Council discusses grants, zoning, proper decorum
By Stephan Drew, Editor
On Tuesday, August 2nd, the Darlington City Council met and dealt with a number of different issues.
City Planning & Economic Development Director Lisa Bailey, along with DDRA board member Teresa Lott, began by discussing the impact of recent community activities as well as upcoming events. She mentioned special events such as Saturdays on the Square, the Darlington Cruisers Car Show and the Hallowe’en decorating contest which, this year, has a top prize of $1,000.
Krista Abbott, President of the Pilot Club, made a request for $5,000 in city funding for the October 8th Sweet Potato Festival, which she said is the longest-running festival in South Carolina. The city has also reformulated its grant process, creating a new Grants Committee and giving some of that authority to them. But, the committee members had not been publicly named considered until this meeting . During Abbott’s presentation, it was explained that there may be some delay before the committee meets to vote upon the issuance of funds but that little or no delay in funding requests was expected during this process. Abbott stated, “We understand and we will abide by whatever the process is.” The Grants committee members who were named and confirmed are Florie Cavanaugh, Dean Sigmon, Mike Sprott, Dr. Andy Cohen, James Cooper III, Rujon Williams and former mayor Gloria Hines. As “The committee will take city funds, either through Hospitality Tax money or other appropriate funds from the past, and disburse them to eligible entities throughout the city,” said City Manager John Payne.
Later in the meeting, Jim Vernon, General Manager of the Darlington Country Club, discussed the upcoming Southern 500 Golf Tournament and made a request for $5,000 from the Hospitality Tax Fund.
Water Dept. Director Charles Shugart said he expected to come before council to report that the bi-yearly cleaning of the water filtration system at the water treatment plants was complete. However, while flushing the sludge and debris from the contact chambers in the system, they discovered another problem which required extra parts and more attention than anticipated.
Shugart explained that the repairs they were making should allow the system to require flushing once every five years instead of every two years as is now the case. The cost, as Shugart explained, is now $7,000 every other year but that will change to every 5 years after the current work is done. “We raised the water bill on citizens during our budget session,” council member Sheila Bacchus said after his presentation. “My question is how much money did the water department profit from the 40% increase last year.” Shugart responded, “we’re not in the business of profiting.”
City Manager John Payne then stated that “we just finished our fiscal year on June 30th. The auditors have not given us that information.” When asked by Mayor Curtis Boyd when the audit would be released, Payne responded, “it will generally be around October or November.”
Civility In Government
Councilman John Segars also spoke, relating the events of the recent conference held by the Municipal Associations of South Carolina (MASC). Segars stated that the theme of the conference was “Civility in Government” and he read a statement, during which he said: “When I was first sworn in to council in January 1998, our meetings were conducted in a professional and orderly fashion. Seven members of council did not always agree but we disagreed politely, with respect and dignity. Today’s council lacks any of that. There are constant outbursts. One will talk over another, not allowing the first person to finish his or her statement. The mayor has trouble controlling the meeting because of elevated voices and not allowing control. There has been name calling, which is disrespectful and, yes, some have been threatened.”
He then went on to say, “If industries or retail businesses are looking for new locations, they will look elsewhere and not locate here because of the disruptive nature displayed by this council. These companies not only look at our educational system but also look at the local government.”
“Another disturbing message I received is another government entity has produced a training film from our meetings on how NOT to conduct a council meeting. This is something we should not be proud of,” he added.
He ended his presentation with a request that all council members act in a professional, civilized and respectful manner and allow the mayor to conduct orderly and productive meetings.
In other business, Bailey presented council with the first reading of a rezoning request from the owners of 203 Orange Street. Owned by the Cultural Realism Complex (CRC), the property is zoned as General/Commercial facing Pearl Street and as Residential on its Orange Street side. The owners are asking that the Orange Street part of the property be rezoned as Office/Residential. Bailey went on to explain that General/Commercial is the most restrictive zone classification and Residential is the least restrictive. “There is usually a buffer area between General/Commercial (zones) and Residential (zones) in most communities,” Bailey stated. CRC had applied last year for the entire property to be zoned as General/Commercial but council refused that request. They waited the required 12 months to present this new request.