Runoff candidates prepare for Nov. 17
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, email@example.com
The unprecedented high number of candidates for the election on Nov. 3, 2015 in the city of Darlington – 12 candidates for three at-large city council seats, and four candidates for the office of mayor, has been whittled down to the top four council candidates and top two mayoral candidates for a runoff election that has citizens – and candidates – holding their breath.
In a series of interviews with the News & Press, the candidates shared what they felt was the most important things that they wanted to share with voters. The most important message was: Please vote on Tuesday, November 17! Each vote counts in elections this close, and certainly casting ballots at the polls will be key to usher in the whole new era for Darlington City Council.
Gloria Hines, candidate for Mayor of Darlington
Gloria Hines seeks the office of Mayor of Darlington. She is the child of the late Early and Cropsy Lee Cheeseboro. She has one son, Spencer Cheeseboro of Darlington, and a daughter and family of Atlanta, GA: Brandy S. Sims, husband Daquan Sims and their children Ashtian and Aubrie. Hines has been a member of City Council for the last 14 years; she is a member of the Mayo Alumni Association; Vice President of Federated Organizations of Darlington, President of Round-O Missionary Baptist Church Pastor’s Aide, Member of the League of Women Voters, and a volunteer with the Darlington County Voting Commission. Hines is also a business owner since 1987.
During the forum, Hines mentioned the need for hotels in Darlington. She elaborated on that need:
With the Southern 500 coming we have the plans that have different corporations that bring business people in and they don’t have anywhere else to go, that have to be housed in Florence or Hartsville. Hartsville is running over and pushing us in. I feel we can accommodate them. There are so many things that come up during the year that people need hotels, yet we send all our money to Hartsville or Florence. There are other chances for hotels to come but for some reason they were pushed away. And now Hartsville has three, what about Darlington?
Walmart is the “big box”; for a long time we needed something to draw people. I realize that downtown is dying; now, I am not saying there is not any help for downtown, but have got to come back to the table. I don’t think we can do anymore plans. There was an extensive plan done a while back; it was paid for, but they didn’t use it. A man in Virginia used it and wrote a letter to the News & Press 7 or 8 years ago, Mary Demetrious gave me the copy, and he said ‘Thanks to Darlington and the plan they did’ – he used it in Virginia, and it worked.
Now, will it work in Darlington? We don’t know because we didn’t use it.
But I think little nice, quaint shops would be the only hope for Darlington downtown, because our larger spots where Belk’s was the bank has that. The next larger spot, a church has that. We have to put benches around the Square. We have to give them some incentive; you put so much money in, and we will help you with it, if we want the downtown to grow.
As far as what’s happening with the courthouse, the administrator he has a great plan – a city-county complex. I think a parking lot would be awesome, because we don’t have enough places to park. When you ride around the Square two times, you are tired and you don’t want to go back.
With the Walmart coming, a strip mall will be great. With Walmart bringing 255 jobs, that is an incentive right there. People will follow Walmart; Applebee’s is coming.
I want to say a very special thank you to Miss Miriam Jones on South Main Street: If it had not been for her to be willing to close Patience Street off, there would be no Walmart. My hat is off to her.
How to sell Darlington?
I am going to try hard. The citizens of Darlington need that. Our young people are leaving. My daughter doesn’t want to stay here. I’m tired of people coming to Darlington and saying, ‘Darlington hasn’t grown. Darlington is dying.’
Let me tell you something; when they talk about a pearl. To me, a pearl is precious. When you say “The Pearl of the Pee Dee” when I was coming up, we had it all.
When we go to our MASC meetings, we go to places like Greenville; it is flourishing. When we went on a tour, Greenville pushes out. They don’t just stop at one part, they went into low income areas. They tried to dress up the whole city. And that is what we need. When it comes to the city, the city is everybody. All of the city, all citizens are tax payers whether they are low income, medium or high tax payers. But all of them are all citizens; and we need to listen to the concerns of the citizens.
As far as a Byerly Park, I plan to work very closely with Senator Malloy. I had a meeting with him about two years ago, and he said for us to find some land. Now there is land around Darlington for a park. We owe ourselves that. This is for the city. We have hospitality money for recreation and tourism; the park. That is tourism. If I can get Gerald Malloy to help us, but guess what, I have to go to him. But I don’t mind going to Columbia; that’s my job if I want Darlington to grow.
Storm drains- we had that MS4 in place, and that squashed that. Look what happened? Look at the rain God sent? We had a problem. We don’t have a place for the storm water to go in certain places in Darlington. In the plan that Latham Consulting Company did in 2013 showed us all the areas in the city that had problems. Now, I feel that regardless we were mandated by the federal government or not, we still need to put something in place. Because it showed up, and we were able to see the problems during the hurricane. I rode from 10:00 that morning until 7: 30 that night trying to help people. I took pictures of people in their houses. It was awful. We have to learn to stick together.
In your home, they always tell you to prepare for a rainy day? I think the city needs to prepare for a rainy day. The government doesn’t need to tell me about Darlington. I know Darlington is flooding. Darlington has problems. Joe’s Grill has a new owner, she doesn’t need to be bothering with all that water over there. Hardees? The water, downtown, Southeast Darlington, one thing about it the grant for the Renaissance Grant, $1 million dollar grant, $500,000 for 1st phase, $500,000 for 2nd phase; $385,000 of that was to be used for storm drain. They haven’t started but they are going to do that. We can’t do the second until we finish the first grant. The areas that need it most that were left out.
Infrastructure curb and gutters, sidewalks, the situation on South Main Street a project before where the DOT was not going to help with storm drain the grant was only for sidewalks and bike trails. We need those sidewalks now, and the bike trail. Maybe one day we could get us a walking bridge going across like in Columbia to prevent those accidents on that road on South Main.
Message to voters:
I want to say thank you to the voters for coming out to vote in the rain. Please come out again for the runoff, for great leadership someone that is compassionate and cares. I’m willing to deal with anything as long as it’s fair, and legitimate. Everyone has something they want to talk about; you might feel this is important to you. God didn’t make all of us alike for a purpose. There are a lot of expertise about Darlington. We need to pull that in.
I’m not going to say anything negative. I’ll let God work it out. If people want somebody fair, honest, whatever happened in the past, let’s leave it in the past. But if you don’t leave the past in the past, Darlington can’t move forward. I know now that with Walmart coming, we are on the move. And with me being the chair, I know Darlington is going to move.
Jim Stone, candidate for Mayor of Darlington
Jim Stone has lived, and worked, his entire life within the city limits of Darlington with the exception of the time he spent attending the University of South Carolina and serving in the U. S. Air Force. He is a lifetime member of First Baptist Church where he currently serves as a Trustee and member of the Personnel Committee; he is a Board Member and Attendance Clerk of the Darlington Kiwanis Club; American Legion, Finance Officer; Lifetime Member of St. David’s Lodge; Darlington Veterans’ Memorial Committee Member, and a Darlington Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Recipient. Stone served 12 years on the Darlington County Council, with one year as Vice-Chairman and six years as Chairman. He served multiple years on the Pee Dee Regional Council of Government as an Executive Board Member. He is also a graduate of the Institute of Government Level 1 and Level 2. He was employed by the City of Darlington as a Fireman, Assistant Chief and Chief for a total of 50 years. He and his wife Dot have been married for 50 years; they have two daughters, Angie (Ken) Godbold and Jacey (Jeff) Burr, both reside in Darlington; his son, Jason (Jen) Stone lives in Georgetown, KY. He has four grandchildren: Stone Godbold, and Raychel, Leah and Jenna Stone.
One of the many key issues at the forum was annexation; Stone elaborates:
Annexation is the key to Darlington for raising additional revenue. And that’s without a tax increase. With Wal-Mart coming and Taco Bell already here, I think some more people will come will follow and they will annex in to city limits or build on property already in city limits. That would be new revenue coming in.
During the forum, Stone mentioned that with his years with the fire department, it was often difficult to tell which homes were in and out of the city limits.
Let me give you a for instance, said Stone, pointing across the street from his home. You see that little white house and the brick house over there? They are both in the city limits. That little brick house on the corner, that is outside the city limits. The store is outside, those two houses right there are outside city limits. See what a problem it is? And Bristow Oil, that is outside of city limits. Everything around it is in, it’s an island by itself.
To keep Darlington going, we’ve got to clean up; we need to clean up our gateways, and clean up our corridors and side streets like that. We have dilapidated houses, junk cars in the yard, we have stumps that need grinding, we got flowerbeds in the medians on the highways that are unkempt and everything.
We have got to tidy up our little town to attract visitors when they come through to say ‘Oh, look over here, what a cute little town’ and ‘We are between Hartsville and Florence, you work in Hartsville and I work in Darlington, why don’t we move to Darlington, it’s a cute little town.’ That’s the key.
Now today, the Square is looking much better. They have flowers, shrubs, little pots around doing the flowers and all that- and that’s great. Now, we need to improve the courthouse grounds; the Bradford pears trees, they have already taken down four so they are reaching the end of their life expectancy. Maybe we can get with the county again; they were sold as a fundraiser for $200 a piece in memory of people, and they sold out quickly. It was a good example of the county and the city working well together. And people loved seeing those bloom each spring.
How to encourage local shopping?
There a lot of things you can’t get here and you might have to go to Florence, especially the medical places. We can’t compete with that. So that is why we need to get little specialty shops, to encourage people to come over here and shop for something you cannot get in Florence. That way, we can get their shoppers to head out way.
I eat at Joe’s Grill and I see people that come over from Florence a lot. The trickling is coming. When Dot had her shop, she had regulars from Florence that would eat at Jewels and then shop at her store. People will travel to eat. Once we get more restaurants, that will bring more people this way, too.
Now, we have to get little specialty shops in there like dress shops or shoe shops to bring in the women. We can’t compete with big places and malls, things like that. But one shop they will drive a hundred miles to visit, even in the middle of nowhere, is to a bridal shop. I have daughters; I know this first hand.
Why did you run for Mayor?
Well, I’ve always wanted to run for Mayor. This is nothing new. The last time we thought about it real hard. I had not yet finished out my 50 years with the fire department, so we decided not to. And then now, I am not a city employee and it’s come up again. The incumbent did not run again and it was wide open, so I thought well, it’s my time. And I will run this time. If I win, I’m going to do the very best I can. If I lose, I won’t ever run again. This is it. Period.
I told my wife, look, I’m not going to put on a coat and tie because that isn’t me. You saw that she won the night of the forum, though.
How do you feel you will sell Darlington?
Well, if we clean it up and get it nice and neat and stuff, we can approach people, show them that’s its changed if they are looking for places we can go talk to them, and ask them to come to Darlington and tell them we have a land, and a cute little town, come see for yourself. Well, they’ll be liable to come and we’ll get one or two. All it takes is a few.
But, the city needs to work more with the county; what we can bring in for businesses will help all of us, but we need to be willing to work with them.
We can do more with the racetrack, too. With that new track president, they are looking to do more though the year, not just Labor Day; we need to work more about getting more things together with them.
Running a clean race:
I’m not going to be negative, and I don’t want people to be negative to me. I was pleased with the votes. I thank all of them. They came out on a rainy day that made me feel good to see that.
I hear about all that fussing on Facebook, but you know what? It gives Darlington a bad eye, a black eye and a reputation. You put it out there on social media and it goes everywhere. It’s like dumping out a pillowcase full of feathers, you can’t put them all back in there.
How will you work with the Darlington County Economic Development with Frank Willis?
Frank Willis and I are good friends, we were classmates together. I think he can help us, and we can help him. If we work together it’ll be for the betterment for everybody.
Now that they finally got those industrial parks maybe we’ll see something moving in quickly. We have to get ready for them, and get the city looking good for them because we’ll have a chance to show it off.
How can we get more people to the downtown?
I think we need to have more things on the Square; I don’t want to say it but Florence has it going on with their After 5 events and all that. Hey, it’s working over there. Why not give it a shot over here? If not, we’ll change and do something else. See what happens. We have little spots we could do it.
Being a leader:
I have worked hard all my life, and I expect others to work hard too. Doing something right is 90% preparation and 10% hard work. It’s like one time a little boy saw something in the road, and said, “Somebody ought to pick that up.” And his Daddy looked over and said, “You are somebody. Why not you? Why don’t you pick it up?”
People need to do their jobs, and see to it that it gets done. We can all work together to make Darlington where it needs to be. I had a sign up at the fire station that I looked at every day. That was right at the door. The sign said, “Start. The rest is easy.”
And I am ready to start. We have got to do this. We have to get it done.
Carolyn Bruce, candidate for Darlington City Council
Carolyn Bruce is the oldest child of Mamie and Marion Bruce, Jr. She is a 1979 graduate of St. John’s High School, and a 1983 graduate of Claflin University, with a Bachelor of Science degree. Prior to her employment with Wal-Mart Inc., she was a teacher and coach with Florence School District Four. She has been employed with Wal-Mart Inc. since 1995, and has managed Sam’s Clubs in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.
Explain your platform of infrastructure and sustainable community?
As I talked about economic growth and equal opportunity, the one thing that I looked at when I moved back home to South Carolina and moved back to Darlington after living 7 years in Atlanta, working for Sam’s Club, I noticed the city seemed to be at a standstill. I know that the Walmart is coming to town, but we need to bring more to the city to attract other industries to come. Walmart alone being a big box is going to do that, but we can’t stop there, because that is only going to generate probably about 200 jobs; we have a lot more than 200 people unemployed. We have to look at hotel industry, infrastructure, and manufacturing. One of the things I saw back in the summer when we had the Biker Roundup, we had over 1000 plus people coming into the city and that generated a lot of money to the city just paying at the gate, but how much more money we would have had if we had the hospitality industry. and the restaurant industry. A lot of revenue went to Florence that could have stayed here.
Looking “outside the box”:
We have got to look outside of the box; we’ve been inside the box for so long and now we have to make sure we are moving forward. What about the Southern 500? We still can’t capitalize on the hospitality side of it. Florence is getting all the money for that. There is so much more that we can do.
And we have to make sure that each voice is heard, regardless what side of town you live on. I think we need to come together and bridge the gap, and because we are all one Darlington. Some people may live on the South side by Mayo, and some others may live on the other side by Darlington High, but when I put my address down it is Darlington, South Carolina. We are all one Darlington, and I think there is a gap there. I want to be able to be a voice to bridge that gap and be help the city be even better.
I got a lot of that on election day; I had a lot of people call me because they thought they were turned down at the polls. I think we need to go back and take a look at annexation and include everybody that should be included in the city. It would help our tax revenues, too.
We have a lot of people that live in Darlington and work in Florence. I am one of those people. I have to drive all the way to Florence every day in order to make my livelihood. Why can’t we have those jobs in Darlington? We are losing a lot of our young people that are going off to college and not coming back home to help Darlington grow because we have nothing to offer. Not everyone can work at Nucor Steel, Dixie Cup – we have young people with bright minds, so we have to bring in industries that are going to support that.
Why do you want to be on council?
I feel we are missing the mark on the jewel that we have here. I think it needs to be a lot more forward thinking.
I think we need to think about growing the city the way you grow a business. That’s how I look at it. How did I grow my Sam’s Club that I worked at in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia? Because as a store manager, I am accountable for revenue and I am accountable for profit.
If I am elected in the runoff, I know what I have done. I have worked into Sam’s Clubs that were not profitable, put the hours in and changed out management staff and personnel, and when you are in leadership positions like that, you make a lot of tough decisions, it’s business. We need to come together as a city, look at everybody that has a hand in growing Darlington and make sure we have the right people in place to help us move forward. And it may be that some people need some retraining. Some people may need more training in communication.
We need people with open minds, engage the youth, and have a sincere heart about moving Darlington forward.
Bryant P. Gardner, candidate for Darlington City Council
Gardner is a Darlington native, and graduate of Wofford College; he is closely involved with, and assumed leadership positions with: The Lord Cares Food Bank, Darlington County Cancer Prevention Program, the Free Medical Clinic of Darlington and the Black Creek Land Trust. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. John P. Gardner, Jr. (Elizabeth).
Reason for running for council:
I would like to bring energy and youth to our city council. I have youthful passion, but I also know everybody in this town because I grew up here for 32 years. I am hoping that I can be one of the seven votes on city council.
Our quality of life is very simple. We have a couple of problems; lack of jobs, and our youth has very little to do. The Square is the most important; we need to invest in activities and events, or structures that gives people something to do in this city, and keep them from driving through on the way out. I would like to see music and food and beverage vendors once a month.
I think we need a new park, a skate park, a playground that is not 30 years old, one that is up to date and safe. I want us to have picnic tables that are covered, with some grills. I want a place where the community can go hang out.
We must pay attention to and expand our social media footprint. We have to figure out how to expand our communication; maybe it is as simple as sending out mailers in our water bills. We have to find a better way of communicating as a whole.
Goals for the council seat:
I have a passion for this town and I know what our needs are, and am able to bring people together. To grow this town, we have to grow families. Our population dropped by 20%. Our median income dropped, also. We have to recruit young adults and young families; we need to be the bedroom city for Florence.
Our housing market is an asset; you can get more square footage for less dollars here than in surrounding markets. We are in a beautiful location for young professionals no matter where they want to live, or where they want to travel.
I’ve trained individual sales people at Sam’s Club for Direct TV and worked with all socioeconomic groups from top to the bottom with the Black Creek Land trust, to occasionally talking with the people at the Free Medical Clinic that can’t read. I had the ability to read the forms for them and not make them feel embarrassed. I love this town, and I get defensive if you talk about this town 7 out of 10 people when they graduate from high school or college move away, and not come back.
It’s not because they had this town, it is because they either want activities, or cannot find a job here. I want to help with both those things; I have ideas, and I’ve talked to the people about what we need.
I think I am the person. Please elect me, and let me be one of your three votes.
John M. Milling, candidate for Darlington City Council
Milling grew up in Darlington, and is a 1969 graduate of Clemson University and a 1973 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. He began his practice in Darlington in 1973, and worked with Chief Justice (Ret.) A. Lee Chandler, and Judge (Ret.) Benny R. Greer, prior to himself serving as a Circuit Court Judge for ten (10) years beginning in 1999. He retired from the bench and returned to the practice of law in 2009, and currently has practicing with him his daughter, Helen M. Carroll, at the Milling Law Firm on the Square.
If you look at the current program he existing Comprehensive Development Plan talks about the fact that the city limits have been the city limits forever. And that there is very little opportunity to build anything within the corporate limits that exists now, whether that is commercial or whether it is residential we have a need to annex.
People say well it’s just one more tax bill. And I think we have to be sensitive to that. By the same token, I think we need to sell ourselves as having services and opportunities and value that exceed what the tax bill does it add $100 to someone’s tax bill? It’s worth $10 a month to be a part of the city of Darlington as opposed to being outlying area. I think we need to approach it as what we can offer them, and the value that they get for being in our city whether it’s from enhanced police protection, enhanced fire protection, and there are costs to the city when you do that.
Why are you running?
I think there are things I’ve had an opportunity to see and do and I’d like to see if those wouldn’t work in Darlington to benefit everybody. It has been a good community and it can continue to be a better community I’m one of those that is concerned that if you are simply treading water as a community, eventually you run out of steam and you drown. And I think you have got to be moving forward and not just looking at the past but deciding where can we find growth, jobs, find ways to bring people in?
We can look at enhancing our quality of life type things our parks, our recreational facilities, what can we do for our young folks to see what be good for them and would make this a good community for them to live in, and raise families in, what are they looking for. We have the web page for the city; we need to find ways to market ourself more.
We need to be proactive as we reach out and decide what we are going to do and decide what we are going to become the Darlington of 2025 and 2030. If we don’t start looking at it now, and start planning now, when 2025 and 2030 get here we won’t be prepared for whatever that brings. We need to position ourselves, and prepare ourselves for growth. Not be reactionary but have a plan for what we are going to do, and have plans for and I think we do some of this but we need to look closely and set those priorities.
I have two grandchildren who are living in the community now, and when they get bigger and in high school, I want them to say with pride, I’m from Darlington.
We need to be the kind of community who is out on the forefront doing things and thinking about things, driving the situation rather than waiting for something to come to us, because if we wait, nothing is going to happen. We are just going to gather dust.
I want to see us as a vibrant community, people engaged, people happy about things, people happy to be here, businesses growing around the Square, businesses on the bypass.
I don’t want to become an Atlanta, I don’t want to become a Florence, I want us to have a stable population size so we can afford these things and make this an even better community to live in.
That is what I am looking forward to.
Diane Sigmon, candidate for Darlington City Council
Sigmon received her undergraduate degree from Limestone College, Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Mathematics & Physical Education in 1981 and received her Master of Education (M.Ed.), Secondary Mathematics Education from University of South Carolina-Columbia in 1987. She taught at school at the elementary, high school levels, to adjunct professor at the college level. She has been the Director of Technology for the Darlington County School District since 1998 and was voted the President of the Darlington Kiwanis Club this year. Sigmon has served in DCSD for 27 years. With the exception of 3 years when her children were younger, she has been in the role of district responsibility for all technology (Computer Coordinator 1987-1995). She was also responsible for the initial setup of technology at Mayo when it became the magnet school, and is also the past-chair of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) Technology Leaders Roundtable.
We need to look at having lines that are more regular, so to speak, so people will clearly know if they are in the city of not. To me, annexation is one way to build unity as long as you can do it without undue burden on people.
Our challenge is in identifying where our uniqueness is. We have a lot of character, in terms of the history of our town, the potential of our growth, the nice small – town feel that just doesn’t exist in a lot of places anymore. So our challenge is to find out how we can capitalize on that.
I think it is important for us to listen to all people, to be able to synthesize that and build that into a very visionary, forward thinking plan. And our next challenge will be communicating that plan to our constituents.
Communication can be done better everywhere, on every front, always. And that’s not a shot at any one person, or anything, it’s just we all have to always think about communication. We can never just let that slide. I tell my people at work that all the time.
What talents will you share?
I think that one of the challenges I had in doing my research and seeing if I understood the challenges on council was finding a clearly articulated plan in layman’s terms. That is often very important.
We may use strategic planning software that will allow us to more effectively communicate that plan and monitor that plan. Because one thing you hear from the community, we are just doing things willy – nilly, and we are not doing things in a strategic way. And so I think it is important for us to have that documented in a way that we can say we are doing that in this fashion.
It also allows us a way to self evaluate, and hold celebrations. I find it helpful to have software that helps you do that. There are some technological resources we can take better advantage of organize ourselves. It bothers me that city officials might have a Gmail account or someone else might have a Yahoo account; we need something that is streamlined to facilitate all of that. It doesn’t look like – it gives the appearance that you are that way and it’s not planned and monitored.
If you are named a winner after the runoff election, what are some projects you would love to tackle?
The strategic plan is something I’d like to do, the documentation and articulation of what is already out there, and then I firmly believe if you have a good plan you are going to find the funding. It will be easier to write grants because you will be able to reference, ‘in our plan this grant will help us achieve this’ – it just gives it validity.
We need to reach out and tap into our community and organize the community resources We have to stop a lot of the in-fighting that goes on. We waste a lot of energy on that. We have to reach out to each other, and pull together.
We have got to get our council has to be willing to work hard. We really have to come together so we can dispel the perceptions. We are in control of how people perceive us, and people perceive us by our actions or inactions. So I think that is one of the biggest challenges is with a strong plan that is visionary and everyone sees the benefit of it for them.
Thank you for your vote!