Originally created 11/18/99

Local residents raise concerns at state forum



AIKEN -- Fewer than two dozen people came to the "For the People/By the People" town meeting Wednesday night, but issues they raised reflected concerns that have plagued South Carolina for years.

"It's a chance for the people of Aiken County to express their views and also an opportunity for ETV (public television) to take an in-depth look at the issues that concern the people of the state," said Dr. Diedre Martin, spokeswoman for the University of South Carolina Aiken, where the meeting was held.

Education was the one issue participants often returned to at the meeting, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and South Carolina Educational Television. Since Aiken County has no active League of Women Voters chapter, the university was asked to join the sponsorship locally.

Concerns about education ranged from test scores to funding problems. They came from retiree Ron Feller, who said he thinks the system should be redesigned; university Vice Chancellor Blanche Premo Hopkins, who deplored the state's funding formula for higher education; and North Augusta City Councilman Kent Sullivan, who was concerned about school facilities and funding for technology.

These and issues raised in 14 town meetings this week throughout the Palmetto State will form the basis for hourlong programs televised statewide next year on South Carolina Educational Television, said Dr. Robert Botsch, professor of political science.

"Our task tonight is a very serious one," Dr. Botsch said. "It is to change government in South Carolina to give the people a say in the issues."

He served as moderator, and members of the university's political science club recorded speakers' comments.

It was a personal concern that brought Mr. Sullivan to the meeting -- the high cost of vehicle insurance and the consequences of an accident even for drivers with more than 25 years of safe driving. An accident resulting in a repair fee of more than $1,000 can cause the insurance premium of the at-fault driver to more than triple.

"It is not a good system at all," Mr. Sullivan said. "It's one of the most expensive and it's unfair to the safe drivers of South Carolina."

He voiced the oft-repeated complaint: "We pay insurance for 25 years without an accident and then have to pay even more if we have a minor accident and use that insurance we have paid for all those years."

He agreed with Mrs. Hopkins, who raised another personal issue: paying twice for automated-teller machine service, once for the service and again to the bank.

"South Carolina should follow the lead of some larger states like California and ... and make the practice illegal," she said.

When comments from throughout the state are compiled, copies will be given to the League of Women Voters for a presentation to the General Assembly and ETV officials, who will put the programs together.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895.