All 7 candidates assemble for Society Hill elections forum

By Bobby Bryant, Editor editor@newsandpress.net

The town of Society Hill may be small – about 560 people – but this year, its politics have grown large. Two rivals are challenging two-term Mayor Tommy Bradshaw for re-election Nov. 2, and one of them is a resident who for months was locked in a continuing feud with Bradshaw over the number of farm animals on his property. Four people are running for two at-large seats on Town Council (a fifth candidate dropped out of the race). One is a former council member; another is a well-known resident long involved with the town’s history and government. On Oct. 12, right after that night’s Town Council meeting ended, all seven candidates gathered at Town Hall for an informal candidates’ forum. Each was given five minutes (timed by the town’s librarian) to talk about what they would bring, or continue to bring, to Society Hill. We’ll begin with the mayor’s race. The candidates are: Tommy Bradshaw, the incumbent mayor. Bradshaw said he has lived in Society Hill all his life. “I love Society Hill,” he said. Referring to the news that the nearby, now-abandoned Galey & Lord plant seems to be on its way to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund priority cleanup list, Bradshaw said he has, as mayor, “continuously” been reaching out to local economic-development agencies, keeping up with Galey & Lord’s status and other issues and working for change. “What we need (in this town) – we need jobs for people. There’s no jobs around here,” Bradshaw said. He noted the town’s recent deal with CareSouth to renovate the old St. David’s Academy into offices where 50 people will work – a major coup for the town. “That took time. It took many, many months. … I had to stick with it. We don’t want a haunted house there.” Bradshaw noted that when he was first elected mayor in 2013, the town was mired in financial problems. “We were $100,000 in debt. We had less than $400 in our checking account. Can you imagine that? I took a town from that to today – we’ve got $151,000 in the bank. … I’ve been a good steward of the town’s resources. I love this town.” Dwayne Duke, whose path to the mayor’s race began with a long battle over how many farm animals Duke and his wife could keep on their 44 acres in town limits. They ultimately lost, as Bradshaw led Town Council to pass a new ordinance limiting town residents to six chickens and two equines. The Dukes run a bed-and-breakfast on their property, collectively known as Crazy Blessed Farm. Duke described himself like this: “Born and raised in the Louisiana bayou, I’m a husband, a father, a grandfather of three.” He added that “being raised in a Louisiana oil field” gave him a gift for welding, “which I continue to develop and teach today.” He began a welding business that has grown into Duke Metal Works. “I have become a vital member of our local business community.” Duke said he has developed himself as “a minister, an entrepreneur, welder, foreman, educator, leader and lifetime learner.” He added: “Over the past month of campaigning through the streets of Society Hill, knocking on doors and listening to the people, I have a true understanding of the concerns of my town, residents and our community.” Their No. 1 concern, he said, “is having our town cleaned up,” trees trimmed, benches cleaned and the like. Their No. 2 concern, Duke said, is “the lack of public events and community-building functions. A lot of people feel that there is no unity.” Scott Dixon, a 40-year town resident who is a graphic designer for a software firm in Florence. “We are not the Society Hill that we used to be,” he said. “We never will be. But what we know we can do is come together and create something – create a place that we love, that we would be proud to call home.” He said he was sitting at a recent Town Council meeting at which someone remarked “that they felt they were ashamed to call Society Hill their home. No (one) in Society Hill should ever be ashamed to call Society Hill home.” “There’s a lot of things that we can do as a town,” Dixon said, “but what I want you to hear there is ‘we.’ It’s about community. I don’t bring a big business background, but I have been in business. I’ve helped many nonprofits. I’ve helped many small businesses get up and running.” “We have what we need in Society Hill,” he said. “What we need to do is come together as a community, find out what we can all bring to the table, and let’s work on that together. It’s not about making big changes … trying to change who we are. … We want to make sure that people want to come here, want to stay here, and want to be here.” Two at-large seats on council are on the ballot. The candidates for those seats are: Carolyn Oliver, an incumbent member of council. “I have been on council for six years, won three elections, lived here in town about 11 years, and fell in love with Society Hill,” she said. “I want to see us continue to grow. We seem to have growth spurts, and then we stop. Then we’ll get somebody new in town and get us excited, then everybody stops.” “I want us to stay together, work together, and please remember that two or three people can’t do all of it. We need everybody working, everyone working together, regardless of the election results.” Kevin A. Long, who describes himself as a 25-year Society Hill resident with 30 years’ experience in business. He said he believes he can help guide the council to make “positive changes in the community.” When Long first filed to run, he said that “recent protracted deliberations by the council” made him think about “the need for a common-sense, balanced approach to dealing with town issues, and the need for decisions … to be made in a reasonable and timely manner.” Melissa Burch, a nine-year Society Hill resident who is president of the Long Bluff Historical Society (named after the Society Hill area’s original name). “My involvement with the town over the past nine years that I’ve been blessed with here has been directly here with Town Council and with the mayor,” she said. “The history of this town is one of my passions, obviously,” Burch said. “And preserving its history, not just the buildings, but the heritage that all of you have. Each of you has lineage that goes back to the beginning of the community. I feel like it’s important that we preserve that. … I’d love to see our buildings be preserved well. I’d love to see our streets look nice. … We have a lovely community and I think that folks coming through here need to appreciate what we have. So we kind of want to dress it up and show it off.” “I think we need a council that is supportive of each other,” she said. “I think we need to be active and I think we need to be involved with the town and each other.” Denise Douglas, a former council member. She would like the town to host festivals. “We need to appoint a committee to put festivals here,” she said. “The other day, I was in Georgia. And this little town had fall festivals for the month of October and November. They had all types of decorations, and it was so beautiful. And we can do that. We can make this town come alive.” “Everybody up here deserves to win,” she said of the candidates. “We have good people in Society Hill.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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