Mayoral Candidates Sound Off on the Issues – Laurens EditionFebruary 6, 2023
On March 7 residents of Laurens will go to the polls to vote for a new mayor. On the ballot will be three candidates: Randy Garrett, Nathan Senn, and Alicia Sullivan.
The Buzz sent a questionnaire to the candidates with a deadline of one week to respond. Published here are the insightful responses from the three candidates: Randy Garrett, Nathan Senn, and Alicia Sullivan. Answers from candidates are listed in alphabetical order.
Note: This is the second in a two-part series (click HERE to read the first part covering the Clinton mayoral candidates).
First, let’s meet the candidates (bios submitted by the candidates) for
I am a lifelong citizen of the city of Laurens, and a graduate of Laurens District 55 High School. I recently retired from Laurens Electric Cooperative after forty-eight years of service. I retired as the Vice President of Government Relations, where I worked on legislative issues that benefited cooperative members. I also spent much of my time on rural economic development projects, helping to bring infrastructure dollars to our area for jobs and economic opportunities for local citizens.
In addition to my work, I have served on the board of the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, the Laurens County Economic Development Corporation, and the Laurens County Health Care System, serving as chairman of each of the organizations at various times. I currently serve as the Chief Volunteer Officer for the Lakelands YMCA of SC.
I have been a member of First Baptist Church of Laurens for sixty years where I have served as chairman of Deacons and have served as the church’s Treasurer for the past eleven years.
My daughter Miranda Langston also lives in the city of Laurens, along with my two best buddies (and grandsons) Cason and Gavin Langston.
I am Laurens native, a committed Christian, a small business owner, and a pragmatic problem-solver. I value hard work and the importance of being a good steward of God’s blessings. So, I pursued my education, eventually earning my law degree.
After living in Charleston for ten years, where I studied law and started my law firm, I felt called to come home and be near family. As soon as I moved home, I became involved in our community by serving on the Main Street Laurens Board. I saw things that concerned me about what our former city government was doing (or not doing) to improve Laurens. I had no ambition to be mayor, and still have no desire for any other public office, but I felt called to help. I still do. I am not beholden to any party or interest group. This independence has given me the ability to find common ground and work with all who are committed to our common good.
I’m a Clemson grad and a Tiger fan. I like to paint. I’m curious. You’re more likely to find me watching a documentary than a movie and reading about theology or history rather than a novel.
Alicia Sullivan was born and raised with strong Christian roots in Laurens SC. Always ambitious and in service to others and the Community. She graduated from Laurens District 55 Public schools, attended and graduated in 2007 from Greenville Technical College with an Associate’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. In 2011, she launched Sullivan Healthcare Associates LLC, contracting her Occupational Therapy services into Greeneville and Greenwood. Further expansion brought additional jobs and employment to others in 2013, currently, repositioned in a partnership with SC BabyNet.
Alicia is the owner of Dial Enterprises LLC, a rental property business she started with her own funds, investing in neglected neighborhoods in Laurens County. In 2016 she ran for public office and became a City Council member in Laurens District 2 where she is still serving her Community. While serving she made many proposals and created initiatives improving the livability of the citizens of Laurens.
It is her humble hope and aspirations to serve the City of Laurens as Mayor to further the dreams of her hometown becoming a place where developers, tourists, citizens of all cultures, ages and economic differences, live and exist with dignity and respect.
Why are you running for Mayor?
Garrett: I have lived my entire life within the city of Laurens. I believe our city is a special place with special people and a place with special opportunities. I am running for mayor because I love the rich history and quaint downhome feel of Laurens, and I envision a future where those special elements of the past are not lost in the present and future progress. I believe we are at a critical crossroads in our city’s history where we can strategically prepare for good, sustainable, growth while maintaining the principles, character, and goodness of our great city. I am running for Mayor, first and foremost, at the request of many friends, neighbors, and business owners, but also because I feel I am uniquely qualified to provide positive servant leadership for the city that is focused on quality of life for current and future citizens, while honoring the foundation of principles and values provided by those that came before us.
Senn: I’m running for reelection as Mayor because I love my hometown, I believe in our potential, I am excited about the progress we’ve made in the last four years, and I believe we need to keep Laurens moving in the right direction: forward. We have assembled a great team at the city, we’ve repaired strained relationships with other municipalities and organizations, and we’ve built new relationships that will provide lasting benefits to our community. But, like anything new, changes – even the best changes – can be hard. So, we need a leader who can approach the job with energy and enthusiasm, vision, proven track record of taking on tough challenges, and a backbone. We need a leader who is fully committed to the best interests of the city. I believe that I’ve shown that kind of steady leadership during my first term. I would humbly ask for the votes of all those who see Laurens is better today than it was four years ago, and who want a better Laurens tomorrow than it is today.
Sullivan: I’m running for Mayor to improve the livability for ALL citizens of ALL classes by developing resources to bridge and uplift the people of Laurens . To create an environment where developers, citizens, tourists, poor, middle class and the wealthy can all live and exist in our city with dignity and respect. We need new leadership with a holistic view of utilizing resources, respect for all classes of citizens, who will provide transparency to councilmembers and residents, and I am that leader. Because I love our City & I have seen small upgrades that can be made to the city that will be impactful and I am ready and willing to do the work required to make it happen, not just talk about it.
What is your vision for the City of Laurens?
Garrett: My vision for the City of Laurens is a community of opportunity. I believe local government’s responsibility is to support the good, protect against the bad, and set policies that foster a healthy business climate, pleasant and secure neighborhoods, and overall quality of life for the citizens and visitors of the city. My vision includes economic prosperity without sacrificing the qualities and elements that we love most about Laurens.
Senn: I have enthusiastically shared my vision for Laurens with many people. I believe that because of our location, our architecture, and our community culture, we have the potential to be the authentic version of what Walt Disney was trying to imitate when he created “Main Street USA” at Disney World. I see a beautiful, thriving city which is accessible to all, supported by a united community of neighbors who live in a harmonious blend of new construction and century-plus year-old houses. It can be a city where we help use the tools of civic pride and personal responsibility to break the habit of littering. Rather than merely serving as a bedroom community for another city, I believe that Laurens can also serve as a home to new industries of its own, establishing the long-term economic health of the city and providing well-paying jobs to residents without a long commute.
Sullivan: My vision for the City of Laurens is to interject more balance as it relates to housing, jobs, and opportunities. My vision creates an environment where these three things thrive for all citizens as our city becomes a beacon of hope, prosperity, and growth. A place where tourists want to come see our past and our present, a place where children can grow and learn and a place where ALL of our citizens are proud to call home.
Have you previously held an elected office? If so, what position and when?
Garrett: While I have spent nearly thirty years in government relations and economic development roles, I have never run for or held an elected office.
Senn: I am in my first term as the Mayor of the City of Laurens. I have never held any previous elected office.
Sullivan: I have been serving as Councilmember of District 2 City of Laurens 6 years, from 2016 to present and continuing to serve.
What is your educational background?
Garrett: I have a high school diploma from Laurens District 55 High School.
Senn: I grew up in Laurens, and except for a brief period when my family moved out of state, I attended Laurens schools, where I played football and graduated with honors. After my high school graduation, I attended Clemson University, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Political Science with honors. While at Clemson I worked in the Anderson District Office of Congressman Gresham Barrett. Upon graduation from Clemson, I earned my law degree from Charleston School of Law, working as many as three jobs in addition to my classes. I completed my formal education when I was admitted as a member of the SC Bar in 2010. As a practicing lawyer, I also take part in at least 14 hours of continuing education each year. In addition to my secular studies, I am an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church and I have attended the SC Lay School of Theology, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church which equips elders to serve as lay pastors for churches between pastors. I have nearly completed my studies to obtain that certification.
Sullivan: I am a graduate of Laurens District 55 Public Schools and a 2007 graduate of Greenville Technical College with an Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy. I’m also a graduate from Emerge and Clyburn fellowship class of 2022 cohort 7.
What is your current occupation, and how will your current position, if any, affect your service if you are elected?
Garrett: I recently retired after forty-eight years of service with Laurens Electric Cooperative. While I continue to offer government relations consulting services, I have nothing that will affect my full-time service to the people if elected Mayor.
Senn: I currently practice law as an attorney, primarily serving clients with business, family, and estate legal needs. I began my own law practice in 2010. I know what it means to be a small business owner, and this helps give perspective when it comes to serving as Mayor. We want to do all that we can to make sure that our city’s government fosters an environment where small businesses can thrive. In my law practice, I am often appointed by the Court to represent clients who are struggling financially, but who are often also struggling with addiction, domestic violence, homelessness, and broken family relationships. On a daily basis, I see what a lack of education, opportunity, support, and hope can bring. So, as Mayor, it has been my goal to bring more jobs and revitalization to our area to bring opportunity and hope to those in need, and to partner with community organizations to offer meaningful support to those who are struggling. We can’t be all things to all people – that is not the job of city government – but we can certainly play our part to the best of our ability.
Sullivan: Currently I am Councilmember City of Laurens District 2, and as Mayor I would continue to serve in this same capacity serving the City of Laurens in both capacities hand in hand to improve and grow not just my own District but bringing the work to all 6 Districts of Laurens. In 2011, I launched Sullivan Healthcare Specialties LLC which provides occupational therapy services to healthcare facilities within SC. I have expanded to focus this business on pediatric services in a partnership with SC BabyNet, providing employment and services in the region. I will continue own and operate this service industry as Mayor providing needed services and employment. In addition, I am the owner of Dial Enterprises LLC, a rental property business that I began with my own funds to invest in neglected neighborhoods in Laurens County. I will continue in this personal endeavor to improve and provide housing in our region when I am Mayor, providing growth and resources from all aspects I serve the City of Laurens from.
What are your thoughts on the growth and expansion planned for the city of Laurens and do you see it continuing?
Garrett: Due to the explosive growth we have seen across South Carolina, and especially the upstate region over the past few years, I fully expect growth opportunities to continue for the City of Laurens, and Laurens County at large. The growth across the upstate has been outpacing planning, which causes concerns over infrastructure needs and losing our identity as a community. One area of needed attention in planning strategy is the existing abandoned properties and areas of visual, environmental, and safety concern. We must become as focused on repurposing these areas for good growth and quality of life as any new expansion. A second area of equal importance is good growth – growth that does not sacrifice the very things we love most about our city simply for short-term financial benefits. Planning for the City of Laurens needs to encompass the side streets and back streets as much as the main streets. It needs to be done in a comprehensive and balanced way to ensure we maintain the best of who we are as we continue to grow into who we will become.
Senn: I am excited by the potential for our growth, but I am also very conscious that continued economic growth and prosperity is far from guaranteed. Just as I committed to doing four years ago, we have begun to reverse the trend of population decline. The growth we are now seeing is steady and manageable. We’ve worked hard to make sure that we don’t have unplanned, unhealthy, unmanageable growth. While neighboring communities have continued to lose population, Laurens is growing again. On the other hand, that growth is not guaranteed. There are important projects now in the works which would greatly improve our city. Those interested in investing in our city have said plainly that they are here because of the direction our city has taken in the last four years. They have also made clear that these projects will not move forward if there is a change in leadership. I believe that if we maintain a steady plan for growth, developed with community input to preserve the character of our community and keep our town’s small-town charm, our brightest days lie ahead.
Sullivan: As a current contributor to this planning on the City Council, I see the growth and expansion headed in the right direction, however, in my vision for the City, I believe it needs to shift providing large opportunities for citizens to move from renting to buying and owning, to providing transitional resources for our current residents in addition to new growth projects.
Do you feel that development impact fees are critical and necessary to offset budget concerns as growth takes place?
Garrett: Economic development is difficult, cannot be done with a cookie cutter approach, and has long lasting consequences that will either benefit or plague future generations. Fees, based on the impact any new development has on the existing infrastructure of the city, are a must in my opinion. While we want to attract new development to our city, we cannot simply focus on the new without considering the impact and expense it will bring to those who are already invested in our city. Impact fees provide a good balance in welcoming new development, but with a responsibility for them to have skin in the game. We want developers who are committed to the long-term quality of life benefits to our city and not just a quick return on an investment.
Senn: Generally, I am not in favor of the City imposing new impact fees. Ultimately, that is a decision which would need to be made with the input of City Council. I believe that while such fees may be appropriate for other entities (like our school system), we should avoid tacking on fees upon fees. I think we should pursue economic policies that encourage responsible growth rather than inhibit it.
Sullivan: I believe that development impact fees are essential, however, there are alternative revenue sources that must also be taken into consideration as growth takes place to offset budget concerns.
What do you think are the top three issues facing Laurens? Which of these poses the most risk and how do you propose mitigating the risk?
Garrett: The top issue I see is that we are going to have to make wise decisions today in managing our growth opportunities without creating an increased tax burden for our businesses and citizens as we head into the uncertainty of the future. Investing in infrastructure, implementing impact fees for development, and managing growth instead of letting it manage us are how we mitigate the problem.
Another issue of importance is including all ten square miles in planning, and not just a few city blocks. The city must get serious about addressing the abandoned properties that continue to plague our city, creating unhealthy and unsafe conditions for our citizens.
Additionally, the people need to be the focus and not the city’s leadership. The office of Mayor is not about the person holding the office, but about the people he or she is elected to serve.
Senn: 1. The aging facilities and quality of education in our schools. This is the concern which is most commonly raised to me by members of the public and those looking to move to our community. Unfortunately, this is a challenge which is largely out of the City’s hands, but we must do our part to support a community-led discussion about our needs and the best way to address them. We have already begun this process. We have kept our school leaders informed as to the potential growth which we can expect, we have participated in round-table discussions, and we will continue to support efforts to ensure that our students can receive a top-notch education in appropriate facilities from top-notch educators.
2. A lack of housing for residents from every background. We have begun to make great progress toward bringing new homes to Laurens, and if I am re-elected, we will continue to work together to bring a variety of housing to the city. What we will not do is build neighborhoods today that will become problems tomorrow. We have worked with potential developers to provide quality of life amenities, community green spaces, safe lighting, walkability, and architectural design which will stand the test of time. We also need more non-subsidized rental housing for our workforce. In order to bring good jobs and industry, we need to have good housing. I tell folks frequently that we only have one shot to do this right, and I am determined that Laurens will not be overrun by the kind of cookie cutter sprawl that cause many of us concern. This takes having a mayor who knows the questions to ask, has a proven reputation for results, and who is hands-on, working with a strong team to ensure all our priorities are met.
3. The demand to meet tomorrow’s needs with today’s resources. We are pushing hard to bring the functions and services of local government into the twenty-first century. Four years ago, we were operating in many ways as we had for the past forty years. We’ve modernized the way the city does payroll, expanded opportunities for online payments, improved transparency by livestreaming monthly meetings and posting agendas online, updated inefficient and poorly maintained facilities and equipment, etc. But with all these improvements, we must still meet the needs of our residents and businesses today and compete for economic growth with cities who have a head-start. As we grow, we need a Mayor who understands the needs and expectations of the next generation, who desires to keep our small town atmosphere, and who will provide steady leadership to maintain one and prepare for the other.
Sullivan: 1. The first and foremost issue in my opinion Laurens is facing is Housing, which is also posing the most risk. Currently there are housing developments in the works that are out of the financial range of current residents of Laurens that doesn’t include them and just displaces them further. Alternatively, I propose a development of housing with security of transitioning people into them from our present communities, to build affordable homes.
2. The second issue I think Laurens is facing is a transportation issue.We have quite a few jobs and positions within Laurens not being filled and even more jobs and positions in surrounding outlying regions of Laurens that are not being filled by our current residents for lack of transportation. I have been working on a public transit proposal that will put these jobs and positions within the reach of our current residents, bringing a new prosperity and dignity as everyone within has an increased opportunity to not only benefit from, but also to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the City of Laurens.
3. The third issue Laurens is facing in my opinion is a lack of recreational facilities and opportunities for all of our communities, but more specifically our youth.Our youth need recreation and healthy options and opportunities to maintain balance within our communities, I have propositions and proposed partnerships with non-profits and others to bring these opportunities of healthy and necessary recreation to our youth and to our communities.
If elected, what are your top three priorities (be specific)?
Garrett: If elected as Mayor, my top priority will be on improving the quality of life for everyone within the city of Laurens. From working to recruiting industry to the industrial park, to supporting and attracting local businesses in the downtown and commercial districts, to preserving our historical assets, and working to address abandoned and abused areas that injure the health, well-being and safety of our citizens, my focus will be on the entire city of Laurens.
Second, I will work tirelessly with City Council, businesses, and the citizens to establish strategic plans and good policies that will drive healthy, sustainable growth.
Third, I commit to the people a Mayor’s office that will not be heavy-handed or self-promoting, but one that will strive to be complementary in promoting liberty so that being open for business does not come with strings attached.
Senn: 1. Bringing important projects to completion. We are working to bring a new grocery store to the west side of town. We are working to bring new life to our historic mill sites. We are working to improve our roads and build more than 19 miles of new sidewalks across the city. We are working to ensure that our new neighborhoods are built in a way that will make us proud long-term. All of these efforts and more are underway, but they need proven, hands-on leadership to make them happen the way they should. Sadly, with a change in leadership, some will not happen at all. We need to keep focused on moving forward rather than abandoning the progress we have made.
2. Completing and Implementing a New Comprehensive Plan. State law requires cities to update their comprehensive plans every few years, and Laurens was overdue for an update. We have begun the process by holding numerous listening sessions and getting community input from online surveys, but we want to make sure there is as much public participation as possible in developing that plan. But, with plenty of input, we need to adopt an updated plan for our city’s future which reflects our city’s values, encourages long-term economic stability, and keeps us competitive while maintaining the small-town character of our city. But, it isn’t enough for us to simply make plans, we need cooperative, hands-on leadership who will actually put these plans into action.
3. Improving Quality of Life in Every Neighborhood. The City of Laurens has seen great progress recently, but these first steps toward revitalization are just the beginning of what is needed to bring that vitality to every neighborhood across our city. Our historic mill sites and their surrounding neighborhoods need updates to public infrastructure coupled with private investment to restore them to what they once were – affordable, but attractive, well-maintained neighborhoods. The outdated model of our public housing can and should be updated to reflect the lessons learned over the past 70 years. With proper planning through the City’s new Redevelopment Commission which we formed this past fall, we can obtain state and federal funding for these improvements and bring some of our tax dollars back to Laurens. We cannot fix generational challenges overnight, but we can break the cycle of poverty for some and restore the most economically challenged areas of our city. We need leadership that understands the long game and has the commitment to see it through.
Sullivan: My top 3 priorities as Mayor have really been addressed in the previous question as I would like to address the most important aspects of course. However, let me be more specific here.
Improve – inclusive livability. This is the housing proposal having a plan to develop for those already residing in Laurens while attracting growth from outside of those relocating to Laurens.
Promote transitional resources. Introducing a first-time home buyer/down payment assistance program for essential workers to help transition them into affordable housing by implementing “the essential worker act”
Support economic development. This will be affected exponentially by my proposal and implementation of public transit within and surrounding communities providing work opportunities to current residents.
Lastly, what is your strategy or what processes, and initiatives will you implement to achieve your vision?
Garrett: My strategy is to simply be engaged with the people of Laurens to understand their needs and desires, work with City Council, and across imaginary boundaries with neighboring cities, the county, and the state to develop and deliver comprehensive solutions to help the City of Laurens be the best it can possibly be. My intention is to stand upon the principled foundations of our past while working tirelessly to develop a prosperous future.
Senn: Cooperation and civility are absolutely necessary if we are to achieve our city’s potential. As an attorney, I am constantly confronted with disputes in which, in some way, both sides are “right” or have at least a reasonable motivation even when wrong. In a community like ours, it’s no different. One reason I appreciate the non-partisan nature of our city government is because we have the ability to seek common-sense workable solutions to real-world problems without getting bogged down in politics. I will continue to work with civility to engage my colleagues on City Council, our neighboring municipalities, our civic organizations and churches, our County leaders, and all who want the best for this community. At the same time, I will be fiercely loyal to our city’s interests, and will not allow personal loyalties, business interests, or any other distractions to interfere with my duty to the city.
Sullivan: As Mayor, I will support ways to prevent residents from being displaced from their homes and communities by introducing a city ordinance that would establish a first right of refusal which will give residents and community based organizations the first right to purchase a home within our community. This will allow our seniors to age in place with dignity and maintain authenticity within our historic community. I will provide ways to expand recreational resources to invite activities throughout our city. I will find ways to help improve start up resources for small businesses as they are vital to our community. I will continue the revitalization efforts of the square. “Leadership involves providing pathways to promote people to progression by identifying resources to empower basic human livability for all classes of citizens” this is my intention as Mayor of Laurens City.