Council hears Chief’s farewell and many citizens’ complaints
By Stephan Drew, Editor
When Darlington City Council met on Tuesday, December 6th, many issues were discussed, including water damage, parking lot repairs and a new splash pad. There was also a fond goodbye from Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington. After serving 4 years, 9 months and 2 weeks, Washington bade farewell and gave an update on what has been accomplished in the city during his time in that post.
Washington said, “We had a police department that had been broken into and guns had been stolen, issues with the clerk’s office and others, causing the department to have a cloud over it.” The Chief reminded council that he made promises to them when he first assumed the post. “I promised to bring credibility back to the agency. We did that. I promised to keep the City Police Department off the front page of all the newspapers with anything negative. We’ve done that,” Washington continued. “I promised you that I would never do anything in my personal or private life to bring embarrassment to the city, and, I never have,” the Chief stated.
He went on to list a multitude of accomplishments over the last 4+ years, including grants for new body cameras and in-car cameras, updated police vehicles and bulletproof vests, all new tasers, updated pistols and new AR-15s for all officers, as well as grants for new laptops and portable radios. He also noted that new computers and monitors were purchased without costing the city anything. The banks were holding approximately $50,000 in seized drug money, which they were able to get released so that the department could use that money to purchase much-needed equipment and save the city an increase in their financial burden.
They offered (and sometimes, mandated) counseling for some police personnel and partnered with the Housing Authority, school district and the community to create policing strategies which decreased gun violence. Washington also created a workable organizational chart to reflect fairness and equality in salaries for all police personnel.
As he closed, Chief Washington reminded council of a Bible verse. “Romans 8:28 says, ‘All things work together for the good of those that love the Lord,” Washington said, “We had our disagreements and fallouts but, we kept working together and we moved this city forward. Serving as Police Chief for the City of Darlington has been a wonderful experience and I am very grateful to have served the residents of this wonderful community.”
Pastor Kyle Meyer of Dominion Church addressed council regarding water damage which occurred at the church in March 2022. The property, owned by Mayor Curtis Boyd, is located at 1034 Pearl Street, in the Fitness World Complex. Mayor Boyd received a call back in March, stating that 11,000 gallons of water was leaking out per hour in the location of the old KFC building, at the edge of the Fitness World parking lot. He instructed the City Water Dept. to turn the water line off until they could ascertain where the leak was. In the process, one of the water department employees turned the affected line off but turned another (uncapped) water line on, which resulted in the flooding of approximately 15,000 gallons of water into the Dominion Church building. Pastor Meyer and the church members had the water removed for $7,679 and the damaged floors repaired at a cost of over $20,000. He rose before council to ask if they would help because it was a city water dept. employee’s mistake. “I teach my children ‘right is right and wrong is wrong’,” Meyer stated, “I just want the city to do what’s right.”
Janie Lathan, of Lathan Consultants, asked the council why she has not received a response from council regarding the income and expenditures of the city water department. She also questioned the salary increase for the Director of the City Water Dept., and she requested pay increases for all police officers in the city. City Manager John Payne explained that the water department is undergoing an audit, which includes end-of-year adjustments, and the final report should be out sometime in February, if not before.
Mr. Patel, owner of US Mini Mart at 120 S. Main Street, spoke to council regarding the increases in his water bill over the past 6 months. He explained that, when the new water rates went into effect, his bill increased by $100-$200 per month. Because he was told it may be a faulty meter, he had the water meter changed but, has notice no changes in his bill, which reflects approximately 14,000-16,000 gallons of water per month. Mr. Patel questioned whether his business used that large an amount of water. Alex Gainey of the Streets and Sanitation department told Mr. Patel that he would look into the matter and contact him.
City of Darlington Water and Sewer Director Charles Shugart gave an update on the Sewer Pump Stations Renovations. He told council that renovations to pump stations on Joe Louis Blvd. and Grove Hill, as well as the main pump station (the old water treatment plant) had been completed except for a few final checks and updates. The project, which took approximately one and a half years, has mostly remained within budget, even with COVID and inflation. “We’ve finished with less than a 2% increase over the estimated cost,” Shugart said. Council voted to approve the additional $30,038.12 to cover the increase.
Council member Sheila Baccus asked, “What about the Farm St. station? Six times this month, we’ve had raw sewage on Farm Street.” Baccus stated that, when the sewage is reported, the Water Dept. comes out and “sprinkles some lime on the ground”. She also reminded Shugart of the storm drain near the end of the road and said, “If it gets in the storm drain, that’s illegal.” Shugart explained that Farm Street drainage is serviced by the Allen Street pump station, which is next up for renovation, at a cost of $1.463 million. The City only had $700,000 available for the work but, have since received a Community Block Grant for $1.2 million and the work should commence in the first of the year.
In other business, council approved the annexation of Lochend Drive, the present location of Patriot Chevrolet, as well as approving the donation of Georgia Pacific property to the city. They are also considering building a splash pad for Darlington residents. The estimated 1600 – 2500 sq. ft. pad, costing approximately $150,000, would have a “dump bucket” and multiple “misting stations” to enjoy. Council also took into consideration repairs to the parking near 119 East Hampton Street. Many years ago, the city planted trees near the street and, over the decades, the roots of these trees have extended and damaged the pavement in the parking lot, which is private property. Council questioned whether this was the responsibility of the property owner or the city and agreed to take it under consideration for a later date.
Ordinance 2022-13, which would allow tall “Pylon” signs to be erected south of the bypass (from the bypass down Hwy. 52 toward Florence) was heard and was passed on for a 2nd reading. Ordinance 2022-14, which will change residential use in General Commercial zones to allow multifamily and apartment dwellings to be built and utilized, was heard and also passed on for a 2nd reading. Council will next meet on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.