Many well-wishers attended Camden City Council’s meeting Tuesday night -- the last for outgoing councilmen Walter Long and Willard Polk. Both men chose not to run for reelection earlier this year. Council members-elect Deborah Davis and Jeffrey Graham are scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday; they will attend their first meeting Dec. 9.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Tony Scully and councilwomen Alfred Mae Drakeford and Laurie Parks each had something to say about Long and Polk.
“At the risk of embarrassing this gentleman, I have to say that Walter Long has served as our complete aristocrat on council,” Scully began. “We and the city of Camden have depended on his measured considerations about going forward. He, unlike many, has more often than not been willing to compromise in order to get things done. More than more, Walter has set the best possible example in acknowledging others for their hard work for the community. In like manner, we now acknowledge him for his eight years of service to all. Well done, Mr. Long. Thank you for your gracious presence among us. I hope that someday you will return to elected service.”
Scully then turned to Polk, describing him as the council member who asks the hard questions.
“The truth is, his hard questions come from a soft heart because he cares so much about this city and the people who live here. I predict that after he’s left this council, he will continue to engage us -- and sometimes, I suppose, enrage us -- because when Councilman Polk cares deeply about how our money is spent, he takes no prisoners.
“And for this nobility of spirit, we are forever indebted to you, Willard. We invite you to stay in the conservation, not that you need an invitation. Just know we value you, your mind and your heart,” Scully said.
Drakeford thanked Polk for his contributions.
“I know we haven’t always been in the same place on some of the issues but, you know what, I think as a council, we’ve made many, many improvements to the city of Camden that will be here for years to come. I, too, will miss your hard questions, but I can do without them,” Drakeford said, eliciting a round of laughter.
She recognized she and Polk had worked together for a long time, even before his election to council, as he served on the city’s parks and streets commission.
Of Long, Drakeford said she tried to get him to run again for another four-year term, but joked his wife, Staci, wouldn’t let him.
“I’m really sorry that you’re leaving. I think we have worked well these past eight years and also want to thank you for putting so many issues on the table that have moved this city of Camden forward,” she said, including the city’s anti-smoking ordinance, hospitality tax, recently rescinded texting while driving ban and façade grant program.
Long told Drakeford she would always be a friend and appreciated the teamwork among the members he has worked with, past and present.
Parks collectively thanked Long and Polk, saying it was a pleasure to serve with both men on council.
“I would invite you to put in an application to any of the commissions we have because we would love to have either or both of you to serve on any commission,” Parks said.
City Manager Mel Pearson said it has been a pleasure for him, too, to work with both councilmen.
“You have asked some hard questions, both of you,” he said, “and, often, most often, your questions were designed to clarify something maybe staff was not quite clear on and your question led to an answer from staff that made a given issue transparent. Transparency has been very important to you two gentlemen, and to this council as a whole, and other councils I have had the pleasure of working with as well. It’s something that we do that’s not always recognized, but it should -- it’s something the two of you have worked very hard, to be clear and transparent on issues, projects, what we do, all of the above.”
He mentioned Polk’s years-long efforts in terms of the city’s parks and general quality of life.
“We use that phrase rather loosely sometimes, but not in this instance. You have been right there for it as long as I’ve been with the city -- that’s over 16 years now -- and thank you for that on behalf of the city employees. We appreciate your notice … and, for some reason, I don’t think that’s going to go away,” Pearson said.
Pearson said it didn’t take long for Long to become interested in the hospitality tax.
“We got some push back from that, as well as the smoking ordinance … there again, the quality of life in Camden is much higher,” he said. “As city employees, that’s a big part of our mission, and you have supported it very well. You’ve made our jobs easier at times and you’ve made them harder at times, when it’s appropriate.
Pearson then handed a gift to each man, decorative mantle clocks. Polk noticed a difference in the gifts before unwrapping them.
“Oh, I get the small one,” he declared to Long, “but mine’s brighter-colored than yours.”
Both men had a few words of their own as the meeting wound down.
“When I was first elected to office, my children were 5, 3 and 5 months old, and now they are 13, 11 and 8. It’s hard to believe eight years has passed,” Long said. “I certainly want to thank my family -- my wife, Staci, my children, Leila, Lizzie and Mac, for understanding that Dad had to miss a few soccer games so he could serve his home town. I also want to thank my mother for keeping her cool with certain members of the community when certain issues got heated. She can be a little protective and feisty at times.”
Long went on to thank his employer, First Palmetto Savings, noting that not many companies allow employees to expose themselves to criticisms associated with holding public office. He also thanked those who supported him in both his elections.
“I hope I did you proud,” he said, and then complimented city staff. “You are often taken for granted, but you should take that as a compliment. Our citizens know that you will do your job and do it well. We are very fortunate to have the quality people we have in every department.”
Long also said he’d had the privilege of working with three “outstanding” city managers.
“Starting with Frank Broom whom I learned a great deal from my first two years in office, and then the privilege of hiring Kevin Bronson and, finally, Mel Pearson. All of you are men of character and tremendous leaders. Our city is very lucky,” Long said.
He also told his fellow council members he respected them as well.
“I … know you will continue to serve the city well along with the new members joining you next month, and I’m sure Alfred Mae will keep ‘em all straight,” he said. “It truly has been an honor to serve the city.”
Polk began by quoting Gen. Robert E. Lee: “Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”
“I think this is what speaks well of our council and our city staff and I’ve been proud to be part of the city on active duty, so to speak, about the past 12, 14 years or so,” Polk said, beginning with his time with the Camden Parks and Streets Commission. “Little did (former mayor) Mary Virginia Clark; (and former councilmen) Pat Partin, in particular, nominated me, Vernon Hammond, Nick Lampshire and Tony Boykin … little did they know they had let the dog out of the cage.”
Polk also thanked his wife, Kay, whom he said has also worked for the city behind the scenes by being his “severest critic and strongest supporter” and in other ways by “keeping me straight.” Like Long, the former S.C. State Law Enforcement Division officer also thanked those who voted for him four years ago.
“Little did I know that I’d become an elected official. I was more used to working with, investigating and sometimes putting in jail elected officials,” Polk said.
He likened Camden to a great corporation with voters as the stockholders and council as the board of directors with a very competent staff to enact policies and procedures.
“I think we have made significant progress during my tenure first as a commissioner and then as a council member. I look at some of the things we have in progress right now, those things that we have on the board our future council will have to deal with -- these are all things that will be in good stead for this city for years to come,” Polk said. “We’ve seen such improvements downtown. We’ve seen such economic development downtown -- private businesses moving into Camden, and it’s because we’ve had a business-friendly city, a business-friendly council and business-friendly administration.”
He ended by saying that in his 50 years of public service, it has been his “esteemed privilege and honor” to serve the people of Camden.
Both men received standing ovations by those who had crowded into the council chamber to wish them well.