Camden City Council voted to “continue the employment” of City Manager Mel Pearson during its Tuesday evening meeting. Council entered into a brief executive session near the end of its meeting to discuss Pearson’s contract and upon returning to open session, voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute an employment agreement with Pearson.
Pearson, who previously served as the city’s finance director and assistant city manager, became interim city manager in January 2013. A little more than a month later, council voted unanimously to offer him the position as permanent city manager.
The new employment agreement, which is for a period of 12 months, provides Pearson with a base salary of $168,688, along with standard employee benefits and a vehicle allowance of $500 per month.
Also Tuesday, council proclaimed all of 2019 as “The Year of Camden Military Academy.” The academy is celebrating its 60th year of operation. Although the academy’s full history dates back to 1892, the current campus in east Camden opened during the 1958-59 school year.
The academy operates as a private, all-male boarding school with a mission to “educate and inspire the corps of cadets so that each cadet will have an opportunity to achieve his maximum potential and gain the educational foundation to succeed in college and life as a productive, contributing citizen.”
Through its years of operation, 2,928 cadets have graduated from the school. Several of those former cadets include a dean at the Arts and Science College of the University of Virginia, an attorney who served as chief of staff for former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, an NBA player, and the drummer for country music group Alabama.
Councilwoman Joanna Craig said she has been fortunate to be involved in several events that have taken place at Camden Military Academy.
“It’s an incredible facility,” Craig said. “This is a well-deserved honor. All of the students and staff are a wonderful addition to Camden.”
Councilman Jeffrey Graham thanked the school and its staff for their “continued giving and involvement in our community… They are deeply engaged with our community. Camden Military Academy has allowed their students to be involved with this fine city we call home and we hope the cadets feel the same way when they graduate from Camden Military Academy -- that this is their home.”
Councilman Stephen Smoak, whose mother was a teacher at the school, said the “impact CMA has made and continues to make on our community is immense. We all benefit from the economic impact they make. Col. Boland and his staff go out of their way to shop locally in all they do. Thank you all.”
Camden Military Academy headmaster Col. Eric Boland, faculty members and some cadets attended the meeting and accepted a framed proclamation from the mayor recognizing the school.
Council also proclaimed July as Small Cities Month in conjunction with the city’s hosting of the National League of Cities’ Small Cities Council conference that began Wednesday. The three-day event will include some activities on Saturday as well.
“We will have a total of 40 mayors and council members from across the U.S.,” Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford said. “I’m just excited to welcome this diverse group to our beautiful city and let them see the things we work on and have here. Hopefully, we will be able to share best practices with them as they share best practices with us.”
In addition, council heard a presentation by Kassy Alia Ray, chief executive officer and founder of Serve & Connect, which has been working with the Camden Police Department this year.
Ray, whose husband, Forest Acres police officer Gregory Alia, was killed in the line of duty in 2015, founded Serve & Connect in his memory to “ignite positive change” through police and community partnerships.
Under her leadership, Serve & Connect has grown from a hashtag to a movement for change, touching many lives and receiving national attention for its impact.
“What I’ve learned over the past three and a half years is that at the end of the day what we all want is more the same than different,” Ray said. “We all want our communities to be safe, our families to be protected and our children to thrive.”
Serve & Connect works with police departments, community organizations, leaders and residents to identify “where there is common ground and what we all want to see improved in our communities,” Ray said. The goal is to bring those partners together to foster trust and understanding for collaborations that bring improvements.
“What we really want to do is show that together we are better and together we are stronger,” she said. “It takes all of us showing up and working together to achieve these shared goals.”
Ray said the “big vision” of Serve & Connect is “by showing what works and what we can achieve when we work together, we can change a whole mindset and narrative around the tensions we see (in society) and create a new path forward.”
Serve & Connect implemented COMPASS, a new initiative and approach to community safety, this spring. “We’ve been excited by the impact we’ve been able to demonstrate with this pilot project that rebuilds the community safety infrastructure from the bottom up,” Ray said. “We were honored this year to be able to expand COMPASS into four new counties, which include our partner, the Camden Police Department.”
In other business:
• Council gave second and final reading of two rezoning ordinances. The first rezones the adjoining properties at 709 Mill St. and 208 King St. from Industrial to Limited Business District. The second rezones 1101 Roberts St. from R-15 (residential) to General Business District.
• Council reappointed Diana Wenman and appointed Donna Cox to the Camden Parks and Trees Commission.