Swansea, SC (Paul Kirby) A huge crowd by Swansea standards packed the small council chambers between the town hall and the fire station as a historical changing of the guard was held last night. The crowd first filled the chairs, so the police department brought in more. Then they stood along the walls, and finally spilled outdoors into the little parking area. It was literally standing room only and more! If the fire marshal had shown up, certainly the whole thing would have been shut down, but no one cared. They all had gathered to watch Swansea’s version of the coronation of a new king.
As the meeting was called to order by Ray Spires, the man who had held the position of the town’s mayor for the past 17 years, the anticipation could be felt in the room. Most were dressed to impress in their finest Sunday attire as they squeezed in to the small room, and they scooted closer, not intent on comfort, rather where they could get the best view. Although Councilmember Linda Butler and Councilman Woodrow Davis had both been re-elected, and were being re-sworn for another term, you could tell the show that everyone had come for was the swearing in of the new mayor, Jerald Sanders.
Spires handled the meeting well. He quickly asked for and received a motion and second to approve the minutes of the last meeting. He advised the assembled crowd that they had decided that the changing of leadership was more important than any small measure of business they could address, and then the ceremonial oaths of office began.
Councilmember Butler was surrounded by family as a Bible was held, she raised her right hand and took the oath. There was a quiet applause as she returned to her spot at the head of the room and re-took the seat she had held for a number of years.
Next, Councilmember Woodrow Davis slowly rose from his seat. Sanders passed him his cane and he lumbered from the riser to the floor where his daughter, an ordained minister, administered his oath. Once again, family members had gathered around Davis as his infirmed legs held him steady during the proceedings. When his turn was complete, he also returned to the seat from which he had helped govern the town for a number of years; again, a quiet, but consistent applause arose.
Finally, and without cue, Jerald Sanders rose from the dais, made his way down front, and took his spot near the US and SC flags that had been placed there. He was a commanding figure in a dark suit, blue satin tie, and matching satin handkerchief coming out of his breast pocket. He had explained earlier that the blue was the color of his fraternity at Allen University, one of several schools he has studied at over his life. Sanders' family surrounded him, and he placed his left hand on the Bible, raised his right, and promised to uphold the constitution of the land, the laws of the state, and to keep the peace in Swansea, all while doing his best to lead the town forward over the next four years.
As his hand slowly returned to his side, a thunderous applause arose from the room as Sanders returned to the riser. He stopped, thanked Spires for his service, and presented him with a small gift in appreciation for his service to the community. It was very amicable, a peaceful passing of the torch.
Spires spoke for a brief moment, thanking the council and the town for his seventeen years at the helm. “I would not trade this experience for anything in the world,” Spires told the crowd. He said that his door was always open if they ever needed him or his advice, and then he quietly sat down in a chair that had been recently vacated by Sanders.
What made this small gathering so historical was the tenure of Spires.. Some have showed him love for years, others blamed him for a lack of leadership, while still others blamed ever ill the small town has experienced on him. Over his 17 years as mayor, there have been some successes, but there have also been several investigations, charges, a mountain of debt, a payment plan to begin the eradication of that debt, and some would acknowledge a little progress too. No matter your feelings about Ray Spires, at this point, no one has proven he’s guilty of any misdeeds or crimes.. He went out gracefully, inviting everyone to stay and enjoy some refreshments.
On a recent appearance of Good Morning Lexington county, Spires laid many of the town’s problems squarely at the feet of the council and others. He said that the didn’t want leadership, they wanted someone who would do everything for them while they sat back and watched from the bleacher seats; a workhorse who would complete every job and task while they were happy to absorb the credit and the love and respect of the voters every four years at the polls.
Now it’s Tuesday, November 21, 2017. There’s a new mayor and it’s a new day in Swansea. In the coming months, Sanders has promised to look at the town’s records closely to see if the smoke that arose from Spire’s tenure was just smoke or if somewhere underneath there was some fire. That remains to be seen. We will cover the future just as we have the past.
A special election will have to be held in the town to fill the seat of Sanders on council. Filing for that will be announced by the county’s election board some time in the future.