New council members attend “boot camp”
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlington City Council will welcome three new members in January as Carolyn Bruce, John Milling, and Bryant Gardner will be sworn in to their at-large seats. But now that the campaigns are over, the business of government begins, and the three rookies – along with sitting council members John Segars, Mayor Pro Tem Coleman Cannon, and Mayor Elect Gloria Hines – attended a “boot camp” orientation session last week to help them acclimate to their new positions.
First up, Bill Taylor, Field Service Manager for the South Carolina Municipal Association (MASC), discussed the various ways his agency can help local governments, including government training courses, online classes, strategic planning, budget retreats, and orientation sessions. Taylor encouraged council members to take training classes at the MASC Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government (set for February 2, 2016) to better prepare them for their new jobs.
“I think it’s really important as you take on your new role, you have a greater understanding what you’re getting yourself into, what will be expected of you, and how to move forward,” said Taylor.
Taylor presented all present with information packets that included primers on parliamentary rules, procedures to observe in order to conduct effective meetings, and issues (such as personnel matters) that require convening executive sessions for private discussion.
The boot camp also afforded council the chance to speak face to face with all municipal department directors and get thumbnail sketches of their and assets and needs.
Lee Andrews, director of Darlington Area Recreation, listed his department’s biggest need as facilities, including general use parks and athletic complexes, and their best assets are great personnel, well-attended senior and youth programs, and a strong relationship with Darlington High School athletics.
Andrews discussed several issues with council and council-elect members present, including the difficult process of locating and securing land for a new baseball/softball field complex.
Freddie Kinsaul, director of City of Darlington Water and Sewer, said the need for grant funding to effect stormwater repairs and replace old water and sewer lines is paramount.
“We’re constantly applying for grants,” said Kinsaul. “We’ve got a lot of old water lines, old sewer lines, and we’ve got a lot of undersized storm drains. But, unfortunately, all of that takes a lot of money.”
City Manager Howard Garland added that Water and Sewer effectiveness is hindered by Darlington’s low water rates – some of the lowest in the state – and noted that keeping water and sewer cheap can prevent the city from qualifying for grants.
Kinsaul praised his employees, noting that they performed very well during the October floods and pitched in to help prevent a sewage disaster when a non-city line ruptured near the Darlington Raceway during the Bojangles Southern 500.
Darlington Police Department Chief Danny Watson spoke about the city’s steady decrease in major crimes and property crimes over the past decade. Listed stats include:
• Rape: 2004 – 6, 2009 – 3, 2015 – 0
• Aggravated Assault: 2004 – 59, 2009 – 48, 2015 – 28
• Homicide: 2004 – 1, 2009 – 0, 2015 – 0
• Robbery: 2004 – 17, 2009 – 15, 2015 – 4
• Burglary: 2004 – 131, 2009 – 89, 2015 – 37
• Larceny: 2004 – 220, 2009 – 188, 2015 – 171
• Vehicle Theft: 2004 – 31, 2009 – 14, 2015 – 15
• Arson: 2004 – 2, 2009 – 2, 2015 – 0
• Thefts From Vehicle: 2004 – 62, 2009 – 59, 2015 – 33
Watson hailed his officers for being vigilant and “actually policing” their city to the point where citizens feel safe jogging through town at night and early morning hours. He also noted that the regular use of body cameras and less than lethal weapons (like TASER guns) has decreased the number of complaints against officers and has perhaps prevented arrest and ticket incidents from escalating.
“The TASERs protect life and the Axon (cameras) protect the truth,” said Watson, adding that the video footage is impartial and does not favor the officer or the suspect.
Milling asked about officer retention and pay, and Watson said that while the DPD starting salary of $29,000 is less than some neighboring agencies, most turnover involves younger officers. Chief Watson said his department purposely seeks out older and more experienced police to build a stable work force.
Karen Carroll and Kendrick Holloman of Streets and Sanitation said that while they have a new trash truck and fairly new street sweeper, much of their department’s equipment and vehicle fleet is aging and battered.
“We’ve patched it and repaired it, but pretty soon those patches and repairs are not going to hold,” said Carroll.
Garland said the city applies for USDA grants whenever possible, and has secured two trash truck grants in the last seven years. He said the next grant application will be for a new cherry picker (grappler truck), but contractor delays in building the new municipal courtroom – a project also funded in part by USDA grants – have held up that process. Garland said the city must close out either that courtroom grant or a small business loan program grant before it can apply for more funding.
Lisa Chalian-Rock, director of planning and economic development, spoke about her varied responsibilities, including promoting city events, advertising city board meetings, updating the city’s website, running the Build-Up Darlington loan program to help local businesses invest in themselves, and coordinating various boards and commissions dealing with everything from trees to historic landmarks.
Darlington Fire Department Chief Pat Cavanaugh talked about the city’s improved ISO rating – moving from a 4 to a 3 and placing DFD in the top 3-percent nationally. Cavanaugh said this upgrade owed much to rigorous firefighter training, improved facilities (including a new structure fire training building), digitized record keeping, and well-maintained equipment. The new ISO rating means Darlington residents should qualify for a lower homeowner’s insurance rate in 2016.
The rating was also helped by hiring more staff, moving from eight to ten full-time personnel – two paid for through grant funding for two years – and improving water performance around the Public Square. Cavanaugh says it is feasible for Darlington Fire to improve that rating even more, perhaps scoring a 2 in the next ISO evaluation five years from now, if the money becomes available to build a new substation in South Darlington.
Milling and Gardner queried how difficult it would be to boost city revenue by annexing in some properties that already benefit from city services without paying into the tax base. Garland replied that South Carolina has very stringent annexation laws, requiring 75-percent of the residents on any given street to agree before that street can be annexed into a municipality.