Spartanburg School District 3 Superintendent Jim Ray answers a question from WSPA news anchor Tom Crabtree during a community town hall held Monday night on Wofford College's campus. The forum was sponsored by Seven on Your Side, the Herald-Journal and the Spartanburg County Foundation. Photo by: LUKE CONNELLfirstname.lastname@example.org
By Lee G. Healy
The Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Published: March 11, 2013
Safety concerns seemed to weigh on the minds of community members participating in a town hall-style meeting with Spartanburg leaders Monday evening.
The event, hosted by WSPA and sponsored by WSPA, the Herald-Journal, Spartanburg County Foundation and Wofford College, was held in Wofford's Leonard Auditorium. More than 50 community members joined a panel of leaders representing a range of organizations to address issues affecting Spartanburg and beyond.
Panelists included Sheriff Chuck Wright, Mayor Junie White, Public Safety Director Tony Fisher, Spartanburg School District 3 Superintendent Jim Ray, County Council Chairman Jeff Horton, Renee Romberger with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and Ellen Goldey with Wofford College.
Early in the evening, law enforcement leaders addressed a proposed “open carry” bill that would eliminate concealed carry weapon permits and allow South Carolina residents who can legally own a weapon to carry it with them in most public places.
Wright said he doesn't take issue with the open carry proposal, but emphasized the need for continued background checks for gun owners. Both he and Fisher stressed the importance of personal accountability and proper training when it comes to guns.
“I think making a decision to buy a weapon is a personal choice,” Fisher said. “I suggest that each person be responsible.”
Officials also discussed security in schools. Fisher said that all organizations — not just schools — should conduct a comprehensive threat assessment. Ray said that's something being done in school districts on a continuing basis.
Ray praised the benefits of school resource officers but said he does not support the idea of having staff members carry weapons.
“I certainly hope the state of South Carolina will approve funding to our schools to improve security in general,” Ray said.
Speaking on the effects of drugs like methamphetamine on the community, Romberger stressed the importance of collaboration between law enforcement and the medical community. She said it's impossible to separate crime rates from issues like mental illness and substance abuse.
“There's this vicious cycle,” Romberger said. “… They're just bouncing from the jail to the ER to the street. It's unsafe. It's inhumane.”
Romberger pointed out funding cuts to mental health programs, but praised a recent collaborative effort between several Spartanburg organizations to address behavioral health issues and to identify strategies for success in the future.
Leaders also touched on other local healthcare needs, safety in neighborhoods, animal control, fees and housing concerns, among other topics. Spartanburg resident Bob Mitchell said he appreciated the opportunity to hear the panel come together on common issues. In particular, Mitchell said he enjoyed hearing each panelist's response to the last question, which dealt with Spartanburg's greatest attributes. Leaders answered by praising Spartanburg's collaborative spirit and diversity.
“The comments the panel had really helped with the positive outlook,” Mitchell said.
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