off their property.
Dale said they had been told Jonathan was sending messages to Alysia, telling her he had a plan, $2,000, that he knew what to do and would be coming to get her that night. That was before the two went missing.
Dale said they were contacted last Wednesday by a parent of one of Alysia’s classmates indicating that Jonathan Dennis had sent a text message stating “tell Alysia I’ll see her tonight.”
Alysia normally goes to her church’s youth group on Wednesday nights, according to her parents, which is what they thought Jonathan was referring to.
Dale said their daughter also enjoyed going to the YMCA. Alysia’s brother Dylan kept watch on her while inside the YMCA, while her father watched who was coming and going to ensure there was no interaction between the two teens.
“We saw no sign of him,” Dale Skipper said. “We thought maybe he was crazy enough to think we’d let her go to youth group.”
At 11 p.m. Wednesday, Dale said he and his son installed a trail camera outside of Alysia’s window.
“At 2:15 a.m., I got up to let the dogs out and I could see that her lights were on,” Karin said. “I open her door, she was not in her bed, not in the bathroom. All the doors were locked. So I woke up my husband and called the police.”
Dale said he pulled up the footage from the trail camera and saw Jonathan Dennis at his daughter’s window from 1:10 a.m. until 1:26 a.m.
“He was at the window pointing over his shoulder with keys in his hand,” Dale said.
Dale said he called Jonathan’s father and alerted him that Alysia was gone.
Alysia’s parents said she left with no clothes, wallet, identification, money or a phone.
The only items she appeared to take was what she was wearing, her journal, the book she was reading and a pair of shoes. The camera shows her handing those things out the window to Jonathan Dennis.
“The camera never showed her get out of the window,” Dale said.
“It took 15 minutes to convince her,” Karin added. “You can see in her expression that she is really not wanting to go. She is not smiling or happy to see him. She is listening to whatever he says for 15 minutes and looks very unhappy.”
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said neither teen has made any contact with friends or loved ones. There have been some reports they were spotted in the Charleston area.
Dale Skipper said they have no family in the Charleston area or in South Carolina. When the teens were dating, Skipper said there was talk about them getting married and going to Colorado.
The Skippers said a family friend read about green ribbons symbolizing missing children. One has since been put up at their home and their friend’s home in support.
Alysia Skipper is described as 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 145 pounds, with brown shoulder length hair and brown eyes.
Anyone with information regarding Alysia Skipper’s whereabouts should contact the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office at 803-321-2222 or the Newberry Police Department at 803-321-1010.

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Missing Newberry teen’s parents hope son will contact them

A family photo of Jonathan Dennis with his parents, Dale and Alicia Dennis, and his little sister, Emma Dennis.

A family photo of Jonathan Dennis with his parents, Dale and Alicia Dennis, and his little sister, Emma Dennis. Courtesy photo.

By awigger@civitasmedia.com

The Newberry ObserverNEWBERRY — Dale Dennis said his cell phone rang around 2:15 a.m. April 30, but he didn’t recognize the number so he ignored the call. A few minutes later, his wife’s cell phone rang and it was the same number.

He answered it that time. On the other end was Dale Skipper, father of 16-year-old Alysia Skipper.“He said ‘Do you know where Jonathan is? Is there something missing there?’ I was half asleep and told him I am sure he is asleep,” Dennis said Tuesday. “He then asked me if a vehicle was missing, and I looked out the window and my Hummer was gone.”It was then that Dale and Alicia Dennis realized their 15-year-old son Jonathan was missing. The window in his bedroom was open and the screen had been cut. Dale Dennis then called the police to tell them what happened.“Jonathan just has a permit, and it is actually at our house,” Alicia said. “He took Dale’s wallet and does have Dale’s driver’s license, but it is a two year old picture. Dale is much bigger and looks like a grown person.”

Dale and Alicia discovered that Jonathan did not take much with him. His backpack and flip flops are missing and possibly a change of clothes. But Alicia said he did not take anything else, including his glasses.
When it comes to the “why” in the puzzle, Alicia said it’s possible that he ran to avoid dealing with a situation involving law enforcement.

“Jonathan thinks this will all go away, or he did, when we intercepted text messages the first time when they were talking about this,” Alicia said. “We made it perfectly clear that he would make it worse if he ran. But he was under the impression that you run, it all goes away.”

Dale and Alicia Dennis took away their son’s phone after that and then activated another phone for their daughter, Emma. Jonathan took that phone with him.

“The phone has been turned off since 2:30 a.m. That is when I called it,” Dale said. “The phone has not been turned on since.”

The only thing Dale and Alicia have found out came from text messages the police shared with them: a possible destination of Colorado. A Charleston connection has been mentioned since Jonathan’s birth mother lives in Summerville.

“I think they are either out of the state or switched vehicles, because a Hummer is a pretty conspicuous vehicle with a ‘Tennessee’ logo,” Dale said. “They had from 1:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. (when the information was sent out about them) the next day to leave the state.”

Dale Dennis dispelled rumors that Jonathan Dennis kidnapped Alysia Skipper.

“He did not kidnap her. End of discussion,” Dale said. “There were texts back and forth. From my understanding, the last text she got from him was ‘if I am not there by 1:30 in the morning, go to bed.’”
Dale said 0ther rumors are circulating but they are just that: rumors. Dale said his son is a “great kid” who likes sports and other outdoor activities.

“I would just like to hear from him, either for him to call me or text me,” Dale said.

Alicia Dennis said she just wants her son home and safe. They can face the consequences together.

“He is the most beautiful, wonderful child ever made,” Alicia said. “He is funny, impulsive and all boy, just a gift from God.”

Jonathan Dennis is approximately 6 feet tall, weighs about 157 pounds, has shaggy brown hair and dark blue eyes. Alicia said Jonathan has a small mole on the right side of his face near his sideburns, a scar behind his right ear and two healing scars on the front and back of the right side of his shoulder.

Anyone with information about Jonathan Dennis is asked to call the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office at 803-321-2222 or the Newberry Police Department at 803-321-1010.

Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.

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Search goes national for Newberry teens

By eparnell@civitasmedia.com
The Newberry Observer

 NEWBERRY COUNTY — Officials on a local and national level are pulling out all the stops to locate Jonathan Dale Dennis, 15, and Alysia Margaret Skipper, 16, who disappeared from Newberry County on April 30.

Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said they have worked around the clock to locate Skipper and Dennis and get some answers for their families.

On April 30, law enforcement said family members discovered that Skipper and Dennis were missing and had been since approximately 1 a.m. The two were reportedly driving a 2006 white Hummer H3 with South Carolina license plate TN 281, displaying a Tennessee logo.Foster said the NCSO is working closely with the Newberry City Police Department on its investigation but the investigation extends far beyond local law enforcement.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have also joined forces to help with the investigation.“We’re working on every angle we possibly can,” Foster said.

Allison Moore with the Newberry Police Department said they believe the teenagers left the area voluntarily. Moore said they are continuing to talk with friends and family and looking into every new lead that comes in.

“We’re following every lead until the very end to see if it’s a good or bad lead,” Moore said.

Moore said they’ll continue to remind the public of the teenagers’ absence and hope that someone will hear from them. Each friend they speak with gives them more people to contact, she said.

Foster said they have tried many avenues to locate the teens, including mass media coverage, using technology and interviewing friends, but have not found any credible leads.

The teens, Foster said, have not made any contact with friends or loved ones that they know of and have not used cell phones, meaning they cannot be traced. The vehicle has On-Star capability, but it was not connected.

Foster said sightings have been reported in Charleston, Folly Beach and Edisto Beach but they have been dead ends.

“We’ve gone back and looked at video, interviewed witnesses that say they may have seen them, but we can’t put it concrete that it was them,” Foster said.

Foster said Tuesday they are unsure if the teens are still in the vehicle they left in, have ditched it for another or have changed the license plate. If the vehicle is stopped and the tag checked through law enforcement databases, it will alert law enforcement immediately.

Although officials are operating under the assumption Skipper and Dennis left voluntarily, Foster said they could be vulnerable to others because of their ages.

“When you’re out and about and have no means of support, then how are they going to sustain themselves?” Foster asked. “So there are people in this world that look at that, that vulnerability and might would cause them harm. That’s why we consider them in danger.”

Alert law enforcement

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office at 803-321-2222 or the Newberry Police Department at 803-321-1010. Information can also be given through Crime Stoppers of the Midlands 1-888-CRIMESC.

The Newberry City Police Department, the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office and SLED are offering a reward for any information leading to the return of the two teens. In addition, family members are also offering a reward.

Dennis is described as a white male, approximately 6 feet tall, 157 pounds, with shaggy brown hair, and dark blue eyes. Skipper is described as approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall, 145 pounds, with brown shoulder-length hair and brown eyes.

Dennis, 15, and Skipper, 16, have been entered into NCIC and are each listed as a Missing and Endangered Person.

Foster is asking everyone to keep both families in their thoughts and prayers.

“If the kids don’t want to come home for whatever reason, my message to them is to please call your parents and tell them you’re alright,” Foster said. “Not knowing is a whole lot worse than knowing.”

Until then, Foster said, the overall goal will be to reunite the two with their families.

Reach Elyssa Parnell at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.

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Transparency needed for body-worn cameras

Taylor Smith  |  SCPA Attorney

Taylor Smith

By Taylor Smith, SCPA Attorney
Unresponsive democratic governments fail.

One deadly feature of such governments is a lack of transparency. When leaders decided citizens didn’t need to know about the workings of government, citizens lost a lens to determine how responsive government was, often this created mistrust, which led to anger and eventually, rebellion.

I was heartened when police body-worn camera bills were proposed in the S.C. legislature – it was a direct check on the power of the state’s executive branch by the legislature.

As an attorney for the S.C. Press Association, I was invited to work on drafting the legislation. While I was worried about preserving citizens’ privacy, I was primarily concerned that technology would be used more as a new tool of investigation than a lens for the public to view the police conduct. Recent deaths of people at the hands of police were cited by several senators as their purpose for proposing legislation.

Fortunately South Carolina has a fairly strong Freedom of Information law that allows citizens to request information and documents from our government. The law exempts from disclosure information of a personal nature where disclosure would constitute an unreasonable invasion of a person’s personal privacy and information that would harm a police agency in certain circumstances is also exempt.

Understandably, the newspapers and I were advocating that data which comes from police body-worn cameras should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. So far, we have failed.

The bill (S.47) that passed the Senate last week now provides that data from body-worn camera’s which enters into a “private place” will not be subject to disclosure, under the Freedom of Information Act, unless the data is relevant to a criminal or civil trial and is requested by a person who is “the subject of the recording” or is otherwise involved with the crime the data is said (by police) to pertain. Some of the last words of this bill are the most offensive to transparency: “Data recorded by a body-worn camera that is retained by a law enforcement agency in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation or internal investigation is not a public record and is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”
As the bill stands now, citizens will not have a mechanism to force our government to release this data if police claim it is part of an ongoing investigation. Furthermore, a civil action will have to have already been filed against the government for a citizen to have access to the data that could make or break their case.

It also seems ludicrous to spend tens of millions of dollars on police body-worn cameras, then severely limit public access.

This should change. The stated purpose of this proposed law must be realized or there will be no light on how a person was injured or killed in the darkness of government action. I fear our democracy will slide ever closer to a historical reckoning caused by a lack of transparency.

“Ideological divide” by Stuart Neiman

"Ideological divide" by Stuart Neiman

“Ideological divide” by Stuart Neiman