The vote for the county referendum to change the current form of government from council-supervisor to council-administrator is over and the majority has spoken. In reality, it may have been a majority of those voting, but as usual only one third of the registered voters of Williamsburg County actually voted in Tuesday’s election. Ok, so now what? Can our community agree to move forward and attempt to work together or will bad feelings on both sides of the debate continue? After talking with several local citizens about activities that developed during the election process, I was distressed to hear that there were county employees who refused to vote in Tuesday’s election because of possible retribution. In addition, it was disheartening to discover that there were citizens who lawfully signed the petition, but were later questioned about their commitment to the county. And finally, I will not even discuss how this issue took on a racial life of its own, but it was obvious as signs were strategically located in front of homes throughout the county. During this process as I pondered policy, politics, and free speech, I was reminded of three local leader situations.
Dan Wells, Kingstree Town Manager, is a typical mid westerner. There is not a southern bone in his body, he will never be a “good ole boy,” and like many mid westerners, he has a tendency to be abrupt. The town manager is not related to anyone in the county, nor has a home church where everyone knows him and his entire history. So, basically as a “foreigner” Dan is not beholding to anyone in Kingstree. On the other hand, Dan Wells has been instrumental in helping the town of Kingstree reach financial security. Dan’s professional goal is to be an effective leader and to do the best job possible for Kingstree’s Town Council, his employer.
During Dan’s four year tenure in Kingstree, the town property tax issue has been resolved, new water lines and water system has been constructed, and the town’s staff was reorganized. In addition, Dan has been instrumental in helping secure a modern fleet of police cars, improved fire fighting equipment, and was influential with the renovation of the historic train station. No doubt, there have been times of great debate over decisions the town manger has made, but he can always defend his rulings based on professional judgment, and never on personal or racial discrimination. The greater part of town council is pleased with his performance and the town is moving forward.
On the other hand, Joe Lee, Town manager of Hemingway, is a local son who finds himself in a duel position. As town manager, Mr. Lee is hired and responsible to the Hemingway Town Council, and occasionally finds himself having to make decisions in opposition to local friends. Furthermore, as a county school board member, Mr. Lee is elected by the citizens of Hemingway. He said it does not matter which role he is serving, town manager or school board member, it is crucial to be honest and to do the best job possible. Otherwise, the council could dismiss him, and the citizens might choose not to re-elect him. Mr. Lee is moving forward as he tries to be worthy of the public’s trust in his leadership.
As for Mr. Pasley, county supervisor, it would be dishonest if I did not admit he has always been fair and accessible to me when discussing community concerns. It is also realistic to say that we have different political philosophies and have been on complete opposite sides of issues that have created several interesting conversations. Mr. Pasley’s goals as supervisor include: making decisions which promote the best interest of the greater community; to develop resources, policies, and plans to address needs, or concerns; and to promote programs that uphold priorities of the government. In an attempt to move forward, Mr. Pasley was quoted on the SCNOW.COM site last week after the election with the following remarks: “Congratulations to the proponents for the referendum, for their convictions and their efforts. I pray and trust we can unite together as one people for our county’s future success.”
So now what? It is the perfect opportunity for the county leadership to build cooperative relationships, to promote an open door policy, to avoid tension by encouraging trust, to promote better communication, and to endorse fairness. Perhaps these qualities have been in place before, but it does not matter if citizens did not perceive that they were available. This county, just like this country, is at a cross roads. We can choose to move forward and work together, or we can continue to oppose each other and fall further behind. Now what are we going to do?