DARLINGTON, S.C. – One Darlington County Council seat is being contested Tuesday in the general election. That is District 6, where incumbent Democrat Mozella “Pennie” Nicholson is not seeking re-election. Democrat Albert Davis III and Republican Phyllis Griggs of Hartsville are facing each other in that district. Candidates in Districts 2, 4 and 8 are all unopposed.
Likewise, Darlington County Board of Education District 5 is the only contested school board race on the ballot. Incumbent Maureen Thomas of Hartsville faces a challenge from Richard Brewer of Darlington. Districts 1, 3 and 7 are uncontested.
The office of Darlington County probate judge also is being contested. Incumbent Democrat Marvin Lawson is facing a challenge from Republican Dylan Crowley.
County Council District 6
Davis won the June Democratic primary for the District 6 seat on the Darlington County Council. Griggs was unopposed in the Republican primary.
Griggs is the retired athletic director, former coach and teacher with Hartsville High School with a 39-year career in education. Davis works for Young & Young Funeral Home and is a school bus driver for the Darlington County School District. Both are political newcomers.
“When Ms. Nicholson decided not to run, I thought a lot about it, and I prayed a lot about it,” Davis said. “I just thought it would be a good opportunity for me to help the community and help the people of District 6.”
Griggs said she was approached by some council members and encouraged to run.
“I had some county council people talk to me about it, and I thought about it,” she said. “I had no intention of running, but they came to me and talked to me, so I said OK.”
Griggs said if she is elected, she intends to listen to people.
“I just want to hear concerns that people have in the community and investigate them and do what I can to address those concerns,” she said.
“I just want to help the community and people in the community,” Davis said. “I want to encourage people and neighbors and help neighbors help each other.”
Griggs said she will work to make decisions that are fair to people.
"I will not be influenced by anyone,” she said. “I’ve been in a position where I couldn’t be influenced, and I will bring that same approach to county council.”
Davis said his top priority will be working to bring jobs to the community.
“I want to see more growth and more development and jobs in our area,” he said.
He said Hartsville is a two-time All-America City.
“I want to work to make Darlington County an All-America county,” he said.
Davis also said he wants to work to address the issue of homelessness in the district and in the county.
“It’s a problem, and we need to do something about it,” he said.
“I will work tirelessly for people,” Griggs said. “I have a tremendous work ethic. I am open and honest, and I will be open and honest with people. I’ve been a proven leader in the community, and I will make decisions to positively impact the community.”
“I care about Hartsville, and I care about Darlington County,” Davis said. “I want to see us grow. We have a great county. I want to help Darlington County move forward.”
Board of Education District 5
Brewer, who lives in Darlington, is making his first run for political office, challenging Thomas, the incumbent from Hartsville, for the District 5 seat on the Darlington County Board of Education. Thomas is finishing her first term as a school board member.
School board elections in Darlington County are nonpartisan.
Both candidates are retired from private industry.
Brewer said his two daughters came up through the local public schools and colleges.
“I saw a lot of good things," he said, "but I also saw some things that I thought could use changing.”
He said he offered some ideas to a teacher acquaintance who encouraged him to consider running. He said several other teachers also urged him to consider it. When the opportunity to run came up, he said, he decided to go for it.
Thomas, who served 10 years as director of school community relations for the Darlington County School District and currently is vice chairwoman of the board, said the district has made progress in recent years and said she wants to work to continue that.
“We have some unfinished business that I want to see us take care of,” she said. “I want to see us move forward with some things that we’ve started, and I want to see us continue to more in a positive direction and continue my service for the community.”
Brewer said one of his focuses if elected will be to get more parental involvement in the schools.
“We’ve got a problem with a lack of parental involvement,” he said.
He said more parents need to be focused on the importance of their children’s education and be active participants in their children’s schools.
Related to that, he said, is discipline in the schools.
“There’s a lot of unruliness in our schools,” he said. “I think that comes back to parents being involved.”
He said parents need to ensure that their children are paying more attention to homework assignments and are not being sidetracked with social media and other distractions.
Thomas said one of her major concerns is keeping teacher pay in the Darlington County School District competitive to attract and keep good teachers.
“I’d like to see pay increases for teachers so that we can keep good teachers,” she said.
“We get people who are good, and then for whatever reason, they leave,” Thomas said. “And it’s not always about money. I’d like to see us come up with some other incentives that help us attract and retain good teachers. I want to see us do what we can to make this a place where people want to come and live and stay.”
Brewer also said teacher retention is an issue.
“We have a teacher shortage. We seem to have a problem keeping teachers here,” he said. “A lot of times we get them here, they get some experience and then they get an offer somewhere else for more money.”
For many, he said, the only avenue to better pay is to obtain an advanced academic degree.
“I’m committed," Thomas said. "I want to see us continue to be the premier school district we have become and continue moving forward. I want to see us make this a place where every child can achieve success and where parents want to send their children to school.”
Brewer said he would like the opportunity to put the leadership skills he learned as a U.S. Navy veteran and in private industry to work on finding solutions for problems facing the school district.
“I’m retired now, and I’d like to make a positive difference for our students, parents and teachers,” he said.
County probate judge
Crowley, a Republican from Hartsville, is making his first run for elective office. He is challenging Lawson, the Democratic incumbent from Darlington, in the race for county probate judge.
Crowley holds a law degree from Charleston Law School but said he is not yet licensed to practice law. He worked most recently with a local law firm. He said it was that experience and his interactions with the probate court that led him to run for the office.
"I was struck by how behind it seemed,” he said. “The whole process seems to take forever.”
Lawson has 38 years of experience in county government as clerk of court and probate judge. He is seeking his seventh term as probate judge.
“I love my job," he said. "I love coming to work. And I love being able to serve the people of Darlington County. I feel like we’re offering the people friendly service and I think we’re doing a good job for the people of Darlington County.”
Lawson said one thing he would like to see for the probate office is additional space to enhance services to the public. Much of that will depend on the outcome of an upcoming referendum on a $20 million bond to replace or upgrade the Darlington County Courthouse.
“I’d like to see us move into bigger and better quarters,” he said. “There is a chance over the next four years that we may be able to have more room to better serve people. Right now, we’re just bursting at the seams.”
“The current judge has been in there a long time,” Crowley said.
He said not much has changed in that time.
“I just think if I can get in there, I can improve some things,” he said.
Crowley said one thing he would like to see done is to have as many records as possible digitized for easier public access.
“That would speed up the process and save money,” he said.
He said he would like to eliminate the need as much as possible for people to have to travel to the courthouse for records and forms.
Lawson said when he came to the office, it was in a “bad state of affairs.” He said he will work to continue to build on the record of service to the public that his office has established over the past 24 years.
Crowley said he would like to see a drug court created that could be administered through the probate court to get people suffering from addiction the help they need.
“If people are happy with it (the office) where it is, fine. But I’d like to bring the current court into the 21 st century,” Crowley said.
Lawson said experience matters, and he is proud to run on his record of service as probate judge. He said the probate court has a reputation for being one of the best in the state, and he will work to keep it so.