Darlington County Year in Review

Funny money circulated in Darlington

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Several Darlington businesses got an unwelcome surprise from customers over the Christmas holidays when some patrons – intentionally or unwittingly – attempted to pay for their purchases with fake U.S. currency notes.
Employees at some of these targeted businesses, including the EZ Stop convenience store, Food Lion, and McDonalds, spotted the funny money, confiscated it, and called law enforcement. Another incident at the Darlington Walmart occurred during the holiday shopping rush, and a customer used seven fake $100 bills to purchase an iPad.

Maureen Valazak, an investigator with the Darlington Police Department Criminal Investigation Division, said that in many cases where counterfeit or fake money is passed, a quick inspection of the bills will reveal they are not genuine.

“Some of these have “For Motion Picture Use Only” printed on the front and back,” said Valazak, explaining that stacks of movie prop money can be purchased online for pennies per bill. “You can get them on Craig’s List or eBay.”

Valazak said that when customers try to pass obvious fakes, they often choose times when cashiers are overwhelmed and harried, gambling that the cashier won’t take the time to examine the bills or check them properly.

Some of the false money confiscated in Darlington features comically bad graphics, like President Ulysses S. Grant smirking crookedly on the front of a $50, Benjamin Franklin sporting a coy smile on a fake $100, or bright pink Chinese lettering on both sides.

The Secret Service and U.S. Treasury Department advise the following methods to detect counterfeit bills:
• Hold a bill up to a light and look for a holograph of the face image on the bill. Both images should match. If the $100 bill has been bleached, the hologram will display an image of Abraham Lincoln, who appears on the $5 bills, instead of Benjamin Franklin.

• Looking at the bill through a light will also reveal a thin vertical strip containing text that spells out the bill’s denomination.

• Color-shifting ink: If you hold the new series bill (except the $5 note) and tilt it back and forth, please observe the numeral in the lower right hand corner as its color shifts from green to black and back.

• Watermark: Hold the bill up to a light to view the watermark in an unprinted space to the right of the portrait. The watermark can be seen from both sides of the bill since it is not printed on the bill but is imbedded in the paper.

• Security Thread: Hold the bill up to a light to view the security thread. You will see a thin imbedded strip running from top to bottom on the face of a banknote. In the $10 and $50 the security strip is located to the right of the portrait, and in the $5, $20 and $100, it is located just to the left of the portrait.

•Comparison: Compare the feel and texture of the paper with other bills you know are authentic.
If you believe you have received a counterfeit bill, the U.S. Treasury advises you to do the following:
•Do not return the bill to the passer.

•Delay the passer with some excuse, if possible.

•Observe the passer’s description – and their companions’ descriptions – and write down their vehicle license plate numbers if you can.

•Do not handle the counterfeit note. Place it inside a protective cover, a plastic bag, or envelope to protect it until you turn it over to your local law enforcement agency.

Council narrowly approves CTC road repairs

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council held their first meeting of 2017 on January 3 and started the new year with a split vote approving distribution of $846,927 in County Transportation Committee (CTC) funds to resurface sixteen damaged county roads.

Council voted 5 to 3 in favor of allocating the money, which comes from the South Carolina Department of Transportation and requires no match from the county. Typically, the state budgets funds based on CTC requests, that money is then accepted or refused by county council, and the county’s Roads and Bridges Department then uses the money to construct or repair the designated roads.

The split vote came after extensive discussion, with several members of council voicing concerns about how the CTC chooses which roads will receive attention. Council member Lewis Brown asked this exact question, and interim county administrator Charles Stewart replied that committee members inspect roads submitted for consideration and then prioritize which ones require immediate care.

Roads and Bridges director Bobby Richardson added that the CTC “has always been willing to take recommendations from council” and they regularly ask for input from county staff when making their determinations.

“The sixteen roads that you’re voting on tonight are triple treatment roads and are really deteriorated. If they’re not resurfaced, we’re going to lose them,” Richardson said.

“Triple treatment” refers to the topmost road surface on which vehicles travel, and this particular surface uses a thin sand seal atop aggregate layers. Triple treatment roads are typically not as smooth as carpeted asphalt roads, but they are a cheaper alternative often used in high stress areas.

Roads included on this CTC repair list include Pisgah Road, Nettles Road, Persimmons Drive, East Horse Branch Trail, Flatnose Road, Harmony Hall Road, Ambergate Drive, Clover Street, Confederate Street, Critcher Road, Pine Hollow Street, Maple Street, Oaktree Street, Wellington Drive, Fox Trot Drive, and Silver Fox Drive.

Some members of council said that while those sixteen roads all surely needed help, they felt compelled to vote against the allocation because other badly degraded county roads – like Commanchee Street in the Centerville community – are not on the list.

Since spring of 2016, Pastor Christopher Frazier has repeatedly appeared before council asking for help to secure repair funds for Commanchee Street, which regularly floods and becomes nearly impassable after heavy rains. Council has referred Frazier to the CTC and suggested he contact members of Darlington County’s state legislative delegation, since they appoint CTC members and could possibly help get Commanchee on the repair list.

Additionally, Stewart explained that unlike most other CTC projects, paving Commanchee Street would require a substantial investment of county money. Stewart attended the November 30, 2016 CTC meeting where committee members agreed that the county must commit to provide half of the $1.4 million project cost (including purchase of property for stormwater retention ponds) before they could possibly pledge state funds toward the project.
When discussion ended and votes were tallied, council members Joyce Wingate Thomas, Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson, and Bobby Kilgo all voted against the CTC allocation. Council Chair Bobby Hudson, Vice Chair Le Flowers, and council members David Coker, Lewis Brown, Dannie Douglas all voted in favor.

In a last minute addition to the agenda, council agreed to allow Darlington County to act as a pass-through sponsor for federal funds to repair Bethea Road, which was washed out due to flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in October of 2016. Bethea Road connects Hwy 52 to Ebenezer Road. This measure requires no commitment of county funds.

Waccamaw Chief talks Standing Rock at Coker College event

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Harold D. Hatcher, Chief of the Waccamaw Indian People, was the featured speaker at a January 24 program staged by Standing Rock Hartsville, a local citizen group opposed to the construction of an underground oil pipeline that could affect Native American tribal land in North Dakota.

The event, hosted at the Coker College Recital Hall, featured updates on the Standing Rock situation from group members and a keynote address from Hatcher, who discussed his tribe’s involvement with Standing Rock and shared stories of Native American culture and history.

“When Standing Rock came about in 2016, it started to unite a lot of the Indians across the country. I had four people out there trying to stand against the Corps of Engineers trying to dig holes under the Missouri River and under the lakes because the materials these folks use…it’s some of the cheapest stuff they can buy,” said Hatcher. “It’s all about making a dollar and not so much about keeping the environment protected.”

Hatcher said many protesters fear that if the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is built according to current plans, a rupture or leak could pollute water supplies for not only tribal lands, but for millions of people who get their water from linked sources. He worried the impact could rival the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan.

Hatcher discussed the problematic words sometimes used to describe Indigenous people, recounting the origination of terms like “redskin” (referring to the color of tanned Native American scalps traded for cash as proof of Indians killed) and “sioux” (a Dutch corruption of the French word for ‘snake’ adopted by white settlers to describe the native people’s evasive fighting style). He also talked about the difficulty of tracing Indigenous heritage through spotty official records, and the struggle to get federal recognition for the Waccamaw Tribe.
Chief Hatcher’s wife, Susan, showcased a number of Waccamaw and Native American cultural items, such as medicine bags to carry meaningful items, necklaces made from deer skulls and buffalo teeth, and a purse crafted from a turtle shell.

Casey Copeland of Standing Rock Hartsville said the group formed in 2016 after learning about the thousands of people – Native Americans, allies, and citizens from all walks of life – actively protesting construction of the DAPL, which would transport oil underneath reservoirs and sources of drinking water for tribal lands.

County Council forwards solar energy ordinance

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At their February 6 regular meeting, Darlington County Council passed second reading of a contentious renewable energy ordinance by a vote of 7 to 1. Ordinance 16-19 sets county regulations for the location, construction, and operation of renewable energy systems.

Residents of the Byrdtown community began registering concerns with the Darlington County Planning Commission and County Council last summer, saying this ordinance allowed large-scale solar panel installations too close to rural homes. Many of those same residents attended this meeting and reiterated their worries over potential health problems and negative aesthetics.

Though 16-19 came up for second reading more than once, Council repeatedly sent it back to the Planning Commission to incorporate information from citizens and solar energy developers in an effort to address concerns of both parties. After a January 17 work session focused on the nuts and bolts of solar energy systems, Council came away with a consensus on how to proceed, and that version of the ordinance returned to their agenda for the Feb. 6 meeting.

Council member David Coker (District #8, Hartsville) cast the lone dissenting vote on second reading. During deliberations, Coker offered two amendments, the first of which proposed to require a vegetative buffer around the entire solar energy installation. This idea immediately drew protest from vice chair Le Flowers, who worried that such a requirement might start a trend of citizens asking council to forcing landowners to screen displeasing features from public view.

“Where does this stop? I mean, if we don’t like someone’s barn, can we make them screen that barn? If we don’t like the fact that they have a tractor collection out front so you can see it, do we make them screen it?” Flowers asked. “Where do we stop with telling landowners what they can and cannot do on their property?”

Coker responded that he only wanted the screening requirement applied to the renewable energy systems specified in the ordinance. His first amendment received a second from Council member Joyce Wingate Thomas, but failed adoption by a vote of 6 to 2.

Coker’s second proposed amendment would have required developers to secure a $50,000 bond to pay for future decommissioning of these sites. Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson offered a second, but then voted against the amendment. Wingate Thomas again voted with Coker, but the motion failed 6 to 2.

After the vote, Council member Lewis Brown explained his support for the renewable energy ordinance, saying that it could help address an imbalance in Darlington County tax revenue yields. Brown said that currently, three of the county’s eight districts produce about 80 percent of the total revenue.

“I don’t think it’s a healthy scenario and I personally, over the next four years, would like to see that elevated where all parts of the county are contributing and we prosper,” said Brown.

He spoke of the potential for “significant revenue” through the development of solar energy systems, noting that there are 10 to 15 projects currently considering location in Darlington County.

Smith sees golden anniversary with Darlington County

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

At a recent meeting of Darlington County Council, a resolution was unanimously approved honoring facilities manager Andrew F. Smith for fifty years as a county employee. Council members teased Smith about their expectations for fifty more years of work, but their jokes carried a kernel of possibility: if anyone could manage to double up on their golden anniversary, it’s probably Andrew Smith.

Smith’s path toward that 50 year milestone took a few interesting turns before bringing him home. Born in Society Hill in 1937 to parents Mack and Lottie Smith, Andrew graduated from Rosenwald High School then moved to New York City for a few years until he got a tap on the shoulder from the U.S. government.

“Uncle Sam drafted me into the Army in 1959,” says Smith, noting that his original training was in radio communications – specifically, sending and translating coded messages with a cryptography machine. “I went to school in Seattle, Washington for four weeks and I had to take a secret clearance course in order to operate the crypto machine.”

Smith was bound for Korea, but was none to eager to go to war just yet, so he volunteered for Airborne training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

“There, I made my five perfect jumps, got my blood wings, and stayed at Fort Bragg from 1960 to ’67,” Smith recalls.

Along the way, he married wife Sarah (a Wilmington, NC native) in 1961 and moved back to Darlington after leaving the Army.

“I loved the Airborne and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but my wife didn’t like the jumping,” Smith says.
In March of 1967, he took a job working at the Darlington County Courthouse (built in 1964) as a custodian and applied his military discipline and affinity for training to his new vocation, taking seminars and courses and learning how to best perform his new duties.

“I worked myself up from janitor to custodian director, from there to building maintenance director, then they joined the two jobs together, and now the job is called facilities manager,” says Smith, who now manages the maintenance of the courthouse and 20 other county buildings.

“I’ve learned about everything there is to learn about the county buildings as far as heating and air, carpentry work – you name it. I can do a little bit of everything,” says Smith.

Over the years, Smith has seen the courthouse bow under the weight of age, enduring water damage, a dated heating and cooling system, and crowding as more and more employees and offices packed into the facility. Concerns about security, parking, and overcrowding have sparked a renewed interest in relocating court operations to a new judicial annex, and some have called for the old courthouse to be razed completely so a new multi-purpose facility can take its place.

Aside from his regular daily duties, Smith has taken countless tour groups of curious adults and schoolchildren on basement-to-roof tours of the courthouse, explaining all of the building’s systems, offices, and functions so often he could probably do it in his sleep. Given his unparalleled level of expertise in all things courthouse, he believes there’s still life in the old girl.

“This building can be saved. There’s a lot of good qualities still in this building,” says Smith. “I would like to see a new building, but I wouldn’t want to see this one torn down.”

He says one of the chief hurdles any renovation effort would face is removing the aged heating and cooling system, which runs on a complex system of boilers and water chillers, and replacing it with a modern, efficient electrical system.

“You’d have to cut that system out first, possibly doing it floor by floor, and replacing it with the new system, but it’s going to be hard because this building is so old,” says Smith, noting that cutting into the walls could disturb construction and insulation materials like asbestos, which was commonly used in the 1960s.
While the decision over the courthouse’s fate lies in the hands of Darlington County Council, Smith says he will continue doing everything he can to keep the building as functional and safe as possible. Though Smith is a cancer survivor and has endured painful back surgeries, he hasn’t reached a point yet where he is seriously considering retirement, though he knows that day may eventually come.

“I still feel I can give a hundred percent to the county. When I get to a point where I can’t get up in the morning, or don’t feel I can give that hundred percent…then I will retire,” says Smith.

Looking back over his life, Smith says he’s very proud of raising daughters Angela and Sharon (and doting on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren), serving his country in the Army, and doing his best to keep the daily business of Darlington County running smoothly.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of it and have no regrets,” says Smith. “If I had to do it all over again, I would. I don’t know what else to say. I’m just happy ever after.”

IRS serves two search warrants in Darlington

Early in the morning on Tuesday April 18, around a dozen Internal Revenue Service agents converged on Darlington. The agents entered two businesses and – according to witnesses – began removing boxes from the two tax preparation businesses located in downtown.

“The IRS is serving search warrants at two locations on the Square,” said Darlington Police Department Chief Danny Watson. “They are in control of both scenes and we are there to assist only.”

DPD officers were posted outside the two businesses for crowd control purposes and pedestrians were not permitted access to either the businesses or the sidewalks directly in front of them.

Areas along the west side of the Public Square and the east side along the first block of South Main Street were blocked with cones from the evening of April 17 to the morning of April 18, but regular traffic flow was not hindered.

A spokesperson for the IRS said that one of the search warrants was for Premier & Partners but would not provide the name of the other business or the reason for the warrants.

Lawson honored by Clemson Extension
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Laurie Coke Lawson, died Saturday, December 2, 2017 at 85.

Clemson Extension’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center recognized Darlington native and Clemson University graduate Laurie Coke Lawson last week for his lifelong dedication to South Carolina agriculture by naming their lobby in his honor.

At the Tuesday, April 18 dedication ceremony, speakers Mark Smith (Pee Dee REC director) and George Askew (Dean of Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences) hailed Lawson for his decades of farming knowledge and his deep love for Pee Dee agriculture.

Askew also read the following from a letter written by Dr. John Kelly, current president of Florida Atlantic University and former vice president for Public Service and Agriculture with Clemson:

“During my 28 years at Clemson, I frequently heard people across the state of South Carolina say that Laurie Lawson was the finest southern gentleman they had ever met. Nobody they ever knew loved agriculture more than Laurie Lawson. He would always greet people with a big smile, a generous heart, and true kindness. His demeanor was genuine and authentic. He treated me like he had known me his entire life. For those who have had the privilege of knowing him, he has been a role model of honesty, integrity, and statesmanship. We have all been blessed to have the privilege of being influenced by men of such wisdom. His name being enshrined at the Pee Dee REC is a wonderful way to welcome every future visitor to the Pee Dee.”

Askew spoke of the gracious welcome “Mr. Laurie” provided when he first joined Clemson, recalling that Lawson took him on a farm-by-farm tour to acquaint him with local producers and personally introduced him to members of the legislative delegation.

Lawson’s peerless familiarity with Pee Dee farming results from a long and distinguished career spent in the fields of Lawson Farms, established in 1834 and operated by his family for six generations, and serving the needs of farmers as head of South Carolina’s Farm Services Agency. Lawson also served as the state executive officer for United States Department of Agriculture Farm Services, a job that required him to oversee the USDA’s 33 South Carolina offices and the state office in Columbia.

He was chairman of the S. C. Agriculture Commission for eight years (from the late 1970s to early 1980s), served as state director to the National S.C. Farm Bureau Federation for two years, and has received the Order of the Palmetto (South Carolina’s highest civilian honor), and Clemson’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award.

Lawson’s work with Clemson Extension’s Pee Dee REC (as assistant to the vice president of agriculture) required him to be “a troubleshooter” for the station.

“When there was a hot spot out in the state and somebody didn’t like something Clemson was doing or didn’t understand it, Mr. Laurie would come and talk to them. When Mr. Laurie spoke, people listened,” said Askew.

Burr breaks powerlifting world record

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Stacy Burr may have just taken part in an invitation-only powerlifting competition, but that doesn’t change how she views herself.

“I put my pants on the same way as anyone else,” Burr joked.

And while that may be the case, the Coker College graduate has had an impressive few years in powerlifting circles.

Burr recently returned to Darlington after traveling to San Diego, California to take part in the CETC US Open. Burr said that invitations were sent to the top five people of each weight class, which means that lifters from around the world, not just the United States, were there.

“It was beautiful just to be invited,” Burr said. “It was the biggest powerlifting event to date. There was over $200,000 given out in cash prizes.”

Burr said that the addition of prize money was nice because typically powerlifting events don’t have a cash prize.

“People don’t do it for the money,” Burr said. “It is about the pride and about making yourself better.”
And Burr did make herself better; in fact, she broke a world record.

“I set a new all-time world record for the 148 division,” Burr said. “I beat the previous record by 58 pounds. It was a little bittersweet for the previous record holder; she was there to see me beat it.”

Burr said that she is extremely proud to have broken the record, especially because of how much she beat it by.
“When someone sets a new record, it is usually by ten pounds or something like that,” Burr said. “I beat it by 58 pounds. That was crazy.”

With competitors from all over the country and all over the world, Burr said it is humbling.

“I’m just from Darlington, South Carolina,” Burr said. “I’m really the people’s champion because I’m a nobody.”
The normally mild-mannered Burr said that there is a big change when she is preparing to lift.

“I’m really intense,” Burr said. “I yell and I scream. I’m probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet but when I’m competing I get really intense.”

Even though she is young in the sport, Burr said that having confidence when you hit the floor makes all the difference.

“Whatever you put on, you have to know that you can do it,” Burr said. “If you doubt yourself, it will probably eat you for lunch.”

When the competition came to an end, Burr walked away with a second place overall win, snagging first place in her weightclass.

Moving Washington St. Elementary a concern in Hartsville

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

During the May 8 meeting of the Darlington County Board of Education, two Hartsville pastors expressed interest and concern about where the district will build the new elementary school in Hartsville.

Pastor Chris Frazier said that several pastors were in attendance at the meeting.

“The reason we are here is because we all have parishioners and children that attend Washington Street School,” Frazier said. “We are in agreement that the schools need to be updated and replaced. The real reason we are here is we want to ask an update, if there have been recommendations from the architect, any sites that have been selected for the new schools.”

Frazier said that Washington Street is ‘near and dear’ to people in the neighborhood. He suggested that the school district look at purchasing 75 acres of land on Washington Street to build the new school.

“What we are saying is if there is a possibility that the school can relocate and still be built in the Washington Street area we would be all for it,” Frazier said. “We want the best education for our children…We know that we’ve to go to the 21st century. I think a lot of sacrifice has been made on the south side of Hartsville…We’ve done what we had to do and it was better for the community. That is the only educational institution that is left in the south side of Hartsville.”

DCSD Board chairman Jamie Morphis told Frazier that community meetings would be held to get input from the community before any decisions are made. He said decisions would also be informed by the Department of Transportation, construction management and the project architects.

Rev. J. D. Blue of Second Baptist Church spoke next.

“A lot of our children and grandchildren attend that school and it means a lot to south Hartsville,” Blue said. “All around the world, if a school closes the first to close is on of ours. The only thing we have in our community now is Washington Street. Some might say we have Butler, well we really don’t have Butler. Now that we are moving forward in the process…the community of south Hartsville is shaken up; there is no need to beat around the bush about it.”

Blue said that the school board needs to look after the interest of all students when making building decisions.
We pledged a few minutes ago and when we did we talked about justice for all,” Blue said. “If we really mean what we pledged, sometimes we have to get our ego out of the way and do that which is right, not only for a particular group of people but for all people…I am here tonight to tell you that it is going to be a fight because we are really concerned and we are tired of every time a school has to close, it has to be one of ours.”

Darlington Garden Club garners state awards

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Members of the Darlington Garden Club are celebrating more than just the arrival of spring. Club members recently returned from a meeting of the National Garden Clubs organization and brought home five awards recognizing various beautification and improvement projects around the city.

Awards included Honorable Mention for the National Garden Week Project (project chaired by Delette Jordan); State Certificate of Merit for the planters placed around downtown Darlington; Third Place for the Youth Award, for money donated to help fund a Children’s Garden at the Darlington Library (project chaired by Marie Ross); First Place for the Sarah Porter Smith Boylston Memorial Garden Award for work done during the October Cleanup Day at Wells Park (project chaired by Laura Burns).

Most impressively, the Darlington Garden Club took top honors for the South Atlantic Region of National Garden Clubs, Inc. for Outstanding Service (defined as promoting the aims and objectives of gardening) in the Public Relations category.

“We were the only club to receive this award,” says Ronda Duke Brown, who is finishing up her two-year term as Darlington Garden Club president. “To be recognized at the state level for projects within our community is truly an honor. We are a small club and we have to compete with many clubs within South Carolina and the South Atlantic Region, so you can imagine our surprise at winning a regional award.”

Other ongoing projects include placing benches on the Public Square. The first of these has already been installed (in front of Tenampa Mexican Restaurant), and is dedicated to the memory of late club member Jean Donald.

“Jean worked hard at the Rose Garden (on Pearl Street). I can’t tell you how many hours she and Cathy Bailey spent down at the garden taking care of it,” says Brown.

Brown says the club couldn’t have accomplished so much over the past year without generous financial support from local businesses and individuals, and numerous hours of hard work from volunteers who spent their Saturdays helping clean up and maintain the city’s parks and green spaces.

“This couldn’t happen without a partnership between the Garden Club and the City of Darlington and the Beautification Board,” says Brown.

She says the Darlington Garden Club extends special thanks to Darlington city manager Howard Garland, City of Darlington Beautification Board, Fire Department and Streets & Sanitation Department employees, and the Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association for their consistent backing and assistance with everything from grants to daily watering.

“The Darlington Garden Club would also like to welcome our new president, Lou Kirchen, and we hope members of the community will continue to support the club at our next fundraiser,” said Brown, referring to the auction and breakfast/luncheon event known as “Card Day,” scheduled for August 8.

To learn more about how you can join the Darlington Garden Club or help support their projects, contact Ronda Duke Brown at (561) 234-9411.

Lamar gets $500,000 for water tank project

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Thanks to a $500,000 grant from SC Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA), the Town of Lamar is moving closer to re-establishing its municipal water system.

At their June 12 regular meeting, Lamar Town Council discussed the grant, which will fund repairs and painting of the town’s two water towers. Council member Mike Lloyd said that according to Hanna Engineering, its possible the project could be completed within a year.

Grant administrator Jannie Lathan of Lathan Consulting, LLC said the project was originally estimated at 18 months, but after conferring with Hanna Engineering they found that a 12-month timeline could be feasible.
The RIA grant and tower rehab is part of a comprehensive loan/grant package Lamar is pursuing to finance over $2.6 million in repairs and updates for its municipal water system. The project would address several key system needs, including building a new water treatment plant at a cost of $1.2 million, sinking a new 250 GPM (gallons per minute) well for $362,700, and replacing dated and unreliable water meters with new RF (radio frequency) models.

The Town of Lamar has been purchasing all of its municipal water from the Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority (DCWSA) since February of 2016, when South Carolina DHEC shut down the second of Lamar’s two water wells due to trace radium detection. Sinking a new well and building a new treatment plant would allow the town to resume selling water to its residential and commercial customers, and could save Lamar a considerable amount of money each month.

Lamar’s proprietary water system was able to produce 1,000 gallons of water for around 75 cents; purchasing that same quantity of water from DCWSA costs about $2.73.

Meanwhile, the town continues to steadily lose significant amounts of water due to leaks, broken lines, and old, inaccurate water meters. Lloyd said that in the month of May, Lamar purchased 3.5 million gallons of water from DCWSA and billed customers for almost 2.5 million gallons – a loss rate of around 30 percent.

“We’ve got no idea where it’s going. The only thing I can figure out is that it’s in the water meters. I’ve been seeing cases where there’s two or three (residents) in a house and they’re only using 1,000 gallons a month. That kinda makes me believe the meters are not accurate,” said Lloyd.

Mayor Randy Reynolds agreed that the town has many old water meters and their replacement is a crucial part of Lamar’s water system overhaul plan.

Stucks sworn in as Darlington Municipal Judge

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Attorney Robert Stucks, a Darlington native, was sworn in as the Municipal Judge for the City of Darlington at a well-attended ceremony held Monday, June 19 at the City Hall Courtroom.

In the presence of dozens of friends, family, and colleagues, Stucks was administered the oath of office by Judge John Milling, who is also a member of Darlington City Council.

Stucks offered thanks to all his supporters, noting that retiring Judge Dan Causey counseled and advised him as he transitioned into his new role. Stucks said he will strive to treat litigants fairly, with an eye toward equal administration of the law.

“I recognize some people will be coming into this courtroom for the very first time, and they deserve to be treated with respect, with honor, with dignity. But I also recognize that I took an oath to uphold the law, and certainly that is what I will do,” said Stucks.

Hartsville High introduces new softball coach

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Hartsville High School softball is in good hands next season. Tommy Garrison was introduced as the new HHS softball coach Tuesday, June 13 during a press conference with principal Dr. Charlie Burry, Athletic Director Phyllis Griggs and former coach Jamie Horton.

“We are here to introduce our second new softball coach in three years and in most places that would not be a good thing,” Burry said. “Here at Hartsville High School, though, it’s a very good thing.”

At the end of the season, Burry said, Coach Horton resigned to focus her efforts elsewhere.

“Jamie Horton resigned the softball position at the end of the season so that in the coming year she can devote more attention to her new role as assistant athletic director and “athletic director in waiting” for when Phyllis Griggs rides off into the sunset after the 2017-18 school year,” Burry said. “Fortunately, just as we did when Jamie took over for Bobby, so well, two years ago, we have an outstanding candidate ready to step up to the plate as our new head coach.”

Griggs is not a new face to the HHS athletic family: he previously served as Griggs’ assistant when she was in charge of the softball program.

Hartsville High has made a name for themselves the past few season, taking the AAA Lower State Championship in 2015, the AAA State Championship in 2016 and the AAAA Lower State Championship in 2017.

“I mention all that to let you know that, while we have had some outstanding individuals lead our teams, Hartsville High School Lady Red Foxes Softball is a complete program that legitimately contends for state championships every year,” Burry said. “Tommy has long been a part of the softball culture in our community, knows it well, and is highly respected by those who know him and follow softball closely in this area. As principal, my expectation is that the program will represent our school well in terms of being competitive, while displaying outstanding character and sportsmanship, and that our student/athletes will contribute positively to our overall school culture. I have great confidence in that happening under Tommy Garrison’s leadership.”

After some remarks from Griggs, Garrison spoke about his expectations for the program.

Lamar passes water rate increase

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lamar Town Council held a special meeting on June 26 to finalize their 2017/18 budget, which contained an 8 percent increase for municipal water service.

At their June 12 regular meeting, members of Council disagreed about the amount of this year’s increase, but all agreed that a rate hike was necessary in order to keep the town in consideration for grants and funding from state and federal agencies.

The Town of Lamar has been purchasing all of its municipal water from the Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority (DCWSA) since February of 2016, when South Carolina DHEC shut down the second of Lamar’s two water wells due to trace radium detection.

Lamar is now pursuing a comprehensive loan/grant package to finance over $2.6 million in repairs and updates for its water system. The project would address several key system needs, including building a new water treatment plant at a cost of $1.2 million, sinking a new 250 GPM (gallons per minute) well for $362,700, and replacing dated and unreliable water meters with new RF (radio frequency) models.

At present, the town’s Water Department is running on thin margins while purchasing water from DCWSA and tracking down over 1 million gallons of unbilled water per month, chiefly lost through costly leaks and faulty meters. The final budget for 2017/18 estimates department income of $326,925 and expected expenditures of $304,226.

Chief Watson on Police Department break-in: They came in our house and took our stuff

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

In an emergency city council meeting Monday July 3, Darlington Police Chief Danny Watson announced that the Darlington Police Department had been broken into and several pieces of equipment had been stolen.

“Over the weekend persons, or a person, unknown at this particular point in time, removed multiple pieces of equipment from the Darlington Police Department,” Watson said. “Once we have all the information that we need available to us from the investigating agencies, that being the Darlington Police Department and State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), once these items are identified and potentially recovered, we will release such information as is pertinent to the case.”

Watson said that SLED and DPD were investigating the incident in a joint operation.

Upgrades in security are being done though they are made more difficult by the age and the construction of the department’s building.

“This building is a 1963 building,” Waton said. “It was originally designed to have people occupy this building at all times. As times have changed that is no longer the case. We have had to try and adopt newer security measures over time. Unfortunately, a lot of the security measures that we would like to put into place just haven’t come into fruition yet but we are working toward that.”

Plans were already in place for upgrades, Watson said, and those plans will continue along with the changes being made immediately.

“The city’s general obligation bond, which was passed in November 2016, was slated to cover part of the security upgrades for the department itself, as well as City Hall in general,” Watson said. “Additional cameras are being added to the cameras that we already have in place, on the outside and inside, which will hopefully prevent any kind of activity such as this to take place in the future. Like I said, because of the age of the building that we currently occupy and its construction, it’s going to be a difficult process.”

Watson was obviously impacted by the break-in.

“It is upsetting and sobering to realize that even public buildings like ours are vulnerable to attack,” Watson said. “I’ve worked many, many burglaries over the years and I‘ve never had that feeling because I’ve never been burglarized myself but today I had that feeling. Someone came into my house and they took our stuff. These are items that we use to help protect the citizens of Darlington and it is very upsetting. However, it is our stalwart and continuing commitment to do everything possible to find out whoever these person or persons are and bring them to justice.”

Five arrests made in Darlington double-murder

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Five people have been arrested for the shooting that took place June 26 at Kirven and Southern Pines Streets in Darlington. On July 11, Aaron Christopher Hall, Shenika Johnson, Juquavis Rahyeem Bailey, Nicholas Dishawn Johnson and Briuana Princess Boone were arrested by the Darlington Police Department. Hall was arrested for two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, one count of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Johnson was arrested for accessory after the fact for felony murder. Bailey was arrested for accessory before the fact to felony murder. Boone was arrested for accessory after the fact to murder. At the time, DPD Chief Danny Watson said that he expected another arrest to be made. On July 13, Nicholas D’Shawn Johnson was arrested and charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Watson said that his officers worked hard collecting evidence and working all angles of the case.
“What we were able to do over a period of time, not only with our physical evidence but also with witness statements, was to break down stories, to break down potential alibis and things like that,” Watson said. “That really led us to paint the picture fully and have an understanding of what happened.”

Watson said that his department made arrests at the appropriate time.

“We live in the freest country in the world so if I am going to take someone’s freedom from them, that’s a very weighty thing,” Watson said. “You want to be sure that you are doing the right thing. You want to be sure that you are making the right case against the right person so that when you go to court, you can win. We can’t release all the information that we have just for the simple fact that you want people to have a fair trial.”
Watson praised the officers in his department, as well as the SLED officers that assisted.

“We had great partners with State Law Enforcement Division and Lt Valazak with our Investigations section did an outstanding job,” Watson said. “She was very dogged, a stalwart investigator, who just kept going out there, along with the investigators that were assigned in our Patrol Division, who did an exceptional job. They were getting out there and making sure that everything continued to go well and that we didn’t have any new occurrences. We didn’t, which was really great, and they were able to solve this.”

The victims of the shooting were Randolph Malika McClain, 21, and Ahmond Britton, 24, according to Darlington County Coroner Todd Hardee. Police were called to the scene around 12:45 on June 26 where they McClain and Britton shot inside of a car. Another victim was taken to the hospital but expected to recover.

State seeks death penalty in double-murder

A man charged with murdering a 9 year-old girl and her grandmother will face the death penalty for his alleged crimes.

Cephas Cowick, 24, is charged with the murders of Denise Couplin, 52, and her granddaughter Deziyah Chatman. In July of 2016, Couplin and Davis were found shot to death at their home on Bobo Newsome Highway in Darlington.
State prosecutors notified Cowick in early June of their intent to seek the death penalty in his case.

According to court documents, the prosecutors’ decision is motivated by the following aggravating circumstances: the victim of the murder was under 11 years of age; the murder was committed with the purpose of receiving money or something of monetary value; the case involves multiple murder victims.

Cowick’s wife, Katherine Baucom, faces two counts of murder and will be tried separately. Both have also been charged with third-degree arson, criminal conspiracy, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, first-degree burglary, grand larceny less than $10,000, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

Prosecutors allege that Cowick and Baucom acted together to rob Couplin and ended up killing her and Chatman in a bedroom of their home. It is also alleged that the couple stole Couplin’s vehicle and burned it at a later time in an attempt to destroy evidence of their crimes. The burned car was found on Birdsnest Road in Hartsville.

Hartsville contracts with water park builder

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

The planned expansion of the popular Piratesville Splash Pad into a multi-featured water park took another step forward as Hartsville City Council voted at their August 1 special meeting to contract with a design and build firm.

After reviewing four design build proposals, Hartsville opted to use Trident Construction, LLC of North Charleston for their Design Build contractor. Trident lists several similar projects among their building credits, including water parks and splash zones built for Charleston County Parks and Recreation and aquatic centers built for Orangeburg and New Bern, North Carolina.

Mayor Mel Pennington said the city has been communicating with several groups that use the soccer fields at Byerly Park over concerns that the fields would be sacrificed to expand the water park. He said that trimming some features from the water park plans will allow the soccer fields and the new park expansion to co-exist.
“At one point, we were entertaining the thought of doing a crystal lagoon, which was going to consume all of the fields. Now that has been tremendously scaled back, so we should have plenty of space,” said Pennington.
Also on the agenda, Council passed Resolution 08-17-02, approving a bid award of $767,287 for North American Construction Company, Inc. of Quinby to perform upgrades to the Black Creek Pump Station.

In May, Council approved Resolution 05-17-03 to allocate match dollars from Water and Sewer Reserve Funds to pay for Black Creek Pump Station upgrades. The city committed $456,225 so SC Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) would commit $321,575 for this project. The bid amount will result in $445,712.00 being deducted from the city’s Water and Sewer Reserve Fund.

McIver Road textile plant to re-open, bring 135 jobs

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The fiber industry is coming back to Darlington County. During a much-anticipated announcement Aug. 8 at the SiMT Gould Incubator, the Darlington County Economic Partnership announced that Fiber Industries LLC would be re-opening the plant on East McIver Road in Darlington.

Hiring will begin in the fourth quarter of 2017 with production to start in early 2018.
Darlington County Economic Partnership Executive Director Frank Willis said that it is a relief to finally be able to make this announcement.
“It is a huge relief,” Willis said. “You know people know that something is going on and then want to know who it is and what it is. You want to tell them but you can’t. It’s nice to be able to say its Fiber Industries. The most valuable part is that we’ve competed and we’ve won. We’ve got $30 million dollars; we’ve got 135 jobs. To stand up and be able to say that is pretty doggone special.”

Willis has been working on several projects and thinks that this announcement can only help spur others on.
“They weren’t waiting on this by any means but there is certainly that trail mentality,” Willis said. “I saw you do it and I’m trailing you. I certainly think it is going to happen.”

Codenamed ‘Project Phoenix’, the re-opening has been in the works for quite some time.

Fiber Industries management team Andrew Rosenfeld and Leandro Carboni shed some light on the details that have been agreed upon by the company and the county.

“(August 7), the county approved our incentive package and that brings us closer to our vision and our plan to re-start the Palmetto Polyester Staple Fiber Operations business,” Rosenfeld said. “ReadySC will be our partner for the hiring process so we are looking forward to working with them.”

Carboni said that the plant will employee more than 100 people.

“We expect to invest more than $30 million dollars and to create at least 135 jobs,” Carboni said. “We believe the region has a great resource for very experienced employees, given the textile history in the city. The local community and the state have been very supportive in working with us; we really, really appreciate all the support. We are looking forward to working with all the stakeholders as we move forward.”

Rosenfeld said that the trend toward textiles made in the United States is swinging back in the country’s favor. The way that the McIver Road plant was shutdown also makes it a valuable site for Fiber Industries to locate.

“It was very evident early on that the U.S. has actually become competitive again and this is something we determined a few years ago,” Rosenfeld said. “Some of the people who are working for us where there at the time of the shutdown and helped shut it down. The plant was shut down in an orderly fashion so it could actually be restarted. We felt overall that we could get a good employee base to start the plant up.”

Lloyd resigns from Lamar Town Council

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Lamar Town Council member Mike Lloyd turned in his resignation at Council’s August 14 regular meeting, citing personal reasons following the recent passing of his wife. Lloyd served almost 20 years on Council, including nearly three full terms in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then from 2008 to the present.

Lloyd’s primary responsibility for the past several years has been the town’s water department, which was hit hard in February of 2016 when South Carolina DHEC shut down the second of Lamar’s two water wells due to trace radium detection.

The Town of Lamar has been purchasing all of its municipal water from the Darlington County Water and Sewer Authority (DCWSA), and Lloyd has worked steadily to find and repair multiple leaks that cost the town thousands in unbilled water losses.

Lamar is currently pursuing a loan/grant package to finance nearly $3 million in repairs and updates for its municipal water system. The project would address several key system needs, including building a new water treatment plant at a cost of $1.2 million, painting and upgrading two water towers at a cost of nearly $500,000, sinking a new 250 GPM (gallons per minute) well for $362,700, and replacing dated and unreliable water meters with new RF (radio frequency) models.

The water tower rehab project is funded by SC Rural Infrastructure Authority and Lloyd said at the August 14 meeting that engineering ground work has begun at both towers. He noted that the project could take up to one year to complete.

Lloyd had a spot of good news to share: a resident discovered a massive water leak on his property and reported it to Town Hall. Repairs were made to the broken ¾ inch line, which Lloyd estimated was dumping 15,000 to 20,000 gallons per day into a ditch. The savings from fixing this leak will be fully reflected on the town’s next water bill from DCWSA, but even a partial month’s bill shows a huge difference.

“We saved 235,000 gallons of water over the month before, which was about a $655 savings,” said Lloyd. “We have made a big hit on the water losses…right now, it’s repaired and the numbers are looking excellent.”

He said the estimated monthly savings of around 600,000 gallons should deeply cut into the 1 million gallons of unbilled losses the town incurs each month.

Suite towers at Darlington Raceway renamed for Earnhardts

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The Earnhardt name has become synonymous with NASCAR. Now, the name is forever a part of the Darlington Raceway. During a ceremony Sept. 1, the track renamed the red suite towers Earnhardt Towers in honor of both Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Some of the goals of the Throwback platform were to energize and rejuvenate some of the history of the sport and make it like a reunion atmosphere for folks to come back here Labor Day Weekend and pay respects to those heroes and those legends who paved the way for this great sport of ours,” said Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp during the ceremony. “We believe we are doing that here today.”

Tharp said the dedication of the towers was special because it was honoring the father-son drivers.

“Darlington Raceway is proud of its steep heritage, history and the reverence that it holds in the sport of NASCAR,” Tharp said. “Over the years, we have had the opportunity to honor some of the sports’ and our racetrack’s legends by naming some of our facilities after them. We are all about honoring the legends and heroes of our sport. Today, we have the privilege of naming our suite towers in tribute to Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.”

Tharp said the choice of the Earnhardts was an easy one for his team.

“We came together as a staff earlier this year and discussed some of the things we’d like to do during this Throwback Weekend to make it even more special,” Tharp said. “With this being year number three of our Throwback platform and this being the final full-time season for Dale Jr. in the Monster Energy Cup Series, the synergy was there to make this dedication come to fruition.”

Kelly Earnhardt Miller was on-hand to represent the Earnhardt Family.

“On behalf of the Earnhardt Family we are certainly honored that Darlington Raceway dedicated these towers to both my dad and Dale Jr.,” Miller said. “This racetrack has certainly meant a lot to my family over the years. For me, just being a kid running around, Darlington was a place that was close to our home so we were able to come down in the conversion van, years ago, and play in the infield; this has always been a special place.”

Site selected for DCSD ‘Project A’

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

After several hours-long executive sessions, the Darlington County School District made a motion Sept. 18 to enter into a contract for property purchase for ‘Project A’. The board was mum on what ‘Project A’ is, though they have been in search of property on which to build a new school in both Lamar and Hartsville.
Boardmember Maureen Thomas made the motion and the vote was unanimous.

Audrey Childers, DCSD Public Information Officer, released a statement at the end of the meeting.

“Tonight the board voted to authorize the acting superintendent to enter into a contract to purchase property for Project A as discussed in tonight’s executive session, with a copy of the contract to be made available to the public in accordance with the SC Freedom of Information Act,” Childers said. “We will wait to release the transaction details, including seller’s name, property location, or the sales price, until the negotiations are completed and the deed is recorded. Releasing the information before then could impact ongoing negotiations. Once the deed is recorded, we will release the information as required by the SC Freedom of Information Act.”

The public has anxiously waited for information about where the three new schools will be built. The only facility that will be built on an existing school site is the one in Darlington that will combine Cain Elementary School and Brunson-Dargan Elementary School.

The new school in Hartsville will replace Washington Street Elementary and West Hartsville Elementary.
Lamar’s new school will combine Spaulding Elementary and Lamar Elementary.

Lamar High School breaks ground on million dollar athletic facility upgrades

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

The Darlington County School District held a groundbreaking ceremony at Lamar High School on Tuesday, September 26 to celebrate the beginning of more than $1 million in upgrades to Lamar High School’s football stadium and related facilities.

LHS will be getting upgrades to stadium concessions, restrooms, and ticket booths. The scope of work calls for a 2,880 square-foot concessions and restroom facility (8 fixtures and 5 sinks in the men’s room, 15 fixtures and 5 sinks in the women’s room), and a concessions area with stainless steel counters.

Three ticket booths will be built, each measuring 10 feet by 10 feet. Also on the project list, a 100 square-foot band booster retail booth where fans can purchase Silver Fox items. Decorative metal fencing will be erected, and concrete walkways will connect the facilities.

The 285 x 60-foot skills range will be repaved and painted, the 325 x 50-foot gravel parking lot will be paved and painted, and the existing bus parking lot will be paved and striped. Also, a 25′ x 300′ concrete pad will be installed under stands at the track.

“Athletics at Lamar are a top priority. They are 5 and 0 right now and have more trophies than anybody, and I know we are doing the right thing to enhance sports activities here in Lamar,” said DCSD Board of Education member Connell Delaine.

“I just want to thank the interim superintendent and the school board for believing in us and doing this project for us. It has been long needed,” said LHS principal Kathy Gainey. “I’m just thankful for my children and the community and how it’s going to benefit them.”

Secretary of State celebrates Sonoco Centennial

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

Sonoco has grown and prospered in Hartsville for over a century. The products coming off their lines has changed over the years but the desire to build a company on principals that mattered never did. On Tuesday, Sept. 26, Secretary of State Mark Hammond visited the Hartsville headquarters of the billion-dollar company to celebrate the longevity and success of the homegrown business.

“I am glad to be here and I am very glad that Sonoco is here,” Hammond said. “This is a very special day for the Secretary of State’s Office, for the state of South Carolina and, I think, a very special day for Sonoco.”
Hammond said that he and Jack Sanders, Sonoco President and CEO were talking about the strides South Carolina is taking in the business industry.

“I was telling Jack earlier today that South Carolina is doing pretty well right now,” Hammond said. “Chief Executive Magazine has ranked South Carolina the fourth best state to do business in. Also, the Boyd Company has ranked South Carolina as the number one state for manufacturing; we are very excited about that.”

South Carolina is showing that U.S. manufacturing is making a comeback.

“I used to travel some with Governor Nikki Haley and I always enjoyed her saying that here in South Carolina we make things again,” Hammond said. “I know tourism is still our number one industry but we are making tires, packaging material and we are really excited about all the companies that are coming to South Carolina, that are expanding in South Carolina.”

Hammond said that while new companies are locating in the state, he thinks those who have created the foundation for those opportunities need to be recognized.

“It is nice to celebrate these companies that are expanding and coming to South Carolina but I think that we need to step back and I think we need to recognize companies who are incorporated in the Secretary of State’s office for 100 or more years,” Hammond said. “Sonoco is one of those great businesses. They got started here in Hartsville in 1899. I am really honored that I can go out and thank you for your longevity; thank you for all that you have brought to Hartsville, to this state and now internationally.”

Jack Sanders, Sonoco President and CEO, spoke briefly after Hammond.

“It did begin officially in 1899,” Sanders said. “A lot has changed since then. Matter of fact, our founder Major James Lide Coker, he actually coined a phrase that basically said that change is immutable and you better adapt or you won’t survive. I think Sonoco has done a good job over its history of adapting to changes.”

Complaints about City of Darlington election land on SLED’s desk

There have been at least two reports of absentee voter intimidation in the recent City of Darlington election and the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is taking a closer look.

The race for Ward 1 ended in a run-off between Sheila Baccus and Coleman Cannon, who currently holds the seat. Baccus had 222 votes to Cannon’s 129 votes. Audrey DuBose-Gore came in third with 114 votes.

Hoyt Campbell, Director of the Darlington County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, confirmed that SLED was asked to look into complaints of voter intimidation.

“They had two complaints that were filed with them that voters were intimidated by someone,” Campbell said. “Absentee voters is what they are investigating.”

The numbers reported by the Board of Voter Registration and Elections show that of Baccus’ 222 votes, 140 of them were absentee votes; of Cannon’s 129 votes, 34 were absentee. Gore had 46 absentee votes out of her total 114 votes.

Campbell said that in recent years, the county has seen an increase in absentee voting.

“The bad thing is that we had an unusually low number of voter turnout at the precincts,” Campbell said. “In Darlington (precinct) 6 we had 170 some people registered to vote in the city and only three people voted out of that precinct.”

Thom Berry, spokesperson for SLED, said that because they received the citizen complaints directly from the Darlington Police Department they chose to look in to the complaints but they have not launched an investigation.

“We received two reports from Darlington PD late Thursday last week with allegations about the municipal election in Darlington,” Berry said. “We have assigned an agent who is going to look into the matter and try to get in touch with the individuals who filed the reports to determine whether or not there is anything of a criminal nature to be investigated. So at this time, no, we are not officially investigating. We are just following up the reports we had gotten from Darlington PD.”

“Normally when someone files a complaint it would go to the state election commission first,” Berry said. “They would look at it and see if there had been any criminal activity involved. If that were the case, they would contact us to begin an investigation. In this particulate case, our regional office got the information directly from Darlington PD so we decided to go ahead and look into it. We did talk to the elections commission so we’re just going to see if there is anything there. If there is, we will proceed accordingly.”

Standardized test scores continue to drop in Darlington County

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The numbers don’t lie. Unfortunately, what the numbers show is that Darlington County students are not scoring well on standardized tests and those numbers have been slipping since 2015.

During the Darlington County Board of Education Nov. 13 Carlita Davis, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, shared the 2017 Assessment Data Report with the board.

In 2016, only 33.6 percent of DCSD students scored ‘On Track’ to attend a four-year college on the ELA portion of the SC READY test for third through eighth graders. In 2017, that number dropped to 29 percent. An almost identical drop occurred in Mathematics, going from 33.9 percent to 30 percent.

On the SC PASS test, for grades four through eight, only 40.6 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in Science, down from 66.3 percent in 2016. Social Students also saw a drop, though not quite as drastic, going from 74.7 percent in 2016, to 66.8 percent in 2017.

Davis said that the entire state has seen a drop in test scores. She said that there were several contributing factors, including the changes being continually made to the tests students are taking; teachers were not always given significant warning of these changes.

Board member Wanda Hassler said that she had poured over the numbers in recent days and was shocked to see how far DCSD has fallen in scores and in district ranking.

“Everybody may have shifted but not only have we shifted, we have dropped.” Hassler said. “All of these other schools were taking the same test and have had the same changes that we have had but yet we have dropped position.”

Davis said that Darlington is ranked around 40 of the 82 districts in South Carolina. Former DCSD Superintendent Rainey Knight said, when asked by Hassler, that Darlington was once ranked in the top third of districts in the state.

“We have two schools in our district now who are competing for state level football championships, am I correct,” Hassler asked. “How come our students are, academically, in the bottom third? If we have a losing team, do I go to the assistant coach and complain? I don’t go to the defensive coordinator, I don’t go to the offensive coordinator; I go to the coach. The coach is the one that is ultimately responsible. I think it is time for our coaches to step up and take ownership of this data…We need not be sitting in this same position next year.”

Darlington Police Chief announces retirement

Darlington Police Chief Danny Watson has announced his plans to retire near the beginning of 2018. The statement that he issued to the News and Press read:

“After careful consideration and much thought I’ve decided to retire Jan 8, 2018. I’ve deeply enjoyed my time here at Darlington Police Department and the many people I’ve helped along the way. To each of you who continues to work in this capacity I wish you good luck and God Speed.”

In further statement released on Facebook, Watson said:

“I have proudly served the city of Darlington Police Department for the last 24 years. In that time I have been blessed with many fine moments and honestly some very tough ones as well. I have worked very hard to help many people who needed help to make their lives better and regrettably not been able to help all that I wanted to. This coming January 8, 2018 I am retiring from service with the Darlington Police Department and will continue my work in another field. It has been my honor and privilege to be a part of a wonderful and dynamic team of professional caring people who are second to none. There are few things in life as wonderful as living yours in the service of others. I believe we are blessed to have many like minded people here as well. They will go on to serve the people of Darlington proudly for many years to come I am sure. I wish you all of those here much luck in the continued efforts to do just that. I will miss all of you greatly.”

Watson was named chief in 2011 after an extensive search to replace Jay Cox, who had passed away.

Former Darlington Clerk of Court indicted on embezzlement charge

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the Darlington County Grand Jury has returned an indictment against a Darlington woman in connection with the embezzlement of over $10,000 from the City of Darlington.

April M. Bailey, of Darlington, SC, was indicted Thursday, November 30, 2017, on one count of Embezzlement of Public Funds, Value $10,000 or more under S.C. Code Section 16-13-210. The indictment alleges that while Bailey was employed as the Clerk of Court for the City of Darlington, she diverted cash funds meant to be paid to jurors for their service to herself. The maximum penalty Bailey could receive is 10 years and a fine in the discretion of the court. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant Attorney J. Clayton Mitchell. She will be allowed to turn herself in where she will be served with the indictment and arraigned on the charges. The case will proceed from there.

County moves ahead on $300 million solar project

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Darlington County Council convened their regular monthly meeting on Monday, December 4, and forwarded two ordinances related to a potential $300 million investment in solar energy.

Council held a public hearing and second reading for Ordinance 17-17, which would offer FILOT (Fee In Lieu Of Tax) agreements with an unnamed company involved in a solar energy development plan code named “Project Dates.” The ordinance extract states that “many solar projects are looking at South Carolina,” and the “conversion of agricultural property to solar property can produce significant increases in property tax revenue.” The extract also states that the unnamed company has represented that incentives are critical to their locating in Darlington County.

The company has assured Darlington County that a series of expenditures totaling over $300 million will be invested in 17 different solar power facilities before December 31 of 2022. Tax map searches for properties named in Project Dates show several small parcels and several large parcels scattered across multiple locations throughout the county.

Related to this, Council also passed second reading for Ordinance 17-18, enlarging the boundaries of the Darlington-Florence Industrial Park to include property owned or operated by Project Dates.

Council approved final reading for Ordinance 17-16, altering the boundaries of the Darlington/Lee County Joint Industrial Park to include property owned by Fiber Industries to allow the county to grant Special Source Revenue Credits it promised to Fiber Industries in August of 2017. The ordinance also allows the allocation of 1-percent revenues to Lee County as a park partner.

County administrator Charles Stewart informed Council that a report on the recent public listening sessions regarding the fate of the county courthouse will be presented at County Council’s regular meeting in February by facilitator Charles Weathers of the Weathers Group, which conducted the sessions.

Southwest Stormwater Project bid approved

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

The Southwest Storm Project is moving forward in Darlington after a vote Dec. 5 during the Darlington City Council meeting. Council voted 5 to 2 with councilmen John Milling and John Segars voted against the motion to approve a $2.5 million dollar bid from Landsdown Earth and Pipe.

City administration put the project out for bid twice, both times receiving bids well above the amount they had allotted to complete the work. Councilmen Milling, Segars and Bryant Gardner all have expressed concern over the amount of money being spent. Those concerns were reiterated in a fashion during the December meeting, especially after council was informed that the city would be dependent on funds from the state, promised by Senator Gerald Malloy and Representative Robert Williams, to make their allotted funds meet the $2.5 million bid price.

“At this time, we do not have the money to complete the entire project,” said City Manager Howard Garland. “However, we’ve been given assurances from Senator Gerald Malloy that if we start the project, he will help us finish it by getting money in the state legislature this coming legislative session. I’ve also gotten assurances from our state representative Robert Williams, who is going to be on the Ways and Means Committee next year, which is a very powerful seat and it controls money, that he’s going to help us fund this project also. It would be the staff recommendation that we move ahead with the Southwest Darlington Stormwater Project, spending the money that we have on hand.”

Garland said that in the bond fund there is currently over a million dollars, along with a grant from the Rural Infrastructure Authority for $445,000.

Mike Hanna of Hanna Engineering told council that, although it would not be ideal, they could start the project, use the money that they have and stop the project when the money runs out.

Milling said that stopping the project when the money runs out doesn’t get the city off the hook for the money if the contract is awarded for $2.5 million.

“We have to pay him that $2.5 million even if we don’t get the money from the legislature,” Milling said. “We’ve got no way out of it.”

Author: Duane Childers

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