Garland departs as city manager
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
For the first time in 11 years, Howard Garland is no longer Darlington’s city manager. After a 90-minute executive session on March 30, Darlington City Council unanimously voted not to renew Garland’s contract, which was to expire June 30. Council also approved a severance package equal to the pay Garland was to receive during the remaining three months of his contract, plus benefits (insurance, vacation days during that period), plus $75,000. “We just came to an agreement with the city manager,” Mayor Curtis Boyd told the News & Press immediately after the meeting. “He was in agreement with everything that we felt – (that) it was the best time to move in a different direction, and he was ready to go, also.” Asked if any one issue or set of issues set the stage for Garland’s departure, Boyd said: “No, just a collection of stuff. … We just felt like it was time to make a change and move forward.” Garland was planning to leave the city offices immediately, Boyd said. “He decided to go ahead and leave,” Boyd said. No animosity was visible between Garland and the council members after the meeting ending; some hugged him and shook his hand. Boyd said the city will begin a search for a new manager. In the meantime, council appointed City Clerk and Treasurer Gloria Pridgen as temporary manager. But Boyd indicated that arrangement may not stand since “that’s a lot to put on her plate” in addition to her other duties. Garland issued this statement to the News & Press last week: “I’ve enjoyed my 16 years with the city of Darlington, working with previous mayors, councils and employees. I wish the current mayor and council good luck in enacting their vision for the city of Darlington. “Sometimes a change is good for all involved.” Garland was hired as city manager in 2010 after previously serving as assistant manager and city planner for five years. A Darlington native and graduate of then-Coker College, Garland brought a passion to his job that was evident during occasions like the June 2020 speech Garland gave residents attending a council meeting when the city was considering an unpopular but crucial hike in water/sewer fees. “I’ve got my serious hat on right now,” Garland told residents. “This is my hometown, but we’ve got to do this, folks. We’re falling apart. Do you understand what I’m saying? … If we don’t do this now, we are going to die as a town, people. We are going to die. We gotta do this. Thank you.” Council member Bryant Gardner said he is grateful for Garland’s “service over the years. … I’m thankful for the leadership and service he gave the city of Darlington.” Asked what qualities he will look for in a successor to Garland, Gardner said he’d like a candidate with a degree in public administration. He said he would like a candidate who “shares the mayor’s and my interest in growing the quality of life in Darlington,” and who could “bring us together as a team.” Council member Elaine Reed said the decision not to renew Garland’s contract should not be seen as a slap at the former manager. “There is no animosity, anger, nothing negative about this,” Reed told the News & Press. Garland, she said, “has been absolutely great. He has contributed so much to the city of Darlington.” But, Reed said, the council and Garland both felt it was time for a change. She said the council wants to move in a more progressive direction. She said the city probably will choose another manager by June or July. Last week’s council meeting marked the third time that council recently had discussed Garland’s contract in executive session. The executive session had been expected to last only half an hour and was to be followed by a work session on the city’s planned sports complex, but after the closed session ran roughly 90 minutes, council postponed its work session.