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At city hall
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When people ask me, “How’s it going?” I tell them, “exhilarating,” a new word for me.

The truth is, it’s going good because the people who work at city hall are the most dedicated, responsible professionals I’ve ever met. And they’re friendly too.

Chronicle readers need to know that they are being well served by people who have dedicated their professional lives to the community, that if the entire council, including myself, were suddenly lifted up into the Rapture, the city of Camden would continue on in good hands.

My purpose here: to place a frame around a situation that city hall’s work force has intentionally created. The well being of any organization, certainly a city, depends on a positive spirit. As with a family, this situation does not just happen by itself. Unless people make an intention to create a happy group, the expected wrangling and backstabbing can too easily take over -- and if a happy family takes effort, a happy city takes more.

Let the word go forth: we begin the new year and the new city administration with high hopes grounded in the good will of good people.

As for the cast of characters, Camden enjoys what’s commonly called “a weak Mayor/strong Council/Manager” form of government, where the mayor, albeit the leader of the pack, has but one vote in council (Alfred Mae Drakeford, Willard Polk, Laurie Parks, and Walter Long). The council, in turn, appoints the city manager. For the next few months Mel Pearson, director of finance and assistant city manager, a city employee for 13 years, will serve as interim city manager, following Kevin Bronson’s departure. Mr. Pearson implements council directives; with encyclopedia recall he listens to complaints, works out solutions, and pays the bills with the help of long term staff members, Debra Courtney, Julie Lee, HR director Peggy Bowers, and Customer Service representative Mary Rupe, all of whom knock themselves out being friends to all. Ms. Rupe’s the one who usually answers the phone in her cheerful voice when you call city hall.

Public Works Director Tom Couch, with Sam Davis, Jerry Marthers and James Ray, with staff Lynn Bradley, brilliantly handle water, sewer, streets, sidewalks, power lines, and sometimes deal with complaining citizens, who demand that their overhead power lines be buried now! Forester Liz Gilland guards our public trees and watches over our incomparably beautiful parks.

Behind the glass partitions on the first floor, the ever-patient Earlene Wright, Alice Williams and Lynn Austin deal with the bill-paying public, some of them (maybe some of us?) can be out-of-sorts on a given day.

John Burns, city inspector, with Albert Blanding, tirelessly enforces “the code,” which as he readily explains, exists for good reason -- to preserve housing values, ensure safety, and keep Camden Camden.

Police Chief Joe Floyd operates his well-respected department with a philosophy that, first, officers must operate with the trust of the citizens, and second, they must earn that trust. He instructs his officers to treat persons on marginal incomes the same as they would those living in mansions. Have I mentioned captains Mike Stone and Russell Morgan, not to mention Lts. Herbie Frasier, Lee Boan and 27 other superb officers?

Fire Chief John Bowers, an engaging, articulate leader, routinely praises his men and points out that volunteers undergo the same training as the regulars. The chief’s particularly proud of the many firefighters who stay in Camden when they could work elsewhere at a higher salary.

Shawn Putnam, city planner, watches over the city with a careful eye. Wade Luther, economic development officer, a welcome city planner himself, is becoming more of a presence in the public conversation as it evolves. Darron Kirkley, county tourism director in partnership with the city, designs strategies to make Camden and Kershaw County a top destination site.

The list goes on: Katherine Richardson, director of archives; Caitlin Corbett, assistant to the city manager; Brenda Davis, city clerk; Debra Courtney, assistant finance director; Scott Spencer, IT specialist; Lorraine Wilson, finance supervisor; Stephanie Bowers, accounting clerk; Linda Rush, accounts payable clerk; meter readers Louie Arledge and Robert Humphries.

Have I mentioned the city’s hard working sanitation and maintenance workers?

Since the Chronicle allots me but 750 words for this column, I cannot name the more than 120 other city employees, except to say that all of the people I’ve met without exception make me proud to live here.

Amy Stenger, new grant writer, begins work this week. Ms. Stegner, welcome aboard!