Dorothy Dowe is an at-large member of the Greenville City Council, elected in November 2019. She sat down with Judi Buckley, DWGC member, former Senator in the Virgin Islands, and 2018 State House candidate, for this interview.
JB: Tell us, what has it been like being a council member during a pandemic; were you still able to meet and work virtually?
DD: To its credit, the city was able to gear up very fast to adjust for the pandemic in terms of being able to meet virtually. Our City Manager and IT support team worked quickly to make sure all of council was able to meet as soon as City Hall was closed. Our Boards and Commissions have also met according to the regular schedule of meetings throughout the pandemic.
JB: Is it what you expected?
DD: During my campaign I was often asked why I wanted to run. Obviously I ran because I wanted to win! I think the better question is “why do you want to serve?” My answer to that is because I love Greenville so much and I feel I have skills that can help make things better. I’m making plenty of mistakes, but there’s a lot of opportunity to get good work done right now. It’s a lot more work because of where we are right now, but I love it. Of course, no one knew we would experience a health, financial and social crisis all at once, but these crises are giving us the leverage to make meaningful, necessary changes that we need.
JB: This is a part time job that you do around running your own business; how much time on average do you spend on council matters?
DD: My work ethic and motivation compel me to work more than is probably required. We have twice-monthly meetings, then work sessions. The City Manager sets the agenda, and we go into work sessions every other Monday from 3:00 to about 7:00 pm. I also am the city appointee for the VisitGreenvilleSC Board, as well as Greenville Transportation Authority Board and the Downtown Municipal Airport Commission. If it moves or flies, I’m on it.
JB: Obviously the shutdown has affected revenue; what is the council planning to do to make up for that loss?
DD: The loss hasn’t fully been realized yet, so it’s a fluid situation. After the pandemic was declared and businesses closed, we modified the budget so that it was much more conservative. We remained committed to maintaining our essential departments (public safety, sanitation, etc.), but are delaying some capital and community projects. We will revisit the budget in the third quarter and make adjustments where necessary.
JB: Talk to us about the Unity Park. How is its completion being affected?
DD: The pandemic began to affect South Carolina just as we were making key decisions in evaluating the Unity Park budget as it related to the construction plan. As a council, we chose to move forward with the long lead time items and defer the rest of the work until we could better assess the situation. We have now approved Phase I funding of the program and expect the overall schedule for this work to stay on track.
Part of the Park is being funded from our stormwater and undergrounding funds, as well as through private donors; however, the bulk is from Hospitality Tax bonds. That’s the engine that has allowed us to realize a project of this size. Knowing that the hospitality tax base has been eroded and businesses that generate those taxes were suffering, I went to Mayor White and the City Manager and suggested we ask our park donors to defer 10 percent of their donations and set up a fund of $250K in grant money to go to the hospitality industry.
We want to make it easy for businesses to apply and receive it, which will in turn help them get back on their feet – thus helping that revenue stream we so badly need. With this grant program, we are connecting the needs of small businesses with the extremely generous donors of Unity Park who will most certainly want to support their recovery.
JB: Tell us about some other projects you have worked on and are proud of.
DD: A couple of wonderful things are happening in Greenville right now as a direct result of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests in our town that I need to share with the readers: Mayor White spoke at one of the protests, and asked every African American male in attendance to raise his hand. He then declared “THIS IS YOUR TOWN.”
Knowing Rep Chandra Dillard has been working to expand affordable housing for a long time, I collaborated with her after his statement and trusted her wisdom when she suggested that if the Mayor is serious about making Greenville a town that belongs to everyone, then we need to make it affordable for everyone to live here – so I went back to my council members and the Mayor and City Manager and asked if we could increase this year’s $500K affordable housing budget to $2M – which is what it was projected to be in our five-year forecast prior to the pandemic.
I scrutinized the budget and discovered we had some surplus monies that were being saved for a rainy day, and I felt like it’s not just raining, it’s STORMING so the time was now to use those funds. They agreed, and it passed unanimously. I am very proud of that, and grateful for the support of my fellow councilmembers
JB: Has the funding from the CARES Act been received and allocated?
DD: The county has control of it; they got $91M and have issued a report as to how it will be allocated. As a city, we were not included in those discussions but money has been allocated to each municipality for Covid-related expenses.
JB: What is the status of the Downtown Convention Center?
DD: A resolution was passed by the previous council in 2019 to participate in a study for a downtown convention center but the study hasn’t moved forward.
JB: The City Council just passed an Ordinance mandating masks in grocery and drug stores (THANK YOU!!). Have any of you had any discussions with the County Council about following suit?
DD: I personally have not but I do know that our City Manager is in regular contact with the County Administrator on issues like this. I hope that county leadership chooses to follow suit.
JB: The country is currently engaged in long-overdue discussions about systemic racism, social injustice, and police brutality – among other things. We’re hearing that cities across America are changing their police force policies. I’m of the belief that changes must occur at the local level, and not only in DC; to that end, has the council broached the topic yet about what changes might be needed in Greenville? Have you all engaged the Chief or other law enforcement?
DD: We’re inspecting our house in the city of Greenville, and just passed a resolution allowing the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Panel to review the Greenville Police Department’s Use of Force policies, as well as a review of the city’s Public Safety Citizen Review Board. This was a direct response to George Floyd’s murder; the protests gave us the launch to do this.