A contested vote to raise the salaries of Gaffney's City Council members has spurred a number of last-minute write-in challengers ahead of next week's nonpartisan elections.
Cherokee County voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to decide seats on the Gaffney and Blacksburg town councils, along with multiple seats on the Cherokee County School District's board of trustees. In all, 16 candidates filed for election, according to Board of Elections officials.
But election officials said this week at least three Gaffney residents have made moves to challenge incumbent Town Council members S. Bernard Smith in Gaffney's District 2 and Charles Montgomery in District 3 through a write-in campaign.
Monita Dawkins, 53, and Stephanie Smith, 29, both confirmed Tuesday ongoing write-in candidacies to challenge incumbents S. Bernard Smith and Montgomery respectively next week. The third write-in challenger, Tracy Littlejohn, also confirmed his write-in campaign for Montgomery's seat in a message left for the Herald-Journal.
Gaffney City Council voted by a 4-3 margin on June 18 to give the entire board and mayor raises as part of the city's $14.24 million budget. Bernard Smith and Montgomery were among the votes to approve a roughly 54 percent annual pay raise that drew attacks from Gaffney residents.
Dawkins, a retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant, said the board's pay raise was only part of the reason she's thrown her hat in the ring.
"Our downtown looks like a ghost town," Dawkins said. "I've got a 2-year-old grandson, and I just don't see anything being done to build it up."
She said her challenge of Bernard Smith, who she called a family friend, is nothing personal.
"I feel like if you're voted into a position by this community, you need to be transparent," Dawkins said. "And after that pay raise, we need to hold people accountable."
Stephanie Smith said she woke up the morning after the council voted to raise its pay, saw the news and shook her head.
"I said, 'Oh, my goodness,'" Stephanie Smith said. "How could they?"
She highlighted the fact that the board waited until the second reading of the 2018-19 budget to insert the pay raise, a move which came after the filing deadline for this year's election had already passed.
"If they hadn't been running unopposed, I wonder if they'd have done that," Stephanie Smith said.
A millennial business owner with a young daughter, Stephanie Smith also highlighted safety and the lack of downtown recreation options in Gaffney as points of concern.
Bernard Smith said Thursday he believes the write-in candidates have every right to mount their bids, but said the pay raise was long overdue. Smith said he's been a city councilmen since 1992, and said the board hadn't had a raise in 14 years.
He said the ongoing city employee salary study should have been long completed, and called the delay unacceptable.
"But if there is anyone on this council who has talked about salary increases for our employees, I've preached that every year," Bernard Smith said.
Montgomery said Thursday he didn't believe it was fair for write-in candidates to challenge seats anyone in town could have filed to run for. He said he paid his $750 filing fee, money he said write-in candidates didn't have to pay. Montgomery also defended the vote to raise the board's salary.
"Because of a difference of opinion over the salaries, now they're coming after us," Montgomery said. "That's fine. I believe the constituents will support me."
Angela Christine Gibson and Frank C. Thayer Jr. are squaring off for Blacksburg Town Council's 2nd District.
Michael B. Patterson and Dennis Stroupe are running for mayor of Blacksburg. Stroupe has also filed to run for Blacksburg Town Council's 1st District.
Suzanne Turner, director of Cherokee County's Voter Register and Elections, said she checked state law after Stroupe registered to run in both races. He's an incumbent town councilman, so Turner said should Stroupe win the mayor's seat he would have to choose which seat to vacate. A special election would be held to fill the vacated seat.
Cherokee County School District board of trustees
District 1: Matthew K. Davis, Tracy Moore (incumbent), Shenae Robbs
District 3: Barry Bailey (incumbent)
District 5: Janet Powell, R.J. Holly, Noah S. Lindemann
District 7: Elaine Guest Fowler (incumbent), Christopher Alan McEntire, Kevin Phillips