Darlington County Year in Review

Sheila Baccus, Elaine Reed and John Segars get sworn in during the Jan. 2, 2018, Darlington City Council meeting. Photo by Melissa Rollins

In only 12 months …
We hired a new Darlington police chief.
We hired a new county superintendent of education.
We had two hurricanes.
We had too many floods and too much rain.
We said no to a plan for a new Courthouse.
We lost a Darlington law-enforcement officer to an ambush attack on several officers in Florence.
That was some of what happened in 2018. Here’s a recap of the rest.
— Bobby Bryant

January 2018

‘Stop acting like schoolkids on a playground’

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Darlington City Council started 2018 on a sobering note during their Jan. 3 meeting, with several citizens and local representatives chastising them for their behavior during 2017 council meetings.

Citizen Linwood Epps told council members that they need to conduct their meetings with civility and decorum, unlike what attendees have been seeing.

“It would be so nice … if you all would stop acting like schoolkids on a playground,” Epps said. “You’re not up there for this; stop doing that. You ought to let each other speak before you interrupt. The City of Darlington is in Darlington County; go to the Darlington County Council meetings and watch how they act at council meetings. They let each other speak; they don’t care what you say. You can say what you want to; you have the floor. You all shouldn’t be interrupting each other. Stop acting like kids. You are all grown-ups. Act like it.”

Darlington County Representative Robert Williams told council members that if they are interested in doing anything other than working to make Darlington better, they are in the wrong place. “It is very crucial, critical to all of us, to unify ourselves,” Williams said. “It is timeout for games. If you’re into playing games, you need to go to the Olympics.”

‘We’re just sitting here as puppets’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Darlington County Council convened their regular monthly meeting on Jan. 2, and discussed the county’s relationship with the County Transportation Committee.

The talks began after Council approved the receipt of $151,938 in CTC funds for improvements to Flatnose Road. Roughly half of this road is unpaved and becomes impassable during heavy rain, and residents visited Council and the CTC last year asking for help.

Council member Bobby Kilgo voted against receipt, maintaining his pattern of “no” votes on CTC matters as a protest against the perceived lack of autonomy granted Darlington County to prioritize its own road repairs.

“This is another situation where local government is being controlled by the Legislature. Until they are willing to release and allow us to act as a governing body for a county – as was prescribed in the 1974-75 Local Government Act – we’re just sitting here as puppets,” said Kilgo.

‘It is my honor to serve’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

A crowd of fresh faces greeted guests at Lamar Town Council’s Jan. 8 meeting, their first since the election of a new mayor and three new council members.

Mayor Darnell McPherson joined new Town Council members Lang Howell, Inez B. Lee and Tamron McManus, all of whom won their seats in the November 2017 election as former Mayor Randy Reynolds and council members Jackie Thomas, Willie Howell and Mike Lloyd all retired from service. Lamar Town Council’s lone holdover is two-year veteran Angele White-Bradley.
McPherson began the meeting by taking roll call of council members and asking them to sign in, citing a need to keep a record of attendance at these public meetings.

McManus was officially sworn in at this meeting. McPherson, Howell, and Lee were sworn in at a Jan. 6 ceremony held at the Barbara J. Hines Memorial Chapel in Lamar. “It is my honor to serve on this Council,” said McPherson. “I look forward to a great experience. And to all of you in our audience, thank you so much for coming. You honor us with your presence.”

‘Disasters that come in to Darlington County’

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Society Hill is one step closer to being prepared for a disaster after making plans to adopt a resolution for a hazard mitigation strategy.

Molly Odom, Emergency Management Coordinator for the Darlington County Emergency Services, spoke to council about the plan during the Jan. 9 town council meeting.

“In 2002 the Disaster Mitigation Act was passed by the federal government, which is where a lot of FEMA money comes from for recovery from a disaster and a couple of great programs such as the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program or the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, which are grants to help you become more resilient to further damage from other disasters,” Odom said.

“Darlington County developed the first Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2005 and that was approved by FEMA in 2007.

That plan was written by Pee Dee COG (Council of Governments) and when they developed it they did it for the county as well as the four municipalities in the county. In 2012 when they did a revised plan, it is renewed every five years, the planning team … decided that instead of having a generic plan like what Pee Dee COG had done they were going to make one that was more specific to the disasters that come in to Darlington County based on historical data and the experience of those who were on the planning team.”

Developing Fourth Street in Hartsville

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their Jan. 9 regular monthly meeting, Hartsville City Council approved the purchase of several parcels of land as part of the city’s plan to further develop the Fourth Street corridor.

These properties were approved for purchase through passage of the following ordinances:

No. 4318 approves the purchase of 0.083 acres located at 316 Reservoir Street from Heyward Gainey for $65,000.

No. 4320 approves the purchase of property at 313 Reservoir Street and the corner of Coker Street from Danny L. Byrd and David C. Byrd for $110,000.

No. 4321 approves the purchase of property located at 315 Chinaberry Drive and the corner of Reservoir Street from Shirley G. Anderson for $60,000.

No. 4322 approves the purchase of property located at 311 Reservoir Street from the estate of Linda D. Byrd for up to $70,000.

‘We need more space’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Trinity-Byrnes Collegiate School celebrated the completion of a new building that will allow its student body a bit of room to ease those growing pains, and allow the school to allocate improved classroom spaces for its science and math curriculum.

“We’ve been growing quite rapidly for the past few years. I’ve been here for seven years, and we’ve gone from 99 students to 273 students…. and our goal is toward 300-plus students. That growth has precipitated the idea that we need more space, and particularly an area where we can expand our math and science programs with more classroom space,” said Ed Hoffman, Head of School for Trinity-Byrnes.

Trinity-Byrnes offers 15 Advanced Placement courses, and a number of rigorous college preparatory courses focused on the growing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field of study.

The future of the Courthouse

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their Feb. 5 meeting, Darlington County Council planned to hear a presentation on the results of several listening sessions related to the County Courthouse, which were held across the county in December.

Facilitators Charles Weathers and Betty Parker from the Weathers Group of Columbia conducted the sessions, and Weathers is set to present the findings of these sessions in his report to council. During these meetings, residents got the chance to voice their opinions on whether the County Courthouse should be rehabilitated, replaced with a new facility, or left as-is.

Facilitators also polled guests on the pros and cons of each option, and what their feelings were about the county’s potential financing methods. County Administrator Charles Stewart said that the county has two viable options for financing a new building (potential price tag of up to $40 million) or making repairs to the current courthouse (potential costs upwards of $8 million).

“The two most obvious means are property taxes, or a 1-cent local option sales tax in addition to what’s already in place,” said Stewart, adding that he was open to suggestions for other revenue means that could finance a capital project of this scale.

He explained that securing bonds to pay for the project would require either the levy of an additional penny sales tax county-wide, bringing our total sales tax to 9-cents on the dollar, or raising property tax millage, which would place the burden solely on property owners.

Stewart added that if council wishes to raise property tax millage or pursue an additional penny sales tax, these options would require approval by public referendum in the 2018 general election, and voters would decide the matter at the polls. Should council decide to repair the current building, Stewart said the county might opt to borrow against its debt limit (which is 8 percent of the county’s assessed value), and that would give them a maximum of $12 or $13 million to work with.

‘We’re treating it just like any other sport’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

It’s a very rare occurrence for a new game or athletic endeavor to rise from inception to phenomenon within a few short years, but that’s exactly what’s happened with eSports – playing video games for prize money and/or school and club championships – and Coker College is getting into the action by establishing a new eSports program this fall.

“We’re treating it just like any other sport,” says Joseph Rudy, eSports director and coach. “We’re going to have everything that every other student athlete would have, meaning scholarships, jerseys, travel for tournaments. It’s going to be a legit thing, just in the video game world.”

Wildly popular in South Korea, where eSports tournament audiences have filled soccer stadiums, Rudy says that eSports first took root through strategy games like the Starcraft series. Spectators follow along as individual players or teams build their armada of space vessels while trying to thwart their opponent’s progress. He says that while the idea of watching other people play video games might sound dull, it can be very engaging to see their strategies unfold and witness real-time confrontations.

“It’s pretty insane when you’re there with a crowd and you’re getting excited with them,” says Rudy, adding that occasionally, the audience is united in “mass confusion” while trying to think ahead of a player and comprehend their gameplay, but it only adds to the drama and satisfaction when that unconventional thinking plays out and begins to make sense.

February 2018

Historic cemetery seeks funds

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The continuing effort to clean, survey and restore the historic Marion Avenue Cemetery, final resting place for many African-American Hartsvillians from 1904 to 1995, could get a major boost from an infusion of grant funds and recognition on the National Historic Register.

The Marion Avenue Cemetery, located behind the now-demolished Lincoln Village Apartments off 8th Street, was for decades overgrown with brush and difficult to access. Active citizens teamed with the City of Hartsville to raise funds and clear away growth and trash, and now members of the city’s Historic Marion Avenue Cemetery Committee are aiming to secure the cemetery’s status with two initiatives.

Mary Catherine Farrell, assistant to the city manager, told members that the City will submit a letter of intent to apply for a $150,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. If invited to submit a full application, the City would propose to use the entire grant amount for specific cemetery projects.

These projects would include building a monument listing names of those buried at Marion Avenue and those who may be interred in unmarked graves, buying markers for perhaps 300 unmarked graves, using 2-D or 3-D ground penetrating radar to plot unmarked graves, erecting fencing, and repairing damaged tombstones.

Looking for a new police chief

From staff reports

During two sessions, the citizens of Darlington had the opportunity to get to know the four finalists for chief of police. The candidates were James Hudson of Hartsville, Kelvin C. Washington of Hemingway, Julius Riley of Cheraw and Kimberly Nelson of Hartsville.

James Hudson has 22 years of law enforcement experience. Hudson said that as a former police chief in neighboring Hartsville he understands that respect doesn’t come with the office, it must be earned.

“When I was in Hartsville I was asked by council what some of the things were that I saw were wrong,” Hudson said. “I told them that we had a racism problem and the room was quiet. I said that there was a racism problem and it needed to be addressed. That changed everything; it was like I had gained their respect. That is something that I try to teach the young men that come into our profession: you have to earn people’s respect. I will be able to earn you guys’ respect if I am hired for this position. I need to earn your respect and you need to know that you can trust me.”

Kelvin C. Washington has more than 28 years of public safety leadership and administrative management experience.

Washington said that after working for the federal government, he wants to get back to his roots.

“My goal is to find an organization in the Pee Dee … or Grand Strand area and go back to my original desire, which is policing, working with people in the community and making their community better,” Washington said. Addressing what he called “elephants in the room,” Washington said that Darlington is not very different from other communities.

“I came here not knowing that there are some issues here but this agency isn’t the only agency with issues,” Washington said. “There are a lot of communities with issues. This department isn’t any different. All communities need people who care about those communities. One of the things that I found out about leadership is that in order to lead people, the first thing you have to do is you have to have a genuine love for those people you are trying to lead…You can’t serve people that you don’t have a genuine care for.”

Julius Riley has 26 years of law enforcement experience. Riley said that if he were to be named chief, he would make sure that the police officers understand how they are to interact with the community. “Everyone knows that police officers are law enforcement but, more than that, we are peace officers,” Riley said. “We are there to serve the community and to be part of the community. I have spent the last 26 years of my law enforcement career … trying to make sure that we do just that, to treat everyone equally under the law.”

Riley said that he has experience establishing community crime watch programs. “What was going on in Cheraw is we were having problems with juveniles,” Riley said. “This persisted for quite a while and different neighborhood and community meetings began to take place. They expressed to the mayor, the police chief and myself that they wanted to do something about it. In talking with them, we started a community crime watch.”

Kimberly Nelson has more than 18 years of law enforcement experience. “When I started out here, I went to the academy and by being the size that I am a lot of people didn’t think that I’d make it through the academy but I made it,” Nelson said. “I worked my way up through the ranks … A lot of people didn’t think I’d still be here but I am.”

Nelson said that being a candidate from within the department, she knows what needs to be improved upon and what is working. “What I learned from one of my mentors is that hard work pays off,” Nelson said. “A lot of the ones who spoke before me, they said they had to do an assessment of the police department. As I go in, if I assume the role as police chief, I will look in to things and see how things are run and done and said but I have already a foundation of what needs to be done.”

‘Leaving the courthouse as it is, is definitely not an option’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their Feb. 5 regular meeting, Darlington County Council heard the results of several listening sessions held last fall to garner public input on the future of the County Courthouse. The resulting consensus, according to session facilitator Charles Weathers, was that “leaving the courthouse as it is, is definitely not an option.”

Weathers and his associates from The Weathers Group of Columbia conducted five sessions at the Hartsville Library, Darlington County Courthouse, Lamar Library, Darlington Music Hall, and in Society Hill. One hundred and ten people attended these sessions, mostly in Hartsville and Darlington, and facilitators asked for their opinions about leaving the courthouse as-is, renovating the current building, or constructing a new facility. They were also asked to weigh financing options, which included levying property taxes or adding a penny sales tax to all county retail purchases to pay for the project.

Weathers’ report stated that attendees felt “there was not enough information to make an informed financial decision” just yet, especially without an approximate dollar amount for the cost of the courthouse project. His report noted that many session participants were against a property tax increase, and felt that a penny sales tax “could be beneficial because guest/visitors that come for races could pay a significant amount of the costs.”

Should the county choose to pursue the penny sales tax as a financing option, voters would have to approve a referendum on the November 2018 ballot. If the county fails to complete research and preparation for such a vote before that time, they would not be able to propose a penny sales tax referendum until the next general election in 2020.

A new police chief is chosen

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

City of Darlington Police Chief candidate Kelvin Washington

Last week the City of Darlington named Kelvin C. Washington of Hemingway as the next Chief of Police. According to city administration he will take office in late March or early April once his current term as U.S. Marshal for the District of South Carolina expires.

“Mr. Washington was the most qualified applicant, and he brings credibility and stability to that office. I feel he’s the right person at the right time for the City of Darlington,” City Manager Howard Garland said in a release from the city.

Washington has more than 28 years of public safety leadership and administrative management. “I’m very thankful to Mayor Hines, City Council and the city manager for selecting me to be the new police chief,” Washington said. “I’m very humbled by the reception I have received thus far from the brave men and women of the police department and the residents of the City of Darlington. I look forward to working closely with the police officers, residents, and city leadership as we move the City of Darlington forward.”

Hartsville’s development plans

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their Feb. 13 regular meeting, Hartsville City Council took the first step in a development program that could lead to over $10 million being invested in the city’s downtown.

Council approved first reading of Ordinance 4325, accepting up to $500,000 in grants from The Byerly Foundation for downtown redevelopment. This money, according to city attorney Lawrence Flynn, will help reimburse the city for purchases of property to be used in developing the Fourth Street Corridor.

The City of Hartsville will also receive a $1.5 million loan from the Byerly Foundation to allow the new non-profit Hartsville Public Development Corporation to pursue development projects beneficial to the city. Flynn said that earlier that day, the Corporation board met and approved loan documents for this arrangement, which will allow the non-profit entity to purchase more than 30 development-targeted properties from the city and from private owners and cover related expenses, pending Byerly’s approval.

Flynn said this five-year loan is interest-only, and carries a provision that would allow Byerly to forgive $500,000 of the principal after five years, provided there is no default. The ordinance extract states that the City of Hartsville expects this development project – here called the Canalside Project – to yield perhaps $10 million in capital investments over the long term, including commercial and residential developments.

Society Hill’s ‘financial situation’

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

According to Mayor Tommy Bradshaw, Society Hill is in financial trouble. Bradshaw shared the news Feb. 13 at the monthly town council meeting after councilwoman Deborah Harrell asked him to explain the meeting minutes from a called meeting Jan. 25. Harrell was absent from the meeting due to an illness.

“We looked at our budget mid-year and our collections dropped from what we expected to be getting in,” Bradshaw said. “Our revenue was down and our expenses remained the same. At mid-year, we found ourselves in a cash-flow situation where we had hardly any money in the bank to cover payroll.”

Bradshaw said that the town had taken on two no-interest loans from the Catfish Festival and Train Depot accounts.

“We had to call for a special meeting and it was brought to our attention that we could borrow money from the Catfish Festival for $12,500 and $5,000 from the Depot account to carry us through to June,” Bradshaw said. “Of course there would be no finance charge and no application charge for start up that we would have with a bank. So we had to do that for purposes of making it through. We fell on hard times with the revenue.”

The Courthouse: What are the financial options?

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Darlington County Council convened a work session Feb. 19 to discuss financing options for either building a new county courthouse or repairing the current facility.

Charles Stewart, county administrator, presented council with a summary of financing options prepared by David Cheatwood, managing director, and Tyler Traudt, vice president of First Tryon Advisors of Charlotte.

These two main options under consideration are General Obligation (G.O.) Bonds, or a Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) – more commonly referred to as a penny sales tax.

According to First Tryon, there are several advantages when financing with G.O. Bonds: they offer a low interest cost, and they are the simplest and most commonly used debt structure. Disadvantages of G.O. Bonds are largely related to debt limit, since the county can only borrow up to 8 percent of its taxable assessed value unless additional bond issuance / debt capacity is approved by voter referendum. Darlington County’s current G.O. Bond debt limit is about $16.4 million, total. Financing via this method would require a countywide property tax increase.

With the Capital Project Sales Tax (which uses projected tax proceeds to finance G.O. Bonds rather than using assessed value), advantages would include low interest costs, and the security of a dedicated sales tax revenue stream to repay debt service. It would require no property tax increase, and would maintain the county’s current amount of G.O. Debt capacity.

The penny tax/CPST would spread the burden of paying for the courthouse evenly across the county rather than raising millage rates and leaving the tax burden solely on property owners. The CPST would also yield revenues from visitors to the Darlington Raceway and other tourism events.

Who will lead county schools?

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Two candidates for the superintendent post in the Darlington County School District had face-time with key players in the community during sessions with local media, district staff and community members. Dr. Kevin O’Gorman and Dr. Donna Hargens toured the district and met with the various groups Feb. 21-22; the other two candidates, Dr. Chandar Anderson and Dr. Tim Newman, took a similar tour Feb. 26-27.

O’Gorman said that he became aware of Darlington County School District long before he applied to be the district’s next superintendent. “I actually started looking at Darlington County many years ago when I was a principal in a high poverty school,” O’Gorman said. “I started looking at schools across the state that were performing better than they should have been. Of those three counties, Darlington County was one of them. Actually, a curriculum model I developed is based off of what I learned from Darlington County.”

“Safety is the number one priority,” Hargens said. “You cannot learn if you don’t feel safe, so providing for not only the physical safety but the wellbeing of the students is important. There need to be safety protocols in place. Certainly we have quality teachers and quality educators who are trained to put the safety of students as the number one priority but it is the responsibility of every school and the district to put that as the number one priority.”

Newman currently serves as superintendent of Orangeburg Consolidated District 4. Before getting into education, Newman worked in retail and was involved with technology systems dealing with budgets and inventory. Newman said that having a background in technology he understands the important role it plays in education.

“Once I got into education, I was involved as a technology coordinator in our school and then, eventually, in Pickens County Schools, I was the Executive Director of Technology,” Newman said. “I helped to implement technology throughout the district and I also helped design the new schools…Technology is a game changer for our kids. My 3-year-old granddaughter now knows how to get on the iPhone and find the apps that she wants to use that are actually educational apps. I don’t think that we can ignore the fact that our kids automatically migrate to technology. It is something that they feel comfortable with. I think we need to meet them in ways that can help them be successful in their education with technology.”

Anderson is currently the Assistant Superintendent for Personnel in Chesterfield County. Some things that Anderson said he would bring to DCSD include his experience working to create a good environment for teachers and students. “Working strongly with the retention and the recruitment of teachers, I’ve done that and I’ve been doing that for a while,” Anderson said. “I’m really strong and really enjoy working on student achievement. I was a principal for nine years and student achievement has always been a priority for me; making sure that our students are prepared. Those things are vital to me and they are basic needs for all of our students, regardless of location.”

March 2018

‘Water that don’t mess up your clothes’

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Efforts to connect parts of Society Hill to Darlington County water may be circling the drain for another year according to a community meeting held March 3 at Rosenwald Elementary/Middle School.

Residents of the Darlington County town say they’ve been trying to connect to county water for several years but according to Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority officials not enough of the town has shown an interest to make it possible.

Local pastor Matthew Robinson opened the meeting by telling the roughly 17 people in attendance that clean, potable water is a right that everyone should have.

“Every citizen should have the right to have clean water,” Robinson said. “Water that don’t mess up your clothes. In 2018, we shouldn’t have to fight to have water.”

He said that it is not only Society Hill that has water problems. “From here all the way to Bennettsville is bad water,” Robinson said. “DHEC knows it. They say it’s drinkable but it will mess up your clothes. We are here today, once again, to talk about means and ways to get water in a rural area.”

Newman hired as county’s education chief

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Tim Newman, one of the final two candidates for Darlington County School District Superintendent, visited the district, spending time talking with local media, community members and district personnel.

After a short executive session meeting March 5, the Darlington County Board of Education voted unanimously to offer Dr. Tim Newman the position of DCSD Superintendent. Newman was one of four finalists the board brought to the district in recent weeks to meet with community and district stakeholders.

Newman was present in the meeting via conference call and accepted the board’s offer. “I am honored and humbled to be offered the position of superintendent in Darlington County School District,” Newman said. “I was very impressed with the process that you (the board) went through to get district and stakeholder buy-in. I accept the position and I am anxious to get started. There are so many great things we are going to accomplish together.”

Board chairman Jamie Morphis said that the board saw Newman as the obvious choice after meeting with him and hearing feedback from his visit to the district. “Dr. Newman emerged as a clear leader through our research and interviews, as well as in the feedback from our teachers, principals, staff, and community members,” Morphis said. “Dr. Newman is knowledgeable about our district. He presented us with intriguing, well-conceived ideas to address the needs of our district and students. Moreover, he has the experience, attitude, and leadership abilities to cross all lines and create a cohesive culture of excellence in our district.”

Getting ready for a referendum

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their March 5 meeting, Darlington County Council took the first step toward preparing a “penny tax” referendum by establishing a Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) Commission. This body would draft the referendum county voters could see on their November general election ballots, proposing the levy of a one-cent sales tax to finance construction of a new county courthouse.

By unanimously approving Resolution 687 Council voted to create a commission, which will include three representatives appointed by municipalities and three representatives appointed by County Council. If the municipalities have not submitted their chosen appointees within 30 days of this resolution’s adoption, the county will choose for them. Due to dual office holding restrictions, elected officials are not eligible to serve on the CPST Commission.

Members of the commission will review proposals for capital projects within the county – such as new judicial and administrative facilities – and compose a referendum for Council to review. Should Council choose to adopt a one percent sales tax, they would be required to draft an ordinance to that effect and pass three readings and a public hearing. Then the Darlington County Election Commission would place the referendum on the November, 2018 general election ballot for registered county voters to approve or reject.

City takes on stormwater

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

In a special called meeting, Darlington City Council passed first reading of Ordinance 2018-06-Master Storm Water Ordinance and a Series Ordinance for financing the Southwest Storm Water Project, though not without reservations from council members Bryant Gardner and John Milling, both of whom cast a nay vote.

Before Bond Attorney Ben Zeigler spoke to council, City Manager Howard Garland gave a recap for council and community members present. “This project started with the original grant application in October 2015, through the South Carolina Rural Infrastructure Grant; the application was rejected,” Garland said. “We reapplied in March of 2016 for the same project, which is the Chalmers Street ditch. That project application was successful in June of 2016. The original amount was $445,000.”

Garland said that through a procurement process Mike Hanna, with Hanna Engineering in Florence, was secured as the engineer for the project. A Preliminary Engineering Report by Davis and Brown indicated that an additional 72-acre area needed to be included in the project, Garland said.

McFarland gets CPST post

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Hartsville City Council convened a special meeting March 20, and after an executive session voted to name former City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem David McFarland as the city’s representative on the Darlington County Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) Commission.

At their March 5 meeting, Darlington County Council unanimously approved Resolution 687 and moved toward preparing a new “penny tax” public referendum by establishing a CPST Commission. This body would draft the actual referendum county voters could see on their November general election ballots, proposing the levy of a one-cent sales tax to finance construction of a new county courthouse.

The CPST commission will include three representatives appointed by municipalities and three representatives appointed by County Council. If the municipalities have not submitted their chosen appointees within thirty days of this resolution’s adoption, the county will choose for them. Due to dual office holding restrictions, elected officials are not eligible to serve on the CPST Commission.

April 2018

All eyes on 3 new schools

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The Darlington County School District held public meetings last week to discuss plans for the construction of three new elementary schools in the Darlington, Hartsville, and Lamar areas.

The schools will be financed through a $60 million general obligation bond, which is funded by the 1-percent sales tax county voters approved in the 2016 general elections. The new schools will replace aging facilities that are each more than 50 years old.

Darlington’s new school will combine Brunson-Dargan Elementary and Cain Elementary, and the new facilities will be built on the current Cain site, located on 1st Street. In Hartsville, the new school will combine Washington Street Elementary School and West Hartsville Elementary School. The new facilities will be built on Bay Road between Bobo Newsom Highway and Westwinds Drive. Lamar Elementary School and Spaulding Elementary will be combined into a new facility on the Lamar Highway, just across from Country Club Road.

At the community meeting in Lamar, citizens asked questions about plans for their new school. The man who will oversee building of all three facilities, Dale Collier, president of Brownstone Construction Group, did his best to answer their concerns.

Collier said that when selecting sites for construction, several conditions had to be met: the owner had to be willing to sell; the site had to offer adequate acreage for building, play areas, parking, and roads; the land had to be appropriate (no wetlands, soil that could support the building, no environmental contaminants); the site must have enough frontage to offer separate car and bus loop roads and a separate fire loop for emergencies; the speed limit on access roads had to be acceptable; and all adjacent roads needed to be able to support the anticipated traffic increases.

Digital signs for Darlington

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

During their meeting April 3, Darlington City Council gave final approval to the city’s digital sign ordinance 2018-01.
A brief public hearing was held regarding the ordinance but no one from the community signed up to speak.

Councilman John Milling asked that city staff look at what might be needed to ensure that all current digital signs would come under the new ordinance. “Sometimes when ordinances have been done, the ordinance is set and you then you have certain signs that are in non-compliance,” Milling said. “(We need to look at) whether these non-compliant signs will have to be brought into compliance within five years or some sort of timeframe so that everything is coordinated rather than just have some people having to comply with the sign ordinance and others being grandfathered in forever and not having to make any compliance.”

City attorney Kevin Etheridge said that he and Lisa Rock, the city planner, had already been in discussions regarding that issue. Under the new ordinance, businesses interested in using a digital sign must follow rules regarding the size and placement as well as the brightness of the sign during non-business hours.

Sunday alcohol sales

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Darlington County Council advanced the issue of Sunday alcohol sales one step further last week, voting in favor of an ordinance that could send the matter to the ballot box this fall.

Council approved second reading of Ordinance 18-03, which would allow Darlington County to issue temporary permits for the sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic liquors by the drink to authorized non-profit organizations and establishments.

The ordinance would also allow for the sale of beer and wine at permitted locations for off-premises consumption, regardless of the days or hours of sale.

If Council approves third and final reading of this ordinance next month, the issue of Sunday alcohol sales will be turned over to the voters, and a public referendum will be on the general election ballot this November.

Water, sewer and annexation

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their April 10 regular meeting, Hartsville Council held public hearings and passed final reading of three ordinances.

One, Ordinance 4329, will require annexation commitments before properties outside of Hartsville city limits can connect to city water and sewer services. According to the ordinance, “the Council finds that it is in the best interest of the citizens of the City that those properties located outside of the City that request and contract for Utility Service ultimately be annexed into the City in order to promote the City’s control of growth in its surrounding areas and in order to expand the tax base of the City.

This measure applies to those seeking a new or upgraded water or sewer connection. If the subject property is contiguous to city limits at the time such request is made, the owner of such property will be required to submit an annexation petition to the city prior to the connection to the utility system. If the property is not contiguous at the time such request is made, the owner of the property will be required to execute a Declaration of Annexation Covenant prior to any connection to the utility system.

‘Chasing those lights and sirens’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

An emergency medical responder for almost 24 years, Jacey Stone was recently honored as the South Carolina Paramedic of the Year by the EMS division of SC DHEC. Stone says she knew from the time she was a little girl that she wanted to follow in her fireman father’s footsteps, to be one of the people who rushes to help when others are in need.

“He is my hero,” Jacey says of her dad, retired Darlington Fire Chief Jim Stone. “As a little girl, I used to run behind the fire truck, chasing lights and sirens.”

Her path took a different route in the beginning, as Stone started off her medical career as a nurse working in a hospital. “After a while I realized that being outside and chasing those lights and sirens was more where my heart was,” says Jacey.

She joined up with Darlington County Emergency Medical Services as a part time EMT-Basic in 1994, achieved Paramedic certification in 1999, and became a Paramedic Supervisor in 2007.

May 2018

Referendum rolls on

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The Darlington County Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) Commission met April 23 and approved language for a 1-percent sales tax referendum, which could be placed on the ballot for voter approval this November.

Comprised of six members representing County Council and the municipalities of Hartsville, Darlington, Lamar, and Society Hill, the CPST Commission was charged with reviewing and approving the language of a ballot question which could levy a new penny sales tax on retail purchases throughout Darlington County. Proceeds would be used to finance construction of a new county courthouse and – possibly – new administration offices.

Currently, South Carolina’s base sales tax is 6 percent, and Darlington County tacks on a 1-percent Local Option Sales Tax (which the county and municipalities use for taxpayer relief), and another one percent for the Darlington County School District (renewed by voter referendum in November of 2016).

Adding another penny would bring Darlington County’s de facto sales tax to 9 cents per dollar.

Dollar General sets sights on North Main

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Last Tuesday night was a down to business, in and out, kind of night for Darlington City Council. Council gave final approval for two ordinances relating to zoning and also gave first reading to the 2018-2019 budget.

Ordinance 2018-07 gives the property on North Main Street, next to Darlington Amusement Company, the zoning designation of General Commercial. The property is expected to house a new Dollar General, according to Greg Googer with Coastal Development Partners.

“We have the site under contract,” Googer said.

“We are looking to develop the parcel as commercial. We are nearing the end of our due diligence and we do have an active lease from Dollar General. If we can have this approval we’re requesting tonight they will come.”

“It will bring about six to 10 full-time jobs as well as about a million-dollar investment into your community,” Googer said.

“We were here earlier tonight, met with some neighbors who had some questions and I think we addressed a lot of their concerns. We talked about fencing; we talked about lighting, security systems to make sure that everything is secure.”

‘Lamar, we’ve got good news for you’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At Darlington County’s quarterly dinner meeting where municipal and county officials break bread and share news of their latest projects, the Town of Lamar received some good news from Sen. Gerald Malloy regarding their ongoing efforts to reestablish their municipal water system.

Malloy gave an update on the progress of the state budget, which he said was then in conference committee, and offered some hope for additional state funds to help the cash-strapped community. “Lamar, we’ve got good news for you in the budget. You’re going to get some money for your water, and we’re very proud that we can end up offering that,” said Malloy.

Lamar has been purchasing water from the Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority for the past two years since SC DHEC shut down their water well due to traces of radium.

The town has been working steadily to get its municipal water system back on line, and has received a $467,789 SC Department of Commerce grant (obtained with the help of Senator Malloy) to cover grant match requirements and small overages on bid contracts, and a $500,000 Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) grant to rehab the town’s two above-ground water tanks.

Crime and punishment

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Society Hill Police Chief David Young updated Town Council on an arrest he told them about last month.

“We had one burglary where someone attempted to go in a residence,” Young said. “They actually went into the storage building and ransacked the inside of the storage building and he had cut himself on the glass going into the building.

“Well, he also attempted to go into the house; he didn’t think anyone was home but the lady was home.

“He tried to pry the door open and he busted the window … She yelled at him and he ran off.

“I came out for that burglary and there was some blood on the window and the back of the residence.

“That blood was swabbed and it was sent to SLED for some DNA comparison.”

Young said that after a very long wait the police department had received the results. “It’s been almost a year now and we got a letter from SLED and they did get a CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) hit on that young man (who is in jail for one burglary in Society Hill). So, we will be able to charge him for that particular burglary as well.”

County’s budget proceeds

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Darlington County Council held their regular monthly meeting May 7 and passed second reading for the 2018/19 fiscal year budget, which will include a general fund budget of $22.2 million for operating expenditures.

Departmental budget recommendations included $3.7 million for the W. Glenn Campbell Correctional Center, $755,107 for the Prison Farm, $5.58 million for the Sheriff’s Office, $2.79 million for Environmental Services, $2.3 million for the Fire District, $1.4 million for the Library Fund, and $2.3 million for the Darlington County Airport.

At an earlier budget work session, county administrator Charles Stewart informed council members that the unassigned fund balance stands around $10.8 million. Darlington County has an internal rule that requires an unassigned fund balance (which would cover county operating expenses in the event of an emergency) matching at least thirty-five percent of the general fund, so this year’s fund balance is approximately $3 million healthier than minimum standards.

Stewart outlined increases in employer retirement contributions, which will add another $136,000 each year to the county’s budget, adding up to an additional $2.8 million by fiscal year 2023. He also warned that the county will have to absorb a 7-percent hike in employee health insurance costs.

‘Raising the rigor for our students with disabilities’

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

Starting in August, some students with severe disabilities in the Darlington County School District will have the option to leave school with more than just a certificate of attendance. Project Search, a nationwide program, will start its first class with five students from across the county.

Lynette Jordan spoke to the board of education about the new program during their May 14 meeting, held at Mayo High School’s conference center. “The grant that we applied for and were granted helps us with technical assistance, the curriculum, lots of the forms and all of the things that go along with the program,” Jordan said. “It is a nine-month program for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

“It will be housed at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center. The ultimate goal is that we are raising the rigor for our students with disabilities in the moderate and severe classes so that we can get them some competitive employment after they leave high school.”

Tuition going up at F-D Technical College

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The Florence-Darlington County Commission for Technical Education met May 17 and voted to raise tuition at Florence-Darlington Technical College. Each credit hour at Tech currently costs $171; effective this fall, that rate will increase to $179 per credit hour.

Douglas Lange, FDTC Vice President of Business Affairs, told commissioners that the Higher Education Price Index has increased by 3.7 percent this year. In order to keep pace with the index, Lange presented the commission with a few different options to consider. Lange said that a hike of 3.5 percent would mean a $6 increase per credit hour; a 4.1 percent hike raises rates by $7 per credit hour, and a 4.7 percent rise would increase rates by $8 per credit hour. He noted that Tech’s tuition increase last year was about 1 percent below the increases levied within their college cohort.

Making that 4.1 percent increase effective this fall would generate about $824,000 in additional revenue this school year. Delaying the tuition hike until spring would require an even steeper and more sudden increase of $9 or $10 per credit hour.

Lange said this increase “is about paying the higher salaries that we are already paying. This is about paying additional pension costs, and making sure that we have adequate supplies to do the instruction in classrooms. … This is reflective of our costs.”

‘The before, during and after of a mass casualty incident’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Members of the first responder community – including emergency medical, fire, and law enforcement – attended a training session on May 19 and learned valuable techniques to sharpen their performance in the event of a mass casualty event.
This day of instruction was presented by Darlington Rescue Squad and Poseidon Air, Land, and Sea training company and hosted by Bethea Baptist Home.

“We’re here to learn about the before, during and after of a mass casualty incident, with a focus today on school shootings,” said Anna Dewitt, treasurer for Darlington Rescue Squad.

“We’ll talk about how to prepare, what to do during an incident – like using tourniquets and performing basic first aid – and the aftermath, like what happens when the media leaves and a town is left to deal with a tragedy.”

Speaker Daniel McManus of Poseidon Air, Land, Sea gave tips for improving your chances of surviving a mass casualty event – such as an attack by an active shooter – by pre-planning and being vigilant. McManus suggested having open discussions among your family or co-workers about what to do in the event of an incident. Practicing situational awareness, learning where the exits are, agreeing on rally points, and packing a go-bag with emergency medical supplies (especially a tourniquet) could increase your chances of surviving a dangerous incident.

‘This was a dose of reality’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Regular citizens got the chance to virtually step into the shoes of a law enforcement officer last week as the Darlington Police Department invited members of the public to try out a firearms training simulation.

“Through a partnership with the South Carolina Municipal Association, we’ve been able to conduct FATS (Firearms Training Simulator) training,” said Kelvin Washington, Chief of Police for the City of Darlington.

“The simulator is interactive, and it shows scenarios that police officers all over the country encounter pretty much every day. We are training and testing officers based on their response to these kinds of situations… sometimes the folks in the simulated scenario will listen to the officers, and sometimes they will not.”

DPD Sgt. Sharon Blakney experienced this situation when the simulator dispatched her to a domestic dispute in a public parking lot. While Blakney focused on the male suspect, who behaved aggressively toward both his wife and police, the female suspect took her baby from its car seat and held it to her chest. In a shocking plot twist, she then produced a gun from the baby’s blanket and opened fire, killing both her husband and Blakney’s simulation avatar.

“It was very realistic. It took my breath away,” said Blakney, who serves as the police department’s evidence custodian. “I’m not on patrol, and working in evidence I’m kind of sheltered. This was a dose of reality.”

June 2018

A pay raise for County Council

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Darlington County Council held their regular monthly meeting June 4 in the fifth floor courtroom of the county courthouse. During this meeting, Council voted to give themselves a pay raise, finalized budgets for the next fiscal year, and heard concerns regarding their recent redistribution of Accommodations Tax monies.

Council passed second reading of Ordinance 18-06, which increases compensation for members of Darlington County Council. The original ordinance would have altered the pay scale as follows:

Members currently earning $7,000 per year would be bumped up to $7,247; the vice chair currently earning $7,500 per year would be bumped up to $7,764; the chair currently earning $8,200 per year would be bumped up to $8,489.

Council member Bobby Kilgo, citing that Darlington County Council has not voted itself a pay raise since 1991, moved to amend the ordinance to increase those rates, and Council approved his amendment. The new compensation rates would pay the chair $14,000 per year, and the vice chair and regular members $13,000 per year. Only Council member David Coker voted against the pay raise and the amendment.

Council approved final reading for the 2018/19 fiscal year budget, which includes a general fund budget of $22.2 million for operating expenditures. Departmental budgets include $3.7 million for the W. Glenn Campbell Correctional Center, $755,107 for the Prison Farm, $5.58 million for the Sheriff’s Office, $2.79 million for Environmental Services, $2.3 million for the Fire District, $1.4 million for the Library Fund, and $2.3 million for the Darlington County Airport.

Property taxes will be increased by 1.47 mills, per the SC state law millage cap of 2.13 percent.

Hartsville approves new budget

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Hartsville City Council held its regular monthly meeting on June 12 and formally adopted all 2018/19 fiscal year budgets, totaling nearly $20 million.

These budgets include a General Fund of $10,029,796, a Water, Sewer, and Waterpark Enterprise Fund budget of $6,443,857, an Infrastructure Fund budget of $520,500, a Solid Waste Fund budget of $1,344,800, a Hospitality Fee Fund budget of $995,100, an Accommodations Tax Fund budget of $185,000, a Debt Service Fund budget of $165,000, a Storm Water Fund budget of $106,327, and a Recreations Concessions Fund budget of $105,000.

The new budgets include no tax increases, and will go into effect on July 1, 2018.

Also on the agenda, Council held a public hearing and passed final reading of Ordinance 4335, which will implement a new and more flexible purchasing policy. Under these policies, department heads will have discretion to make small purchases up to $9,999 without using competitive bidding. Purchases ranging from $10,000 to $24,499 will require written quotations and competitive pricing.

School board passes new budget

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

The Darlington County Board of Education gave the final reading of the 2018-2019 budget during their June 11 meeting, passing it with little fanfare. The board has held several workshops over the last few months to go over the specifics of the budget with Chief Financial Officer Renee Douglas.

The approved budget is $89.5 million for this coming year. The approval was unanimous with two board members, Jamie Morphis and Wanda Hassler, not present for the vote.

Though the budget was approved, Douglas said that there is still a chance that changes will need to be made based on the fact that the South Carolina General Assembly has not passed their own budget yet.

“We have used the Senate version of the budget, right now,” Douglas said. “Until we know anything else that is really our best guess.”

DCSD Superintendent Tim Newman, attending his first meeting in his official capacity, said that many districts are relying on the Senate version of the budget to craft their own budgets because it years past it has tended to be closest to the final budget that gets approved by state lawmakers in the General Assembly.

This coming school year, $275,000 will be used from the district’s general fund balance to implement block scheduling at the district’s three high schools.

EdVenture: ‘You can’t miss it’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The new EdVenture Children’s Museum Hartsville satellite is putting the last few finishing touches in place before their doors open to the public the weekend of June 30.

Located on West Carolina Avenue in downtown Hartsville, the new facility is sure to capture imaginations inside and catch your attention outside.

“You can’t miss it – it’s a teal and purple building, so you’ll be able to see it from a distance,” says Karen Coltrane, president and CEO of EdVenture.

The EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia is famed for promoting an immersive and entertaining approach to learning, offering multiple exhibits, games, and attractions that teach kids about science, reading, and numbers as they play. The Hartsville satellite will continue this tradition, and will include some unique features with local flavor.

July 2018

Referendum on its way to ballots

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At their regular monthly meeting July 2, Darlington County Council granted final approval for the Capital Project Sales Tax (CPST) referendum to be placed on voter ballots this fall.

By a vote of 6 to 1, Council approved final reading of Ordinance 18-07, finalizing language for the 1-percent sales tax referendum, which will appear on ballots at the November 6 general election. If approved by a majority of county voters, this new penny sales tax will apply to all retail purchases throughout Darlington County for a period of four years.

The tax is expected to yield approximately $5 million each year, and the resulting $20 million in revenue would be used to finance construction of a new county courthouse and – possibly – new administration offices.

The estimated cost of building a new judicial center is $10.75 million, and a new administration building could cost $4.83 million.

The cost of tearing down the current courthouse and administration building (constructed in 1965) is estimated at $3.36 million, not including permits and landfill fees.

The total cost for all three projects is estimated at $18.94 million.

‘Put us on good financial footing’

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

With the start of a new fall semester fast approaching, Florence-Darlington Technical College Interim President Ed Bethea is optimistic that the new school year will be a good one.

After taking over the president’s role in March, Bethea has put plan into action to get the school on a firm foundation.
“I don’t know what the time frame will be for hiring a new president so I am basically implementing a strategic planning process that we are going to start fairly soon,” Bethea said.

“It is going to include a lot about the things that we need to do here to put us on good financial footing.”

Bethea said that a large part of that includes finding a way to accurately predict and track enrollment.

“I want to, overtime, have a good robust enrollment plan that helps us predict what our enrollment is going to be really well so that we can know and plan better,” Bethea said.

“As a result of that, we can right size the institution.

“I’m not planning on letting people go or anything like that.

“As people decide to leave the institution, we may not fill those positions and things like that.

“I feel like we may be slightly overstaffed and we need to get back down to what is appropriate for the enrollment we have.

“I’m just trying to make sure that we have a solid plan for enrollment, knowing where that level will be.”

August 2018

A relic of races past

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

A relic of Darlington’s racing past will soon be on display at the Darlington County Historical Commission, thanks to a donation by a local citizen.

Hartsville native Tommy Jordan has raced cars and motorcycles from coast to coast, but his love for motorsports actually started in a contest with no motors at all. As a boy, he entered and won the inaugural Darlington Soapbox Derby in 1951 (an event co-sponsored by the News and Press) and he recently decided to donate his winning car and race kit to the Historical Commission.

“I’m close to 79 years old and I don’t have any children to give it to, and it wasn’t doing anybody any good just sitting where it was, so I thought I’d like to see somebody get some good out of it,” says Jordan, who fondly remembers the soapbox derby as his first foray onto a racecourse.

“I was 11 years old at the time, and Chevrolet was a big sponsor of soapbox derby racing nationwide.

“They supplied wheels to the boys who had sponsorships for races, and I went home and told my mom and dad that I’d like to do it. My dad told me no, and said that I never finished anything I started, so I felt kind of left out,” says Jordan.

Luck was on his side, though, as his father spoke with local Shell service station owner John Stevenson just a few days later, and Stevenson offered to sponsor Tommy in the soapbox derby. His dad picked up a set of wheels from the local Chevy dealer and brought them home, and the Jordans were soon quite literally off to the races.

“Oh boy, I was so happy,” he recalls with a laugh.

More trees for Darlington

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At two public meetings held last week, Darlington citizens got the chance to offer input on the city’s plan to plant 73 new trees on a major thoroughfare.

“This is a public comment period to get some feedback from the community on the South Main Street Tree Project,” said City of Darlington planning director Lisa Chalian-Rock.

The City of Darlington Tree Board created the plan with consultation and recommendations from arborist Debbie Dickinson.
Factors like root spread requirements and drainage were taken into consideration when selecting and placing tree positions, and the Tree Board also expressed a preference for flowering trees, which will present well along this main entrance into the city.

Potential tree types range from colorful Yoshino Cherry and crape myrtle to sturdy oaks and magnolias.
The variety and staggered plantings will also offer protection in case one species is infected with blight, slowing or stopping it from spreading to others further down the street.

“The Tree Board also wanted to consider future canopy, but providing canopy over five lanes of traffic with power lines already there is pretty difficult. We can’t promise too much canopy, but it would be really nice to see,” said Chalian-Rock.

The trees will be planted along the west side of South Main Street beginning near the Food Lion supermarket and extending about .08 miles north to Allen Street.

‘This piece of property needed to come down’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The Tyner Warehouse, located at Russell Street and Broad Street in Darlington, has surely seen better days, and city officials are in the midst of efforts to compel its owners to either make repairs or arrange for demolition.

Estimated at around 100 years old, the former tobacco warehouse is between 25,000 and 30,000 square feet large.

It has been divided and repurposed to house several different businesses over the years, ranging from flower shops and beauty salons to taxi cab stands and television stores. From time to time, businesses such as H&S Furnishings have rented portions of the Tyner Warehouse for extra storage.

But despite its continued usage as a rental property, the building’s condition steadily declined to the point where exterior walls rotted and collapsed and the city had to condemn it as unsafe for occupancy.

“There’s been structural issues there for years,” said Alex Gainey, City of Darlington Building Inspector. A previous city building inspector, Mike Cavanaugh, made efforts to discuss solutions and courses of action with the building’s owners, siblings Jamie Tyner and Lynn Gehrke.

“I think that the building was condemned four to five years ago, and it’s been an ongoing battle since then,” said Gainey, recounting that citations were written to the owners and they were issued orders by the city’s former municipal judge Dan Causey.

“Some orders were issued, but they really weren’t followed up on and it sort of fell through the cracks. I came here in September of 2016, and it came to my attention that this piece of property needed to come down,” says Gainey.

September 2018

Two races for Williams

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

S.C. House Representative Robert Williams (Democrat, District 62) has a lot on his plate these days; he’s running for re-election to the General Assembly, and also mounting a challenge to incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Rice for the District 7 US House seat.

But Williams says the hard work involved in running two races is worth the effort, as he believes he can ably represent the 7th and bring his dedication and compassion for the less fortunate to bear in Congress.

Williams served in Iraq with the South Carolina Army National Guard, and says his experiences in that war-torn country shaped his perspective and turned his eye toward public service.

“After I got over there and saw the devastation of war, saw the ways it ripped apart people’s lives and their communities… it was very moving seeing people trying to live in such tragic conditions.

“After I got back home and traveled around through some of our communities, I saw a lot of the same conditions. People living with no running water, no electricity – living in poverty. That really drove my interest in getting involved and trying to change things,” says Williams.

‘What is our plan’ for schools?

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

With a new superintendent on board, Darlington County School District is looking to the future.

Ground was broken for the new Darlington-area school that will combine the populations of Cain and Brunson-Dargan Elementary Schools.

New principals are in place at several schools.

Now, Dr. Tim Newman wants to know what’s next for the district.

During a recent board work session, Newman talked with board members about updating a facilities study done in 2012.

“I spent some time cleaning out my office and I came across the Darlington County School Facilities Study done back in 2012; I believe that was Dr. Knight’s last year,” Newman said.

“I had a chance to start reading through it and it was put together by one of our current architects. I have to tell you, a lot of what is in here made sense, the suggestions and the different possibilities and different scenarios that they were setting up.”

Newman said that the facilities study talked about a topic he and the board had been discussing: having a plan for the future.

“If you all recall, for the last few months I’ve been saying that we need a plan for the next 10 years,” Newman said.

“We’re building three schools now but we have 50- and 60-year-old schools in the district that are going to have to be dealt with. What is our plan? If we don’t have a plan, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Society Hill embraces solar farms

By Melissa Rollins
Staff Writer

During the Sept. 11 Society Hill Town Council meeting, council members voted to approve a resolution for solar farms.
Mayor Tommy Bradshaw told everyone present that he was authorizing councilwoman Deborah Harrell to use her role as Mayor Pro Tem in this particular situation and he would be recusing himself.

“Under new business, we are talking about the solar farms coming on the outskirts of Society Hill and part in Society Hill,” Bradshaw said. “The property that is on the outside of Society Hill belongs to me and I have leased it to them.

“The property on the agenda tonight does not belong to me, and does not directly affect me, but to make sure that there is not appearance of impropriety on my part, I am now recusing myself as mayor. I will step down from the chair and Deborah Harrell our Mayor Pro Tem will now take the chair and go forward.”

Once she was in control of the meeting, Harrell made a motion to enter into executive session to discuss the solar farm issue. Darlington County Administrator Charles Stewart and Darlington County Economic Development Director Frank Willis were involved in the executive session along with Harrell and councilwomen Carolyn Oliver, Michelle Steen and Tammy Gandy.

Once the council returned to a regular open session, they voted unanimously to approve the resolution ‘Authorizing the inclusion of certain property within the Town of Society Hill in a multi-county Industrial Park.’

Hello, Hurricane Florence

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

When forecasts indicated that Hurricane Florence would make landfall in the Carolinas, the City of Darlington began preparing to fight an old foe: storm water.

“We put a primary focus on cleaning out storm drains. We had our new vactor truck go out and work areas of concern,” says Darlington city manager Howard Garland, adding that these efforts focused on streets that usually experience flooding during heavy rain.

These areas included South Main Street near the intersection with East Broad Street, Russell Street, Hampton Street, C and D Avenues.

Garland says that as storm models and local waterway flood warnings continued to change, city workers had to stay on their toes and address problems as they occurred, clearing water where possible and closing streets when necessary. The most severe flooding occurred around the Black Creek area and the Oakdale community, with homes on Shoshone Drive and Hank Haney Lane suffering multiple incursions of floodwater.

“The biggest concern for us was not knowing how much water to expect,” says Garland, noting that city employees did great work all around. “The folks on the vactor truck (led by Jamesy Morrison and Moses Jackson) did an excellent job. They received guidance and support from Streets and Sanitation superintendant Karen Carroll and Water and Sewer superintendant Freddie Kinsaul. Kendrick Holloman took our sweeper truck out and used it to clear storm water on some streets… and Franklin Dowdy and his crew worked with Duke Energy to get the lights back on in areas where we lost power, and Frankie worked on the lift stations and pump stations to get power restored there and keep them working.”

The Darlington Police Department went to 12-hour shifts starting on Thursday before the storm. A curfew went into effect Thursday (Sept. 13) through Sunday (Sept. 16), warning people to stay off the street between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. The DPD also checked on senior citizens and people with disabilities during the storm to ensure they were well and had everything they needed, such as medications, food, and water.

Garland says that while city employees performed admirably during the storm and its aftermath, Hurricane Florence brought to light a new potential danger that must be addressed with planning and preparation – namely, the dam at Prestwood Lake (beside Sonoco) coming very close to overtopping and releasing more water into an already overflowing Black Creek.

October 2018

‘The bravest police officer’

By Bobby Bryant

His name was Sgt. Terrence Carraway, he was a 30-year veteran Florence police officer who lived in Darlington, and he is being mourned around the state and nation as the officer who didn’t survive a shooting rampage that wounded six of his colleagues last week.

Carraway, 52, was killed Oct. 3 when a man at the Vintage Place subdivision in Florence County opened fire on sheriff’s officers who had come to serve a warrant. When other officers came to help, they were also caught in the gunfire.

“Fire was being shot all over,” Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone said. “The way the suspect was positioned, his (field) of fire was several hundred yards. He had an advantage. Officers couldn’t get to the ones that were down.”

Seven officers, including the Florence Police Department’s Carraway, were shot. Three Florence city officers and three Florence County deputies were wounded. Carraway was the only immediate fatality. A 74-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, Frederick Hopkins, was being held in the shootings; his Facebook page describes him as a competitive shooter since 1984.

Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler called Carraway “the bravest police officer I have ever known.” He added: “Today will mark a very horrific day for the Florence Police Department. Today we lost a good friend of mine, an officer I’ve known for 30 years.”

Condolences quickly poured in from around the nation and state. “My thoughts and prayers are with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office and the Florence Police Department tonight,” President Donald Trump said via Twitter. S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster said: “This is simply devastating news from Florence.” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was “heartbroken” over the “horrific incident.”

Darlington vs. the mosquitoes

By Bobby Bryant

If they see skin, they go for it.

Hurricane Florence’s rains have turned much of the Carolinas into a breeding factory for mosquitoes – bigger, badder and more bloodthirsty than any in recent memory.

Darlington County officials have gotten nearly 1,300 complaint calls about the flying pests, citizens were told at an Oct. 1 County Council meeting. For city officials, it’s been much the same story, says the city’s planning director, Lisa Chalian-Rock.

“Lots of people have been really upset,” such as moms who’ve been watching while mosquitoes dive-bombed their kids waiting at bus stops, Rock said. “We got plenty of people calling. . . . . ‘Why didn’t you come by my house?’”

The city has been stepping up its efforts to spray the mosquitoes into submission, at least until cooler fall weather helps solve the problem. A spray truck has been following the same route that city garbage trucks take; the truck has been working its way through neighborhoods Monday through Thursday, 8-11 p.m., weather permitting.

Farewell to ‘Coach Dave’

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

David S. “Coach” Neilson passed away last Thursday night and was laid to rest Oct. 7 after a funeral service at Darlington’s Central Baptist Church.

Born in Chicago to Mr. and Mrs. Howard Neilson, “Coach Dave” spent most of his life in South Carolina. While attending Aiken High School, he achieved success as a basketball player and earned a scholarship to the University of South Carolina.

Though he majored in business and served in the Army, Neilson’s love for basketball eventually led him to become a coach and educator.

While teaching history and marketing at St. John’s High School, Neilson coached the 1983 Blue Devils basketball team to an undefeated 27-0 season and the 3-A Boys’ State Championship. The memory of that title game – a 56-55 last-second victory over James F. Byrnes – still resonates sweetly among hometown fans.

“Terrance Sanders tipped in the winning shot with one second left on the clock and everybody just went crazy. It was magical,” said Howard Garland, a former Neilson player who called the game on radio station WDAR.

“On the way home from Columbia, the bus stopped at a Wendy’s and Dave insisted the restaurant give every player a free apple pie because they were champions.”

An armored rescue vehicle for Hartsville?

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

At its Oct. 9 regular meeting, Hartsville City Council discussed the possibility of procuring an armored emergency rescue vehicle for the police department.

The topic arose as council members offered condolences for the death of Florence police officer Terrence Carraway and recovery wishes for the six City of Florence police officers and Florence County deputies wounded Oct. 3 by the same gunman accused of killing Carraway.

Council member Billy Shirley suggested that Hartsville needed an armored rescue vehicle of the type Florence police used to evacuate their wounded officers from the gunman’s field of fire. Mayor Mel Pennington and Hartsville Police Chief Jerry Thompson agreed. “We need one, and if we never have to use it, I would be the happiest man on Earth,” said Thompson.

Hello, Hurricane Michael

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Hurricane Michael hit Darlington County with heavy rain and high winds last Thursday, causing several trees to fall and flooding at least 12 streets in the city of Darlington. Emergency responders from the Darlington Fire and Police departments worked with Duke Energy to clear away trees and restore power to homes and businesses. County schools and most government offices closed on Thursday, but reopened Friday as waters receded and skies cleared.

A forum on the courthouse’s fate

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Citizens gathered Oct. 15 at the new Voter Registration Annex to discuss the upcoming penny sales tax referendum that would fund construction of a new Darlington County Courthouse.

Darlington County Council members Robert L. “Bobby” Kilgo and Joyce Wingate Thomas and Clerk of Court Scott Suggs hosted this informal question and answer session.

Kilgo answered most of the audience questions, which focused on several key concerns. The meeting lasted just over one hour.

The current Darlington County Courthouse was completed in 1964 and opened in 1965. It houses operations for circuit court, probate court and family court.

It also houses all the county’s administrative offices, such as the treasurer, auditor and planning department.

Suggs, who has served as clerk of court for 22 years, says the building’s biggest deficit is inadequate security.

He cited incidents where defendants encountered witnesses and judges in hallways, and criminal defendants rode in the same elevator as citizens going up to pay their vehicle taxes. Suggs noted that at least twice, prisoners have escaped and led police on chases through the courthouse and around the Public Square.

November 2018

Hartsville PD on way to getting armored vehicle

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

The Hartsville Police Department is moving ahead with plans to acquire an armored rescue vehicle. Despite lengthy debate during a special meeting, City Council voted 6-1 to authorize Chief Jerry Thompson and his command staff to begin the acquisition process.

With approval of Resolution 10-18-02, HPD will apply to receive an armored rescue vehicle through through the United States 1033 Program, which transfers excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies.

The resolution requested council’s approval for receipt of a Caiman MRAP 6×6 Armored Personnel Carrier/Rescue Vehicle.
The vehicle itself would be free, and the city would pay for shipping, annual liability insurance, maintenance (performed by the National Guard), and fuel costs.

Council members Tre Gammage, Teresa Mack and Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Andrews expressed reservations.

Gammage requested that the matter be tabled for two weeks while council studied it further and received more information about available vehicles. His motion initially passed, but council members William Shirley and Bernice Wilson balked at the idea of a delay.

“The police department has already vetted this for us. They know what they need, or what they think they need. The iron is hot, let’s strike,” said Shirley, noting that he hoped the vehicle would never be deployed in an active shooter situation.

Issues, issues and more issues

By Bobby Bryant

Quality of life, stable home environments, too few kids going to college, leadership issues at Florence-Darlington Technical College and even Darlington High School’s struggling football team were among the topics that peppered a meeting of city, county and school district officials.

Much of the session, hosted by Darlington County schools superintendent Tim Newman, dealt with education problems and solutions. “Most of our kids are really good kids; they just need direction,” Newman said.

He said 70 percent of Darlington County high-school graduates don’t go to college. After graduation day, he said, many don’t have a plan for what comes next. One way to fix that, he said, is through an internship program that the school district is developing with area businesses. “I want to put our kids to work, and I want to put them to work in Darlington County,” Newman said.

When the forum was opened up to other issues, officials in the audience saw problems far and wide that needed to be addressed: sewage leaks, “no leadership” at FDTC, lack of action on redeveloping the amphitheatre at St. John’s Elementary School, and even frustrations over Darlington High School’s hard-luck football team, the Falcons.

No new courthouse, the voters say

By Bobby Bryant
and Samantha Lyles

About 8:45 p.m., the tide turned against a new courthouse for Darlington County.

As the ballots were being tallied Nov. 6 in county election offices in Darlington, the initial returns showed that voters appeared to be backing a plan to hike the county sales tax by 1 percent to raise $20 million for a new courthouse and administration building.

But they weren’t wild about it. “Yes” votes on the tax question had a tepid lead, maybe 5 percentage points.

By 8:30 p.m., with about half the county’s precincts in, the “yes” margin had fizzled to 3 points.

A few minutes later, 1 point.

About 8:45, the “no” ballots took the lead by 3 points.

And that was pretty much it for the courthouse tax. Onlookers whipped out their cellphones, made quiet calls: Looks like the tax is failing. By 9, the “no’s” were leading 52-47 percent.

People began leaving, like football fans when it’s clear who the loser is going to be. The final tally held at 52-47 “no”: 10,618 residents backed the tax increase; 11,747 opposed it.

The issue isn’t over, officials say. The “foul” physical condition of the building and security problems at the courthouse, which was completed in 1964 and opened in 1965 to great acclaim for its “modern” square design, aren’t going away. They’ll simply have to be addressed in other ways, officials say.

City plans to honor slain officer

By Bobby Bryant

The family of a slain police officer who lived in Darlington got a key to the city Nov. 13, and that’s not all the honors City Council plans for Sgt. Terrence Carraway.

Council also hopes to rename a street and plans to name a playground after Carraway, a veteran Florence Police Department officer who was killed Oct. 3 when a Florence County gunman opened fire on several law-enforcement officers, wounding five and killing two.

“That’s a hero,” Darlington Mayor Gloria Hines said of Carraway, who she had known since he was a child.

The mayor presented Carraway’s family with a golden key to the city, and council voted to endorse renaming Southern Pine Street after Carraway and naming a playground (a former Little League field) after him. Changing a street name will require an OK from the city planning commission and a public hearing.

Residents on the street will be contacted and asked for their reaction.

Names that council members discussed included “Sgt. Carraway Street,” “Carraway Street” and “Sgt. T. Carraway Street.”
“I’m just humbled,” said the officer’s widow, Allison. She said her husband’s death was “a needless sacrifice,” but added: “The legacy of Terrence Carraway will live on.”

She and her family members got a standing ovation from the audience at the council meeting at City Hall.

Coming up: A $245,000 playground

By Bobby Bryant

By spring, officials hope to unveil what will be the biggest playground in Darlington.

Darlington City Council on Nov. 13 voted to accept a $245,000 bid to construct a large playground at Siskron and Hampton streets.

The funds are coming from hospitality-tax money, said Darlington County Recreation Director Lee Andrews.

The project, being handled by Georgia-based Bliss Products – “Bliss gave us more for the money,” Andrews said – is expected to be completed sometime in the spring.

No date is set, Andrews said.

City Councilman Bryant Gardner, a longtime supporter of the project, said this is the result of years of effort on the part of many people, and he thanked council for moving forward.

“This gives everyone in our community the ability to enjoy a nice playground. This is one of our biggest investments in the quality of life in Darlington in a number of decades.”

DHS’ football coach quits

By Bobby Bryant

Darlington High School varsity football coach John Jones Jr. ended three years of frustration on the field by resigning Nov. 19, and school officials will “immediately” start the search for a new coach.

Jones, whose Falcons football team had won only three games in the past three years, resigned his post “to pursue other coaching opportunities,” the Darlington County School District said in a news release last week. The district said he will continue his teaching responsibilities at DHS.

Jones was hired as coach in 2015 and after a promising 6-5 first season, endured three brutal years of mostly losses. His record was 3-28 for his last three years as coach; he lost his last 12 games. For all four seasons as coach, his record was 9-33.

In the school district’s news release, Darlington High School Principal Cortney Gehrke said: “We appreciate the four years Coach Jones spent with our Falcon family. He has worked hard to share his passion, vision and determination with our students.”

December 2018

Lamar leaps onto the Internet

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Rep. Robert Williams, Sen. Gerald Malloy, former Lamar mayor and current Darlington County Council chairman Bobby Hudson,
Lamar Mayor Darnell Byrd-McPherson accept check from Charter-Spectrum for the Lamar Rescue Squad

A 10-year campaign to bring broadband Internet to the town of Lamar has finally paid off.

Charter Communications and Spectrum Cable announced last week that they will invest $1 million to build a state-of-the-art network in the Lamar community.

“Internet is obviously a necessity. It is not a luxury. Rural communities all over are struggling to try and retain young people, and Internet is a must,” said Ben Breazeale, senior director of government affairs for Charter Communications.

“I promise you all – and I’m not just putting on my corporate hat here – it’s going to transform this community. This is 100 megabits of Internet going to almost every house in Lamar.”

Breazeale said the new network will cover every street in town, and installation should be complete in late March or early April 2019.

He also announced that Charter-Spectrum will offer special pricing plans for lower-income customers.

Wells Fargo leaving town

By Bobby Bryant

In a blow to Darlington’s Public Square, Wells Fargo will close its downtown bank branch Feb. 20, the company has confirmed.

Because of “changes in customer behavior across the Pee Dee,” Wells Fargo will shut down its bank at 58 Public Square, company spokeswoman Amy Amirault told the News & Press Nov. 28.

Wells Fargo customers in the Darlington area will still be able to do in-person business at the bank’s branches in Hartsville and Florence, Amirault said.

The ATM at the bank’s Public Square branch will be relocated next to the existing Wells Fargo ATM at 202 Lamar Highway, she said.

Lisa Chalian-Rock, the city’s director of planning and economic development, said that city officials are already “trying to market the property to other businesses. . . . We’ve got a couple of people we are definitely targeting.”

State issues school ‘report cards’

By Bobby Bryant

Most of Darlington County’s public elementary schools fared badly in the S.C. Department of Education’s newest round of “school report cards.”

But some school-district officials around the state are attacking the report cards as biased, inaccurate, unfair and nearly worthless as a measure of how well students and schools are doing.

While Darlington County’s four public high schools and four public middle schools all got what amounted to passing grades or higher on the state’s school-by-school assessment, six of the county’s nine public elementary schools were judged to be in danger of not meeting state standards for students, and one was rated as no longer meeting standards for students.

Only two elementary schools – Hartsville’s Carolina Elementary and Lamar’s Spaulding Elementary – got what amounted to passing grades from the state.

Darlington County Education Superintendent Tim Newman noted that the report cards had been revised and changed to such an extent that “this is an entirely new process for everyone involved, and we know there are flaws in the system.”

Aid for Lamar’s wastewater system

By Samantha Lyles
Staff Writer

Lamar Town Council heard some good news at the start of its Dec. 10 regular meeting as Mayor Darnell Byrd McPherson announced the town would receive $350,000 in state funding to help repair its wastewater system.

“We have to thank Sen. (Gerald) Malloy because we did receive an allocation of $350,000 – hello!” said McPherson, who later noted that this money would largely cover the estimated $348,000 in repairs needed to bring the wastewater system up to scratch.

The town recently contracted with engineering firm Davis & Brown to become Lamar’s water system distribution operator, which brings the town into compliance with an order from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

After Lamar parted ways with a previous operator (Hanna Engineering), they were without an operator for about two and a half weeks.

Paula Brown, a drinking water system inspector with DHEC’s Florence office, explained that even though Lamar currently purchases all of its municipal water from Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority (DCWSA), that water still passes through Lamar’s proprietary system of pipes, tanks and pumps.

“There’s still a lot of responsibilities that go along with running a water system,” said Brown.

“It’s not just turning on a faucet or flushing a toilet and we’re good. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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