Meet your Dutch Fork Silver Foxes (Football): July 31st

SAVE THE DATE: Meet your Dutch Fork Silver Foxes on July 31st. More details to come! #Shoot4Six

Meet Ashley Miller – Richland County Recreation Commissioner

Ashley was born in Columbia, SC and she and her husband Brandon have three children, Ava, Eason and Nora. She attended Irmo high school and has been a native to the Columbia area her entire life.

Brandon and Ashley own a small investment company in Columbia as well as own and operate German Autowerks in West Columbia.

Irmo Little League and Friarsgate Park are near and dear to her family and Ashley and her husband have both volunteered for several years at the park. In addition, all of their children have played at Friarsgate Park and they are very familiar with the facilities and many of the families currently using the park.

Ashley told me “A large portion of our time is spent watching our children grow, play, make lasting friendships and become better athletes at this park. I am deeply passionate and a strong advocate for safety and positive change for all children and families entering our parks and recreation throughout Richland County. I look forward to using my voice for good and I am excited to serve!”

If you have ideas, suggestions or advice for how to improve our parks (Friarsgate Park and Ballentine Park) please let her know by calling 803-955-6110.

We’ve been very fortunate to have been served through the years on the commission by John Ecton, Todd Latiff, Cynthia Shepard and now Ashley. You may have noticed many rennovations recently and in years past as part of funding I secured for Friarsgate as well as improvements at Ballentine Park. Those monies come from state allocated funds to each county delegation. Serving on a large delegation of 15 Democrats and only 2 Republicans makes it challenging to secure the funds we need out here in the northwest corner of the county; but building relationships and advocating for our community – along with having a community member on the commission – helps tremendously.

Thank you Ashley for your willingness to serve!

Meet Mike Swindell – newly appointed Richland County Transportation Committee

Late last year, I put out a request to gauge interest in the community about serving on the local county transportation committee.

I had a few inquiries and some asked to be considered. Thank you to those that did. I’m pleased to share that as of today, our local representative on that committee is Mike Swindell. I met Mike years ago on the campaign trail and know that his demeanor and skills will be needed to help Northwest Richland County with our ever growing needs.

To be clear – he’s not your pothole guy. You can come to me for those or our local county councilman, Bill Malinowksi. But Mike will get a vote on the committee for some smaller funding projects in the county.

Mike’s bio from his paying job is below…

Michael S. Swindell focuses on Workers’ Compensation and Social Security cases. He is licensed to practice law in the state of South Carolina.

Michael is a native South Carolinian from Bamberg, S.C. Michael completed his undergraduate work and earned his J.D. at the University of South Carolina. Michael was a member of the South Carolina Army National Guard from 1981 to 1991 and reached the rank of Captain.

He is a current member of the South Carolina Bar, the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association, and the Association of South Carolina Claimant Attorneys for Workers’ Compensation.

He serves on a number of boards for his profession and community. He is the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the South Carolina Worker’s Compensation Education Association. He is also a board member for the Mizpah Foundation and the Chapin High School Booster Club. He serves on the Board of Directors at Kid’s Chance of South Carolina.

Michael is married and has three boys: Scott, Chad and Ben. Michael’s hobbies center around sports, including football, wrestling and fishing. He is currently a member of Chapin United Methodist Church and enjoys singing in the church choir.

Floor Debate: Protecting Taxpayers and Our Natural Resources

Apologies for the video and audio delay.

Sharing some debate from the house floor over a new industry looking to come into our state.

As you’ll see, I support the efforts of this industry but not at the expense of tax payers or our environment.

My amendment passed 61-51 and the bill was sent back to the Senate.

UPDATED: Just two days after this floor debate, one of these facilities had an issue . Like I shared during the debate “stuff happens” no matter how well intentioned or prepared they may think they are. This is another example of why the amendment was needed.

The Weekly Rewind – Week of May 4th

Here are some items of mention from last week – week 16 – in Columbia.

SC Returns to Pre-Pandemic Unemployment Program

In order to address ongoing workforce shortages throughout South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster directed the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce to discontinue South Carolina’s participation in all federal, pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs. This takes effect June 30, 2021. There are currently 81,684 open positions in the state of South Carolina. With this, I am hopeful South Carolinians will be encouraged to get back to work. I get it. Some people will say “but people need that money”. I understand many have been hit hard during the pandemic; however, government should not incentivize people who are able to work. What has happened is able body individuals have been earning more income by NOT working than by working. Yes, I understand many may be concerned about Covid; but we need to get back to work and back to as much normal as we can. In life there is always risk and the risk from Covid has greatly dropped since this time last year. Read more here

Cheers! Gallo Wine Comes to SC

Wine connoisseurs and business communities alike are saying ‘cheers!’ This week, as we passed S. 619. This bill alters our state’s archaic liquor laws and will allow for standalone tasting rooms and fewer regulations on micro-distilleries in SC. A huge success for SC, this bill ushers in a major, international economic player and world-wide wine brand to South Carolina. E & J Gallo Winery will invest over half a billion dollars and 500 jobs in Chester County, SC where they plan to build their winery. I look forward to seeing how our state and local economies will grow because of this new law.

The Death Penalty

Under current law, those convicted of a heinous crime and sentenced to death, are likely to spend the rest of their life waiting on death row due to the lack of availability of lethal injection materials Currently, our state can only use lethal injection and there are no drugs available to administer their sentence. Not only is justice not being served for the victims and their families, but also State resources are being wasted. This week, the House passed S. 200, a bill that allows electrocution when lethal injection is not available. Much attention has been given to the firing squad being added into the bill. You probably may be surprised to learn Senator Harpootlian (Democrat) put that amendment in and he told me, having sent Pee Wee Gaskins to the electric chair, he believed a more humane approach is needed. After hours of debate, the House approved and the bill now goes to the Governor to sign.

Santee Cooper

The issue of reforming Santee Cooper has been ongoing for years, and this week, the House passed amendments on a bill that outlines reform, governance, and a sale process. While our area was negatively impacted by SCE&G/Dominion, others were negatively impacted by Santee Cooper. The bill ensures that there is transparency and accountability in the agency — ensuring that every ‘i’ is dotted and each ‘t’ is crossed. This bill prescribes a process for how the agency should operate, allowing for oversight from the government and transparency for ratepayers. Although there is no offer on the table from a buyer right now, it is important that we do not tie our hands and limit future possibilities, which is why there is also a sale amendment that outlines how that process might work. We passed this on Tuesday, but our amendments were rejected by the Senate. The bill will now go to a conference committee, where members of the House and Senate will meet to find compromise on the issue.

Other Legislative News
S. 231 Suicide Prevention Hotline – We passed a bill that ensures the National Suicide Hotline is printed on school issued student ID cards in public schools and public and private colleges in South Carolina.

S. 689 Income Tax Filing Deadline – On Wednesday, the House passed a joint resolution to extend the income tax filing due date until the same date as federal returns and payments are due.

Weekly COVID-19 Update
– South Carolina is in Phase 1C of the vaccination process. Under these guidelines, anyone 16+ is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine with an appointment.
– Visit to make a vaccination appointment at a provider near you.
– 42.6% of South Carolina citizens have started the vaccination process. 32.9% of SC citizens are fully vaccinated. 2,998,076 vaccines have been given to South Carolina residents to date.
– Want to see how our area is doing in the fight against COVID-19? Visit the interactive ‘Vaccination Dashboard’ by following this link,
– For other FAQs regarding the COVID-19, use the DHEC issued fact sheet here .
*Numbers updated May 6th.

I’m at your service!

It is my honor to be of service to you and to serve the Ballentine, Chapin, Dutch Fork, Irmo community. If you need assistance navigating through the flow of information on COVID-19, navigating state government, or have any thoughts or concerns about what we are doing, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can email me at the State House:, or call me there at (803) 734-2969. You can also contact me through, or call me at home (803) 834-4613. Of course, when you see me around town, flag me down and I’m happy to talk.

SC Superintendent of Year and SC Secondary Principal of the Year

More recognitions for our school district. In addition to having the SC Teacher of the Year , we also have the SC Superintendent of the Year AND the SC Secondary Principal of the Year! #Pridein5

School District Five superintendent named SC Superintendent of the Year

IRMO – Lexington-Richland School District Five Superintendent Dr. Christina Melton has been named state Superintendent of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA).

Melton’s career in education spans more than 26 years. She first served School District Five as the principal of Nursery Road Elementary from 2007 to 2012 before taking on the director of elementary education role at the District Office. She was named the district’s chief instructional officer in March 2013, supervising the implementation and evaluation of staff development programs and ensuring district compliance with state standards, laws and regulations.

Melton has been actively involved in several educational boards and organizations. She has served as chair of the South Carolina Council on Accreditation and School Improvement for the South Carolina Association of Colleges and Schools. She also sat on the board of directors for the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.

Her awards and recognitions include: SCASA Administrator of the Year in 2016, the 2012 Superintendent’s Award for Outstanding Leadership and the 2012 Outstanding Contributions in Education Award by the South Carolina Association of School Psychologists. She was also named South Carolina Elementary Principal of the Year for 2011-2012.

School District Five school leader named SC Secondary Principal of the Year

IRMO – A Lexington-Richland School District Five school leader has been named among the top principals in the state by the South Carolina Administrators Association (SCASA).

Dr. Gerald Gary, principal of Dutch Fork High School, was named the 2021 South Carolina Secondary Level Principal of the Year, during a surprise announcement at his school on December 10. Gary has served as the principal of Dutch Fork High School since July 2017.

“We are excited to announce that Dr. Gerald Gary has been named the SCASA Secondary Principal of the Year,” said Beth Phibbs, Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. “He is an extraordinary leader who sets high academic standards for all students at Dutch Fork High School and has created a supportive family environment for students, parents, faculty, and staff.”

School District Five Superintendent, Dr. Christina Melton, said, “Educational researcher Dr. John Hattie challenges us to Know Thy Impact, and Dr. Gary is a proven leader who has made an impact on Dutch Fork High School and School District Five. Under his leadership, Dutch Fork High School has gained state and national recognition for academics, state awards in athletics and honors for both his students and staff. We have #PrideIn5 for all that Dr. Gary has done and will continue to do for the District Five community. Congratulations, Dr. Gary.”

Prior to his role at the award-winning high school, he served as principal of Dutch Fork Middle School for four years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Francis Marion University in 1998, a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of South Carolina in 2004 and a doctorate of education in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in 2007.

Gary began his career in education teaching eighth grade language arts at Blythewood Middle School in 1999. After three years there, Gary spent a year as lead teacher at Blythewood Academy and three years at Summit Parkway Middle School as an assistant principal. Before becoming principal at Dutch Fork Middle, Gary spent eight years as an elementary school principal in Kershaw County and at Leaphart Elementary in School District Five.

Under the leadership of Gary, Dutch Fork High School was named a Palmetto’s Finest School in May 2020. Gary was also named South Carolina’s 2017 Middle Level Principal of the Year by SC Association of School Administrators (SCASA).

“I am absolutely honored by this recognition,” Principal Dr. Gerald Gary said. “For me this is a testament to what we have here at Dutch Fork, and there are no words to describe the absolute pride in our Fox Family. I am thankful for the wonderful support of our entire community, and proud to represent them and principals across the entire state!”

Gary was selected from an outstanding field of administrator candidates by a veteran panel of judges, SCASA officials said.

SCASA, the professional organization for school leaders in South Carolina, has more than 4,200 members. From professional development opportunities and research, to publications and legislative advocacy, SCASA’s focus is to support school leaders in providing the best possible education for South Carolina’s young people. As a state affiliate of three national associations for school leaders, SCASA also works on the national level.

Meet Amy Carter: SC Teacher of the Year 2022

School District Five teacher named 2022 South Carolina Teacher of the Year

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced tonight at the annual South Carolina Teacher of the Year Gala that Amy Carter, an English teacher at Chapin High School in School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties, is the 2022 South Carolina Teacher of the Year.

“Amy’s leadership in and outside her classroom, and dedication to her students have uniquely qualified her for this prestigious honor,” said Superintendent Spearman. “I look forward to seeing her represent South Carolina’s over 55,000 teachers as she advocates for the profession over the next year.”

In her 21st year of teaching English to high school students, Amy has always sought to combine language and writing of authors and students with the powerful collaboration tools that technology offers. Amy’s teaching philosophy comes from Marianne Williamson’s urging to, “Let your light shine so that others may be granted permission to do the same.”

She uses literature as a basis for genuine connection with students of all ability levels ranging from grades 9-12 and uses that rapport to help them become readers, writers, and storytellers in their own right. With her most recent professional investment in the school’s Teacher Cadet program, Amy hopes to make an even greater impact as an advocate for public education by inspiring hopeful future educators that may one day become our colleagues.

“We are proud to have Mrs. Carter named the South Carolina Teacher of the Year and know that she represents the many exceptional teachers we have in our district and throughout the state,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Melton said. “With teaching experiences in several communities, she has used her relational approach to education to make lasting impacts and has demonstrated true leadership inside her classrooms and beyond. Congratulations, Mrs. Carter!”

As part of the state Teacher of the Year awards program, Amy will receive $25,000 and a brand new BMW for one year.

Considered one of the country’s strongest, the South Carolina Teacher of the Year program celebrates excellence and strengthens the teaching force by honoring and recognizing exceptional teachers on a district, state, and national level. These awards not only assist in retention efforts but serve as a powerful recruitment tool.

The South Carolina Teacher of the Year serves for one school year as a roving ambassador providing mentoring, attending speaking engagements, working with teacher cadets and teaching fellows, leading the State Teacher Forum, and serving as the state spokesperson for over 55,000 educators. Learn more about the Teacher of the Year program.

UPDATE: Multiple road improvements!

Frustrated to learn about Richland County’s changes in design/timeframe for Broad River widening, I spoke last week with the head of SCDOT and requested they look into what has been proposed, advise what they (SCDOT) would recommend, and HOPEFULLY take over the project (assuming Richland County would reimburse them). I never knew this request was even possible but was told SCDOT has done this in a few situations where the “local plan” was not coming together like it had been proposed.

That’s the first thing I wanted to share this morning. Obviously, I will keep you informed as I learn more.

Next, we all know how bad Broad River is (originally from Peak Exit up to Newberry) but also from Peak Exit down towards Chickfila. I’ve been advocating on your behalf (and appreciate others who have contacted DOT as well), the good news is a TEN MILE STRETCH (from Chickfila to Newberry) will be fixed this “paving season” (which means before November). EVEN BETTER NEWS is that the contractor will NOT be using the same materials as before AND the job calls for (my words here) digging up 3 inches of road and replacing it with 4 inches.

Lastly, many have asked about all the work going on along the highway. By now, most know the bridges are being replaced and the highway widened. But just yesterday, SCDOT added more information to their website so you can actually see how things will look.

The Peak Exit will look much different (as will others).

As you imagine and will read below, the entire project won’t happen “overnight”. Thanks for your patience as we continue to see infrastructure improvements now being implemented.


Mr. Ballentine,

Please see the Design Plans section at the link below where we have uploaded all three interchanges for the project. Work that may impact traffic at exit 97 will not begin until the fall of this year with the start of utility relocation on the outside shoulders. This interchange is scheduled to be complete in in the summer of 2023 and the entire project is expected to wrap up in the spring of 2024. One good thing about this interchange is that the new bridge will be constructed before the old structure is removed. It will not be closed like we had to do at exit 85 where both bridges are on the same alignment.

Let me know if you need any additional information about this location or any other.

Thank you,

Allen Thompson
Assistant District Construction Engineer
SCDOT – District 1

Students no longer will need to wear masks

From The State

Starting Monday, students in schools in the Lexington-Richland 5 school district won’t be required to wear face masks in school.

The school board voted 4-2 to do away with the policy, following mounting pressure to drop the requirement that students wear masks as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

The policy change will go into effect May 10.

Superintendent Christina Melton asked for board members to delay the change in order for district staff to prepare.

“I’ve got four draft messages I could send out tonight depending on what the board decides,” she said at one point during a special called meeting to address the mask policy Tuesday night.

Board members Nikki Gardner, Jan Hammond, Matt Hogan and Rebecca Blackburn Hines. Catherine Huddle and Ken Loveless voted against. Board member Ed White was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Hines, who made the motion to do away with the mask mandate Tuesday, said she had struggled with how best to move forward with only weeks left until schools let out for summer.

“I try to be objective for teachers, parents and staff,” Hines said. But she said when the previous board adopted its mask policy before she was elected in November, “I felt so strongly about it. It’s not about the implementation. I strongly feel our policy is overreach.”

The board members opposing the motion said they had hoped to build more flexibility into the existing policy, rather than do away with it all together. Students and faculty had been required to wear masks in schools since students returned to in-person instruction earlier this year.

Before the vote, parents spoke for and against the policy. Supporters of the mask policy were concerned the virus could still spread even with stepped up vaccinations for those over the age of 16. Others said it could affect whether teachers want to stay in their jobs next year. One teacher said she had been unable to get vaccinated because of breast cancer treatments, a condition that also puts her at higher risk of serious health effects from the coronavirus.

Opponents of the mask policy said they were uncomfortable, unsanitary and questioned their effectiveness in spreading COVID-19. Many said children were experiencing severe stress because of the masking requirements in school, which one speaker compared to experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Board chair Hammond tried to keep tempers cool during the meeting. “No one on this board is for child abuse,” she said after one particularly impassioned parent spoke against masks. “Everybody on this board cares about our students. This is a complicated issue, but on policy, it’s our job to lead.”

In recent weeks, parents had stepped up calls for students to have the choice of wearing masks while in school. Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster said continuing face mask requirements are the “height of ridiculosity” as more teachers and others have had the opportunity to get vaccinated.

The S.C. Department of Education has said it does not plan to change its requirement that students wear masks while attending in-person classes this school year.

Currently, the Education Department requires students and staff in public schools to wear a mask when entering a school building, moving through hallways, during pickup and drop off, while boarding, riding and exiting buses, and when social distancing is not possible.

Students may only remove their face coverings when directed to by a teacher or administrator while in the classroom or during special activities outside the classroom, according to the policy posted on its website.

Hammond said she had been told the school district has the ability to set its own standards inside its own schools, but that masks will still be required on school buses, which are owned by the S.C. Department of Education.

Schools are now required to offer in-person classes five days a week after the S.C. Legislature passed a school reopening act last month.

As of Tuesday, the district’s COVID-19 dashboard reported one student is out with a positive coronavirus diagnosis. No staffers have a positive diagnosis.

Four staffers and 54 students are in a precautionary quarantine.

No COVID-19 vaccine is currently approved for children under the age of 16.

Broad River Widening – update from Richland County Penny Tax

Like you, I’ve been wondering what the county has been doing for us with the Penny Tax revenue that passed years ago (our area being one of the few that voted against the tax ). Outside of a roundabout on Kennerly Road near Riversprings Elementary, that’s about all I see – from the county.

I did some searching on my website and can’t believe it’s been NINE YEARS since the county passed that tax!

After seeing all the work ramping up at the state level from DOT , I decided to check locally today with the county to see what they were doing for us. Glad I did, apparently “things have changed”. I learned a word I haven’t heard before. I was told the project has been “descoped” and that those changes were approved by Richland County Council.

Appears cost overuns is a primary reason for the change from an article from last year that sheds some light.

In any event, here was the update I saw this afternoon before calling to speak with Michael Niermeier, Director, Department of Transportation with Richland County Government.

A description of the “descope” is below and also can be seen by clicking here.

So, bottom line, it looks like we are 2-3 years away from the county using the Penny Tax to start construction on this improvement.

Not the news I wanted to hear today. I was told the county would come out here once the “descope” has been finalized so that we can see what they have proposed. I was told there isn’t enough money to do the “5 lane project” that we were originally sold. (I see what it’s hard to trust government anymore)


Original Project Scope
The project scope for the Broad River Road Widening Project was to widen the roadway to 5
lanes between Royal Tower Drive and Dutch Fork Road in the Irmo community. In addition, the
road was to be widened to 3 lanes between Dutch Fork Road and I-26 (Exit 97).
(2) 4-foot wide bike lanes and (2) 5-foot wide sidewalks are included in the project scope.
Revised Project Scope – Based on traffic volumes, public input, and funding, the PDT recommended to
only include the widening from North Royal Tower to Dutch Fork.
Referendum Funding – $29,000,000.00 Current Cost Estimate: $39,663,756.37

Traffic Analysis and Results

The traffic study evaluated 15 intersections along the length of this project along with the
intersections of the off\on ramps of I-26. SCDOT plans to widen I-26 in this area, so the off\on
ramps would be addressed with their project.

The 2043 Level of Service in this corridor has been identified as “Adequate” for the proposed
improvements while the 2043 “No- Build” evaluation showed that the majority of the
intersections would operate at a “F” Level of Service. The recommended proposed
improvements from the traffic study are to improve the intersections by increasing turning bays.

Crash Data between 1/1/13 and 12/31/15 (3 years) shows that there were 161 crashes near these
15 intersections with the majority being rear-end collisions.
1 fatality

Public Input Results
185 residents attended the December 15, 2016, Public Meeting

The design alternative supported by the most residents was a 5 lane travel way that included 2 4-
foot wide bike lanes and 2 5-foot wide sidewalks

Residents agreed that removing the 3 lane section between Dutch Fork Road and I-26 was


ROW Obtained To Date – 0 Expended To Date – $0

Possible Design Modifications to Lower Cost

Widen the road to 3 lanes (2 driving lanes and a median) and also provide turning lanes at the
intersections that are missing them at this time. This could improve turning movements in and
out of the many businesses in the corridor and decrease the number of rear-end collisions.
New Approx. Estimate: $30M (Approx. Savings $9.6M)

Note: This option would not improve capacity but would improve safety and would improve
flow since left-turning vehicles would be able to pull into the median instead of block the
flow of traffic.

The cost estimate includes approximately $1,150,000 to relocate a 54” waterline at SCDOT’s
request. Staff is currently working with SCDOT to possibly have this requirement removed.