After much deliberation, I have chosen not to run for a second term as mayor. The last three and a half years have offered me the singular privilege of serving this community. The people of Camden humble me with their kindness and support, and above all, their concern for the city.
In 2012, I ran for one reason: to serve the community. Now, because of the outstanding team at city hall, the city is running smoothly. Thanks to our city manager, Mel Pearson; our assistant city manager, Caitlin Corbett; our city planner, Shawn Putnam; our director of tourism, Suzi Sale; our director of public works, Tom Couch; our finance director, Debra Courtney; and our city staff, as well as outstanding police and fire departments, the tone of the community remains positive and enthusiastic.
During the past three years, this administration has dramatically improved the downtown area with the renovation of City Arena and the creation of the park where the Maxway Building stood. We renovated the entryway and grounds to the railroad depot. We’ve streamlined business license processing; paid for new, user-friendly historic preservation guidelines; and voted in economic incentives for new businesses and the Bailey Bill (tax incentives for rehabilitating historic properties). We revised zoning ordinances and offered multiple façade grants. We refurbished parking areas at Commerce Alley and south of Rutledge and Broad. We engaged the Arnett Muldrow firm for a landmark planning study: new signage and gateway signs are ready to go. We helped found the Camden Business Alliance. We hired consultants to evaluate Historic Camden and develop a five-year strategic plan. We contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the S.C. Equine Park and to the McCaa Tavern at Historic Camden to support the economic future of the city.
We hired Suzi Sale as director of tourism from 30 candidates; the new tourism partnership boasts 28 members and provides brochures, publications and nine billboards. We upgraded the Kendall Park trails and installed lighting. We completed a landmark wastewater plant, and have begun to transform the old sludge ponds into eco-friendly conservation sites for tourism and to provide teaching platforms for local schools.
The city, in partnership with several agencies, notably Eat Smart, Move More, has begun work on the greenways and walking trails we all want. We purchased the largest gun collection in the South and are considering a possible extension of the Archives, which now offers expanded programming and exhibits.
Construction has begun on the fully funded truck diversion route; council also voted to seek finances to improve the traffic lights, crosswalks, and landscaping on downtown Broad Street (the Road Diet). Public works crews are now addressing needed infrastructure -- lights, water and sewer, in several neighborhoods. Be assured city staff has also been working hard to find private investment for a downtown hotel.
We are proud of helping the Boys & Girls Teen Club get up and running and to opening the door to USC’s Institute for Racial Reconciliation, with 24 citizens, black and white, in an unprecedented, private conversation on race which, starting later in the spring, will continue once a month into the foreseeable future.
As for the Beechwood Retirement Community, an opportunity for transformational economic growth, a small opposition group convinced the property owner not to sign the contract Ed Royall and Austin Sheheen had been working on, pro bono, for more than a year and which everyone at city hall, notably the Camden Planning Commission, had fully supported. Misinformation had circulated about the numbers of units, the quality of construction, the exclusion of health services, the cutting down of trees, in each instance contradicting actual terms of the contract. At the moment, several parties are working together for the best possible result for all.
Over the past few years, people have commented too often that this community, on a financial level at least, seems to care more about its horses and dogs than it does its hungry and often at-risk children for me not to plead for us to continue to give our attention to our most precious resource, our children, especially as gangs, drug trafficking and neglect endanger young lives here. We love our horses and dogs -- what could be better? -- but our children are irreplaceable.
Two outstanding members of the community with a long history of public service have told me they will run for mayor if I do not. Regardless of who wins, the city will be in good hands. The question now is, who’s going to run for council? Two seats will be open.