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Graham named president of new mayors' association

Posted: July 7, 2011 4:50 p.m.
Updated: July 8, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham stands outside city hall, the King Haiglar clock tower behind him in the distance down Rutledge Street. Graham, along with a dozen or so other mayors from around the state, recently formed the Association of South Carolina Mayors. His fellow mayors elected him to be the association’s first president.

For some time, a number of South Carolina mayors wished they could do even more to represent their cities and towns’ interests on the state level. Earlier this year, those mayors decided to do something about.

“The planning came out of a meeting in February,” Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham said during a July 1 interview. “We got together and said, ‘This is something important to us,’ and it grew.”

Three weeks ago, Graham and his fellow mayors formalized their relationship by creating the Association of South Carolina Mayors (ASCM). Graham was elected president.

“I’ll be laying out the work and a vision plan. We met informally this morning (July 1) and talked about where we want to go and what issues we might want to tackle,” he said.

Graham is in prestigious company on the ASCM’s board of directors. The group elected Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols as vice president. Mayors Sam Murray (Port Royal), Mel Pennington (Hartsville), Lisa Sulka (Bluffton) and Knox White (Greenville) will serve three-year terms as board members. Named to two-year terms are mayors Welborn Adams (Greenwood), Charlene Herring (Ridgeway) and Terry Wright (Brunson). One of South Carolina’s most well-known mayors, Joe Riley of Charleston, joins Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin and Mauldin Mayor Don Godbey for one-year terms.

The ASCM held its second board meeting Thursday morning in Columbia. There, said Graham, the board set a formal agenda on issues it wants to tackle.

“We set up dues, adopted a budget and scheduled our first full meeting for August 31,” Graham said.

Also at that meeting, the ASCM board decided one of its first issues to tackle would be that of code enforcement in terms of commercial blight.

“Locally, we’ve done that on the residential (side) with abandoned properties,” he said, referring to Camden’s policy of attempting to have absentee property owners either fix up or tear down dilapidated homes.

Camden’s program includes financial penalties if owners do not comply, with the city tearing down such homes and then applying liens to pay for the work.

“Now we’re trying to get commercial codes updated to the same level,” the mayor said. “We’ve got to get with legislators to get legislation there, but this is the initial conversation.”

Even before the ASCM was officially formed, members were already communicating with the state’s new governor.

“We met earlier this year with Gov. Nikki Haley to start a dialogue regarding economic development and we felt like that is an integral part of recruiting jobs to South Carolina,” Graham said. “We explained that we need to be engaged in those efforts when appropriate. She was very accepting of our being there and very excited to see the people who are on the front lines of government.”

Graham said the ASCM is operating under the umbrella of the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC). Under that umbrella, Graham said, the group hopes to accomplish a number of goals, including mentoring each other.

“We want to talk about mayors’ issues, of course. When I have a dialog with mayors from other communities, they understand what I’m going through,” he said.

Graham said while the ASCM will be issues-oriented, forming the group is also an opportunity for expanded networking with his fellow mayors. He said White of Greenville and Riley of Charleston, along with former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, all took him under his wing when he was elected as South Carolina’s youngest mayor in 2008.

“I’m working with (current) Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin now, too,” said Graham. “We want to share best practices. Whether it’s your first year in office or your 29th, there’s information that’s important to help better our communities.”

The main priority, however, is getting the state to treat its municipalities fairly, said Graham.

“(We’re) in a position to advocate for sound policy on the state level on issues important to local town and cities regarding the quality of life -- which is what we have to protect,” he said.

Graham said the ASCM hopes to work closely with its respective members’ legislative delegations. He said other mayors are envious of the close relationship he has with State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk and State Sen. Vincent Sheheen.

“I’ve learned that a lot of communities don’t, for whatever reasons, have those kind of relationships. When I talk to other mayors about my relationship with Vincent and Laurie, they say it’s impressive,” Graham said.

While only a dozen mayors sit on the ASCM’s board, Graham said he hopes most of the state’s 270 or so mayors will join the group.

“We hope to get them all involved,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be pretty engaged. Our bylaws say we have to meet at least twice a year, but I’ve indicated that I don’t think that’s enough. Maybe once a month.”

Graham also said he and his fellow mayors are going to try to look at things from a long-term view.

“Most people look at things on a year-to-year basis, but as mayors we have to look at five, 10 years down the road to enhance our communities. Long term, we hope to have a long-range effect on legislation,” Graham said.


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