Attending the April 16 Orangeburg City Council meeting was of great importance to us because we dared to weigh in on Claflin University’s request to close Goff Avenue from Clark Street to Magnolia.

In reading the article written by The Times and Democrat’s reporter, Gene Zaleski, dated April 18, 2024, we questioned whether we were at the same meeting. Of course the outcome was the same but it appeared that his version was sanitized and biased.

We knew from reading past articles in the newspaper that their employees were standing in lock step with Claflin University and supported the closure. As citizens, our position was that every avenue needed to be explored before closing down a city street and denying access to the entire citizenry.

We agreed that the issue of safety was at the forefront and the university wanted to find a way to keep the staff and students safe. We echoed those sentiments and questioned whether the citizens should be in fear of our safety, as well.

People are also reading…

As rational, thinking human beings, we began to look at local government procedures and how things should work.

Claflin President Dwuan Warmack followed the proper process by informing Orangeburg City Council that safety was an issue. The Orangeburg Public Safety Department’s sworn officers are the individuals who are paid to keep the public safe from all criminal activity in the City of Orangeburg.

Warmack stated that the criminal activity was occurring on the city streets beyond the authority of campus security but within the authority of Public Safety. His solution to the problem was to close a portion of the street and give the university full control.

As citizens, we were wondering why the city’s Public Safety Department was NOT capable of protecting all of the citizens, which includes the students at Claflin. If the university’s staff and students are afraid for their safety residing in the City of Orangeburg, then the citizens should also be afraid.

Closing a portion of the city streets might solve the university’s problem but what about the safety of the majority of the citizens? It is like putting a bandage on a wound that is bleeding out when you know that surgery is required.

All of our citizens have a right to safety. It is a human right that applies to all citizens regardless of where you live in the city!

Orangeburg City Council members listen to a presentation from Claflin University officials on Feb. 20, 2024.

That brings us back to horses! We arrived at the location on April 16 at approximately 5:30 p.m. Attendees had already begun arriving and we walked in with a group of Claflin students who were easily identifiable by their Panther colors.

It was crowded in the foyer with police officers screening and scanning everyone. Upon our arrival into the City Council Chambers, it appeared there was standing room only; but upon further observation, it was obvious that the room was filled with Claflin students, some sitting four to a bench, disallowing anyone else to be seated.

I asked a young man if I could sit. He informed me that the seat belonged to his adviser and we remained standing along the wall. When the adviser entered the room, he began seating the Claflin students that walked in with us and the students that were sitting instantly made room for them.

At this point, it was obvious that this show of force was staged and orchestrated to keep the citizens out who possibly might not be in favor of the closing. As we were getting closer to 6 p.m., the council members began trickling in along with other dignitaries.

Mayor Michael Butler entered the room, all smiles, and came out into the audience shaking hands and welcoming the crowd. There was an older gentleman standing beside us that the mayor shook his hand and wished him a happy birthday.

The gentleman responded that he was compelled to come to the meeting to support the university. The mayor mentioned the lack of seating and said that he would ask some of the men to give up their seats for the women.

That never happened, but Claflin’s chief of security was a kind gentleman who brought a chair for me to sit in. When the greetings were complete, the mayor took his place along with the other council members.

Mayor Butler banged the gavel, welcomed the attendees and said, “There are going to be some rules. If your name is not on the agenda, you will not speak out. If you do, I will have one of the police officers remove you from the council chambers.”

Then he said, “Let us bow our heads in prayer,” and he prayed that God would assist the council in making the right decisions.

At that moment, we were appalled and in total disbelief. I worked for city government for several years performing duties directly for the chief administrative officer who worked for the mayor and city council.

This man actually was in charge of the entire city operation. He met with the various department heads every week and monitored all activities. He hired them and he fired them if they failed to perform.

The city administrator appears to be a “glorified secretary” guarding the door to keep people away. The mayor established office hours and had an “open door policy” and entertained all comers. The mayor wasn’t in the office every day but he trusted the CAO to do his job.

I attended every city council meeting and they were interesting and stimulating. Everyone knew their roles and the city ran like a well-oiled machine that gave the citizens a level of comfort knowing that competent people were looking out for their best interest.

The mayor and city council members never showed their hand before a vote. They respected the integrity of the system and had a desire to be fair and unbiased. That is what our democratic process is all about.

Never have I ever seen the mayor silence the citizens and threaten them. Never before or during a meeting was disrespect shown to any citizen who wanted to speak on any subject.

In fact, at the end of the agenda was an item called “Oral Petitions” that allowed citizens to come before the city council to voice concerns that they may have. There was no clock on the wall that had a five-minute countdown to make a presentation and when it was at zero, your time was up.

There was no order to pray by the mayor right after he threatened the citizens with police removal if they spoke out. A police officer came to the podium to speak to the mayor and referenced the citizens who were outside of the chambers wanting to come in and he smiled and waved a hand, obviously saying “no.” What a hypocrite!

Our first day on the job, we were told that we were paid to work for the citizens of the city, which included the mayor and city council. Without the citizens, we had NO JOBS.

If Mayor Michael Butler has no time to listen to the citizens, why is he holding the elected and paid position of mayor? As citizens who voted for Butler, we are wondering if he is the right man for the job. We don’t see leadership and transparency in the manner in which our city is operated.

That brings us back to horses. The street closure item was called for the third and final reading before the vote. There were comments and statements from the city attorney, Claflin’s chief of security, who showed a clip of a vehicle entering Goff from Magnolia Avenue that swerved around a bus that was ahead. The chief of security stated that this was an example of what they were dealing with.

A councilman asked if there was any citizen input and the chief said “no.”

Claflin University Public Safety Chief Melvin Williams showed Orangeburg City Council security footage of a Feb. 18th shooting on Goff Ave. as…

Claflin President Dwaun Warmack was next. He asked the crowd of Claflin students and faculty to stand and the entire room stood up in full force during his entire presentation. Warmack made an impassioned presentation regarding “keeping the babies safe.” The most powerful statement that he made that resonated with us was he said to the mayor and city council, “If you can provide a way to keep the 375 students safe that is convincing to the parents of the students, I will take it under consideration.”

The room was silent and the mayor called for a vote. The vote passed 4 to 2.

Warmack referenced “the babies” and we wondered if he was talking about the babies who showed up in force to fill the council chambers disallowing others to enter. These babies are 18-21, old enough to vote, join the armed forces and be trained to kill, drive vehicles, go to jail, get married, move out of their parents’ homes, and various and sundry things according to the law.

We want to keep them safe too, but we should never underestimate them because they are intelligent, thinking human beings making decisions independently and in tandem.

We are so proud of the two dissenting voters, Councilman Jerry Hannah, who is our representative from District 3, and Councilwoman Sandra Knotts representing District 6. Not because they voted no to the closure but rather their concern that the city administration did not do their due diligence to turn over every rock, call meetings, speak to the citizens, listen to their concerns, turn it upside down and if closure is the only answer then do it with a clear conscience.

We are inclined to agree with Councilman Hannah and Councilwoman Knox. We had the pleasure of walking the entire perimeter of the area in question the morning of the 16th before the council meeting to create a clear picture in our minds.

We parked at the corner of Clark Street and Magnolia, walked down to Goff Avenue to Clark Street and walked down Clark Street heading back to our car and came to a house where two gentlemen were sitting on the porch.

We greeted each other and began to have a conversation with Robert, who lives in the home, and his brother Curtis, who lives around the corner on Goff Avenue. Both are elderly and have lived in the area for decades.

Curtis happens to be a retiree from Claflin. They had no idea that the city council was going to take a final vote on the closure that evening. Curtis spoke of being invited and having met once with Claflin representatives in which residents attended and voiced concerns about the street closure.

They spoke of the late-night activities of students around their homes and interfering with their peaceful enjoyment, which is their right. They reported the noise levels of the students and how they threw trash in their yards and caused disturbances that made them very uneasy.

Claflin’s $40 million, three-story student center is opening. A ribbon cutting is set for 12:30 p.m. Friday, March 22, at Magnolia Street and …

Claflin’s representatives had no solutions for the citizens but asked them emphatically not to call the police on the students. The gentlemen talked about the vacant houses across the street from them that are owned by Claflin that are checked on at least once per day by Claflin security officers.

They spoke of how Claflin aggressively approached the homeowners to purchase their homes, knocking on doors and asking if they wanted to sell. Robert and a few others declined to sell and sadly are the only ones left on the block.

We guess, in hindsight, that the university administration believes that these human beings would be considered to be “collateral damage” and the price of doing business.

Our hearts go out to them and we pray that they will find some peace and a soft place to fall when their “forever home” no matter how modest is taken away.

We worry that the mayor and city council have set a dangerous precedent by closing a portion of a city street. The decision will come back to haunt them and future councils when a request is made to close portions or full city streets for one reason or another.

These requests will come on a case-by-case basis with this case being the first example. The mayor and city council must be fair and treat everyone the same regardless of personal likes, dislikes, friendships, memberships, affiliations and outside interests that are tugging at your heart strings.

The mayor and city council Members must never forget their total unwavering obligation and responsibility is to vote on behalf of the citizens of the City of Orangeburg.

Greggory Phillips and Linda Phillips are from Orangeburg.

#lee-rev-content { margin:0 -5px; } #lee-rev-content h3 { font-family: inherit!important; font-weight: 700!important; border-left: 8px solid var(–lee-blox-link-color); text-indent: 7px; font-size: 24px!important; line-height: 24px; } #lee-rev-content .rc-provider { font-family: inherit!important; } #lee-rev-content h4 { line-height: 24px!important; font-family: “serif-ds”,Times,”Times New Roman”,serif!important; margin-top: 10px!important; } @media (max-width: 991px) { #lee-rev-content h3 { font-size: 18px!important; line-height: 18px; } }

#pu-email-form-daily-email-article { clear: both; background-color: #fff; color: #222; background-position: bottom; background-repeat: no-repeat; padding: 15px 0 20px; margin-bottom: 40px; border-top: 4px solid rgba(0,0,0,.8); border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0,0,0,.2); display: none; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article, #pu-email-form-daily-email-article p { font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, “Segoe UI”, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif, “Apple Color Emoji”, “Segoe UI Emoji”, “Segoe UI Symbol”; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article h2 { font-size: 24px; margin: 15px 0 5px 0; font-family: “serif-ds”, Times, “Times New Roman”, serif; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .lead { margin-bottom: 5px; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .email-desc { font-size: 16px; line-height: 20px; margin-bottom: 5px; opacity: 0.7; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article form { padding: 10px 30px 5px 30px; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .disclaimer { opacity: 0.5; margin-bottom: 0; line-height: 100%; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .disclaimer a { color: #222; text-decoration: underline; } #pu-email-form-daily-email-article .email-hammer { border-bottom: 3px solid #222; opacity: .5; display: inline-block; padding: 0 10px 5px 10px; margin-bottom: -5px; font-size: 16px; } @media (max-width: 991px) { #pu-email-form-daily-email-article form { padding: 10px 0 5px 0; } } .grecaptcha-badge { visibility: hidden; }

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>