Four keys and a fond goodbye

Eagle Scout candidate John Matthews, center with Mayor Tony Watkins and Pee Dee Regional Transportation director Chuck Spring  (far left), troop leader Bill Ervin (far right). Photo by Jana E. Pye

Eagle Scout candidate John Matthews, center with Mayor Tony Watkins and Pee Dee Regional Transportation director Chuck Spring (far left), troop leader Bill Ervin (far right).
Photo by Jana E. Pye

Last official Darlington city council meeting for Mayor Tony Watkins

By Jana E. Pye, Editor,

The last Darlington city council meeting of 2015 on Tuesday, December 1st was also the last meeting for a majority of the council as outgoing mayor Tony Watkins and council members Dyan Cohen, Jimmy Cooper and Wayne Chapman step down from their seats. Outgoing mayor Tony Watkins shared recollections with the people in attendance, and was visibly moved to be saying farewell.

“I’ve been blessed to work with fantastic people,” said Watkins. He gave a key to the city to outgoing council members Dyan Cohen, Wayne Chapman, and Jimmy Cooper in thanks for their public service, Watkins also gave a key to the city to City Manager Howard Garland.

Recognition of Achievement from U.S. Senator Tim Scott awarded to Mayor Tony Watkins, presented by Andrew “A.D.” Jordan, Sen. Scott’s Regional Director. Photo by Jana E. Pye

Recognition of Achievement from U.S. Senator Tim Scott awarded to Mayor Tony Watkins, presented by Andrew “A.D.” Jordan, Sen. Scott’s Regional Director.
Photo by Jana E. Pye

The meeting ended on a hopeful note, that the city will be moving forward on not only change, but a chance at healing a divide that is not mentioned often – a racial divide.

Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association (DDRA) update from Lisa Chalian – Rock:
Rock told council that the “Shop Darlington” contest has begun and will run through Christmas to reward shoppers with chance to win one of three $100 gift cards. Shoppers complete the form and send in 5 receipts from local businesses complete rules found on and entry forms will be at local stores. She also asked that shoppers to use hashtags #shopdarlington, #shopsmall and #darlingtonpride when posting on social media during the holiday season.

According to Rock, thirty people attended the DDRA “Shop Darlington, Shop Small Kick Off breakfast that she hosted at the Darlington Country Club on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28. She distributed a total of 200 tote bags provided by American Express (originator of the Shop Small date) which included 100 filled with information from local events and businesses. Rock added that she went to businesses after the breakfast and gave tote bags to businesses around the square to hand out to shoppers.

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding outgoing councilwoman Dyan Cohen with a key to the City of Darlington.

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding outgoing councilwoman Dyan Cohen with a key to the City of Darlington.

Next event is Downtown Christmas Market at Trinity United Methodist Church on Saturday Dec. 12 from 10 – 4 p.m. The event features music, vendors, free face painting and coloring tables for children. That night the Darlington Area Re. Dept. will hold aScreen on the Square free showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at 6 p.m. sponsored by Wilson Senior Care.

Rock also reported that the DDRA Build UP Darlington program closed on two loans to date. Lent out $16,000 of the $40,000 loan fund continue to work with new and existing businesses (loan for both new and existing businesses) Reminder that there is a grant a 50 – 50 reimbursable grant for signage and awnings. Businesses
are asked to contact her about both incentives.

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding city manager Howard Garland with a key to the City of Darlington.

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding city manager Howard Garland with a key to the City of Darlington.

Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce: Sabrina Derry
Derry updated council on ongoing efforts at increasing Chamber membership, upcoming plans to schedule Lunch and Learns and Business After Hours, and noted that she assisted with the Shop Small weekend recently in Darlington. She reminded council that the Annual Awards Banquet will be held on February 4, 2016 at the Darlington Country Club. The event will be chaired by Fran Knotts and Harriet Hobbs. The deadline to nominate someone for an award is January 8. Tickets will be $40.

Citizens Appearing before Council:
Local businesswoman Andrea Knapp, of Photographs by Andrea, approached council regarding her concerns on her request in June that the council upgrade their efforts to support small businesses in Darlington. She thanked Lisa Chalian Rock for her efforts on the Small Business weekend breakfast, and then told council, “but if you are not on Facebook and aren’t a business in this town, you pretty much don’t know that Saturday was Small Business Saturday because that was the only way it is highlighted. I went here back in June to talk about how the city does not welcome new businesses,, how it you have to go through leaps and bounds and hoops … . I was told something was going to be in place. It’s been 6 months.”

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding outgoing councilman James “Jimmy” Cooper with a key to the City of Darlington.

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding outgoing councilman James “Jimmy” Cooper with a key to the City of Darlington.

Ms. Knapp also sent a letter to the editor, which may be found on here.

Andrew A.D. Jordan, Regional Director for U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina United States Senator from South Carolina Tim Scott’s staffer presented a letter from Senator Scott to Tony Watkins in honor of his 26 years on city council of Darlington, and a Certificate of Excellence “in recognition for outstanding achievement of distinguished service on the occasion of his retirement following 26 years of dedicated public service to the people of Darlington.”

Eagle Scout Presenta-tion: John Matthews
John Matthews approached council to share his Eagle Scout project, to construct benches for elderly people to use while they await a ride on the PDRTA buses.
“I noticed an elderly woman waiting for the bus when I was lifeguarding at the Darlington YMCA this summer,” said Matthews. “And that is when I got the idea.”
Matthews’ grandfather, the late Dr. Josiah Matthews, started the non-profit healthcare facility Pee Dee Health Care/Genesis Healthcare, which is a major supporter of the bus system. Many of their patients depend on the service to attend their healthcare appointments.

PDRTA director Chuck Spring told council he was thrilled by the project and thanked Matthews and his troop for their tremendous effort.

The project is still underway.

Chalmers Street Ditch Update
City manager Howard Garland told council that the initial Rural Infrastructure Authority grant application for sewer upgrades in he Chalmers Street area was rejected; the project was not selected due to a shortage in funding. The application will be held over until the next funding round in 2016. According to Garland, the Rural Infrastructure Authority funds more water grants than they do sewer grants, so he recommends that the city apply for a Community Development Block Grant.
“CDBG, for those of you that don’t know, that acronym has been synonymous with water sewer upgrades and grants in Darlington for more than 30 years. It’s a nationwide grant program we apply for in our low to moderate-income areas. When we finish our sewer grant on the southwest side, we will put in for a sewer improvement grant for he Chalmers Street area which includes all the streets around there.”

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding outgoing councilman Wayne Chapman with a key to the City of Darlington.

Mayor Tony Watkins awarding outgoing councilman Wayne Chapman with a key to the City of Darlington.

Garland continued:

“Concerning the ditch and the smell that comes from the ditch, which had a great deal of rain the past few months. We feel that has washed away a lot of the things, the affluent things that were in the ditch away. And also, the culvert is still clean on the South Carolina Central Railroad property. As long as the area is clean, everything should flow through there. If it gets blocked up again, by whomever, we have to go in and get permission from the railroad to clean it out. As far as fixing the ditch is concerned, that is a planning project that will have to be undertaken by the city of Darlington there is no grant funding right now currently for something like that, unless we go in with another Renaissance grant for Southwest Darlington. I hope that addresses some of your concerns. We are not forgetting the Chalmers area, and the smell from last summer, specifically June and July. I go by there several times a week to check it out. Our staff checks it out and applies lime when necessary, but again as long as the culvert, which is just off Washington Street as you get off the railroad tracks, is kept open, the flow will go through there.”

Garland continued: “Just a reminder for those of you who haven’t been a previous council meetings, after numerous testing, dye testing, we’ve done camera testing, we’ve done smoke testing, there is no city sewage getting into the storm water. Also, from independent testing there is no human or animal fecal matter in the ditch. Again I say, this is a DHEC matter. It is not a matter of the City of Darlington. We have contacted DHEC twice, asking for a meeting. They have the report that we have. We want DHEC to do their job. Simply put. They need to do their job.”

Boards and Committees Appointments
Manager Howard Garland informed council that he did not have any nominations on his desk at this time, but there was an opening on the Board of Zoning Appeals, Beautification Board, and the Historic Landmark Commission.

Councilman Jimmy Cooper nominated William Jackson to the Beautification Board. Dyan Cohen seconded the nomination. Mayor Tony Watkins asked Garland for his input. Garland told council that Jackson had previously served on Board of Zoning Appeals and the Historic Landmark Commission. “I feel comfortable with that.” Watkins asked Jackson who was in attendance, and he accepted. Council voted to approve the nomination.

Business License Streamlining: Councilman Jimmy Cooper
Outgoing council member Jimmy Cooper presented the business license streamlining project he had been working on to council, which included a folder of printed information containing a standardized business license application (from the MASC- Municipal Association of South Carolina); application to DDRA (Darlington Downtown Revitalization Association); application to Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce; brochure for Build Up Darlington citywide business loan program; proposed brochure explaining hospitality tax; City of Darlington appearance guidelines brochure; list of “frequently asked questions”; checklist for business license forms; and additional information from Fire Department, Codes Enforcement, and Planning Department.

Cooper also enlisted the help of city planner Lisa Chalian-Rock with a look at the city website, with new additions for new and existing businesses to find information.

The website is found at: and the new page titled “Businesses” at the top may be accessed to find information. Under the “Contact” tab, website viewers may find phone numbers and emails to contact employees, and under the “City Government” tab website viewers can find the contact information for mayor and council.

Cooper compared the process of the business license from cities across the state to compile the new business license process.

City Manager Update:
The new courtroom which will be the new home to city council and municipal court for the City of Darlington had new carpet installed, and is equipped with the new seating area for the mayor and council.

The existing council chambers will be split into two offices, one for city manager and the other for the incoming mayor Gloria C. Hines.

“With new council approval, we do not plan to use the Administration Building anymore.” said Garland. “Its just too much to keep up. It’s a lot of money. We got the assessment from the architect who would like to present to council – we are looking at hundred of thousands of dollars to get that building back up to par. At least short term, we are going to be all back in this complex like we were prior to 2001.”

Garland emphasized that the plans will be pending new council approval, possibly in January or February.

“There is a lot of paperwork we’ve had to go through with FEMA and with insurance adjusters and we’ve had to wait for different reports to come in,” said Garland. “The repair costs could be anywhere from $150,000 to $175,000.”

Garland continued to describe the progress on the bypass:

“The EDA grant –which is the sewer bypass grant will allow us to open up one side of the bypass for sewer – so if we have growth around the Taco Bell area, between there and Raceway Ford and Timmonsville Highway, we will be ready for it. We will be able to send most of our sewage wastes from the Hartsville Oil Mill and the over to Florence.”

Garland went on to tell council that in the future, the city would like to be able to send all their industrial wastewater City of Florence.

“They have a wastewater plant that can handle between 30 – 40 million gallons a day, while ours on a good day does 1.5 million and it was built in 1982. So it’s time to start thinking of phasing that out and letting Florence handle the load. We’ll keep our water, and they can have our sewer. That is the long-term plan.”

Transition plans for Mayor Elect Hines:
Mayor elect Gloria C. Hines sent Garland a letter which he shared with department heads, council and the press; she asked for his assistance in arranging meetings with all key city employees and department heads during the week of December 14 for help with her transition. In her letter, she listed:

Head of Police Department; head of fire department; head of street department; head of public works ( city water and sewer); Head of Recreation Dept.; City Inspector; City Planner; City Clerk and Treasurer; City Manager.

The letter requested that each meeting be 1 hour in length, and for staff to bring:

Brief overview of roles and responsibilities; current budget, and year to date performance to their budget; strengths and major accomplishments; areas for improvement; and 2016 budget projections, goals and objectives.

“It’s up to mayor and council to direct the staff,” said Garland. “We have good people, equipment which is so-so, and money which we could use more of.”

Boot Camp:
Garland also shared a proposed a first of it’s kind “Boot Camp” for all new and existing council members and mayor, with an invitation to outgoing mayor and council to attend. The Boot Camp is scheduled for Tuesday, December 15th and will have presentations from Bill Taylor, MASC Field Manager; presentation by all city department heads; explain the council-manager form of government; a roundtable discussion with outgoing mayor and council. After a supper, Garland has planned a presentation of the SCETV (South Carolina Education Television – Public Broadcasting System) to present the documentary “A Seat at the Table Pathways to Racial Reconciliation” and a presentation by Bud Ferillo who wrote the documentary “Corridor of Shame” will facilitate a discussion “Pathways to Racial Reconciliation in the City of Darlington.”

This will not be for the general public.

Garland said, “We want this to be a frank discussion on where we stand as a town, racially. You know we had an election, and we had people vote one way or another way. Ther are lots of things I’d like to see talked about. Mayo and St. John’s, Darlington High School, I am sure there are other issues people will bring to the table too. But we are never going to move forward as a town if we can’t heal our racial divide.”

City offices closed December 24, 25, and 28, 2015.

Tuesday January 5, 2016: Regular Monthly City Council Meeting at 7 p.m.

Author: Duane Childers

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