Friday, November 30, 2012

Spread Your Holiday Cheer Here

Do you remember the scene in the movie A Christmas Story that shows little Ralphie and the family in their downtown gazing in wonder at the toy display in the window of the department store? When I was a kid my hometown had a department store just like the one in Ralphie’s hometown called Globman’s. It was just down the street from a family owned shoe store named McCollum – Ferrell. I hated them both. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, that could ruin a seven year old child’s Saturday faster than being dragged to Globman’s and McCollum-Ferrell on a family shopping trip.

Globman’s was founded in my hometown in 1915, and McCollum –Ferrell started selling shoes in 1947. I wish I could tell you that these fine old stores, where store clerks knew their customers by their first name, believed that the customer was always right, and led the way in the community by supporting area charities, were still in business. They are not. They were both killed by the shopping mall that I and my friends hung out at in high school. After the shopping mall killed these two generations-old family businesses, it proceeded in serial killer fashion to wipe out other downtown stores as well.

Shopping, which we all know is not the reason for the holiday season, plays a critical part of our holiday celebrations. While the main street in the town I grew up in is eerily reminiscent of an old western ghost town haunted by tumbleweeds and lost fortunes, the businesses in our city are still alive and kicking. Here in Clinton you can walk into any number of businesses and be greeted by name. Store owners strike up a conversation about your family, football, or any number of interests. Store owners give to local charities, sponsor your child’s youth sports team, champion causes such as the United Way, and cheer the football team to victory on Friday night right alongside you.

They survive only because you choose to shop there, and when you stop shopping there, they will go out of businesses. Stop and think for a moment what our city would be like if downtown were dead. Does anyone really want to live in a dead city? Do you think a major employer would choose to build a new manufacturing plant in a town that had no shops, no restaurants, no community pride or no community spirit?  

Many times citizens will approach me or a member of my staff and tell us about a business in another town that they wish would locate here. Our shopping habits may actually be preventing those businesses from locating here.  As long as we are willing to travel to another town to be a patron of a business in that town, then that business will not choose to locate here. Why would they invest tens of thousands of dollars in building and opening a new store when we, their customers, are perfectly willing to get in our car and drive up to fifty miles to buy their goods or eat in their restaurant?

I know that as you read this you are pinching your pennies to buy that special gift, pay for groceries, and cover travel costs to see far off relatives this holiday season. You are not alone in your penny pinching because your neighbors, who own and work in businesses in our town, are doing the same. I know you are seeking out the best online deals and waiting in long lines at the mall to get a few percentage points off the price. I know you have to do that, because money is tight. My wife and I are doing it too. Do your neighbor a favor, and take a moment to stop in a local business this holiday season. My family will be doing some of Christmas shopping locally this year. You might be surprised at what you will find in a local store. There are good deals, perfect gifts, great services, and delicious meals to be had right here in our city. I know it is unreasonable to expect anyone to spend all of their money here but do yourself and the business community a favor and just check out a local business out this season.

Protecting our local business community is a two way street. Business owners must recognize that their competition is global. A local business isn’t competing with another local business located on the same street, but instead they are competing with hundreds of retailers in Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia, Greenwood, and Newberry, and they are competing with the thousands of retailers that can be found online with the click of a button. Business owners must look for innovative ways to partner with each other to provide competitive value for our citizens, and that means being open, working together, and supporting events that your city puts on to bring customers to your doorstep. It also means working with your local government to help us find ways to partner to make you successful.

During the holiday season we all reminisce fondly about holidays past, which is what led me to think about the old stores in my hometown and how much I hated Saturday’s spent Christmas shopping as a kid.  I realize now how critical these family run businesses are to our city and to any city. Few things are more American than a family that builds the American dream over generations of managing a family business.  All that is left of the family businesses that were once Globman’s and McCollum Ferrell are their names etched into the marble fa├žades of the buildings they once occupied. The stores didn’t go out of business because of bad service, bad location, bad management or bad products. They closed their doors because the communities they supported and staked their names and reputations on for decades stopped supporting them. We let them down. We looked the other way when they needed us the most. We worried about saving a dime and ended up paying thousands of dimes in tax money to support laid of store clerks and to try and salvage downtown storefronts. We failed.

This holiday season take the advice of the Chamber of Commerce and Shop Laurens County First. Your neighborhood business owners have invested in our city and now is the time for us to do the same. We have the ability to keep our city’s businesses alive, keep our communities vibrant and the ability to show other business that this is a great place to locate. All you have to do is do some of your shopping locally, and by shopping locally you can ensure that our community has a very happy (and profitable) holiday season.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Story You Don't Want to Be A Part Of...

I’ve come to realize that every firefighter, whether full time, part time, volunteer, or public safety officer assigned to the fire division, has a story. Anyone who has been riding in those big red trucks long enough has had a signature experience, or experiences, that continues to propel them and motivate them as they work in the fire department. I’m lucky because over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to hear many of those stories; some heartwarming, some heartbreaking, all inspiring. If you are ever lucky enough to hear their stories, you will realize how lucky we are that there is a class of people who train daily to run inside a burning building when others run out. You may also come to the conclusion, as I have, that you never want to be a character in a firefighter’s story.

Every firefighter has a story about a confused or distracted driver who doesn’t know what to do when they see a fire truck coming. If the lights and siren are on, then that fire truck is on its way because someone called for help. The firefighters in the truck are doing their absolute best to respond quickly and safely to the scene and they need you to help them out by moving out of the lane of traffic so they can get by. You must yield to the emergency vehicle, so pull to the road shoulder if possible. If you are in an intersection and in the middle lane and pulling to the road shoulder is not an option, then stop, and allow the fire truck to pass you on the right or left. Keep your foot on the brake pedal so that your brake lights are lit because this may give the driver of the fire truck an indication that you are aware that they are behind you. Take steps to avoid being the story that the fire fighters will tell back at the station about the car that cut them off or blocked their way when they were trying to get to a fire.

Every fire fighter has a story about a structure fire. Some stories involve leaving a hot pan on the stove too long. Some stories tell tales of people who carelessly used a space heater by placing it too close to a chair or curtains. And some stories, the most heartbreaking ones, involve those persons who could’ve been saved if only they had a working smoke detector in their home. These simple little devices cost less than twenty dollars and can save your life by alerting you to a fire. Once you have smoke detectors you need to be sure to change the batteries in them so they will continue to work correctly. A good rule of thumb is to change the battery when you change your clock in the spring and fall. If you didn’t change your smoke detector battery last weekend, then stop reading this and change out the batteries in the smoke detectors in your home.

Every firefighter has a story about arriving just in time to save someone. It may be pulling a person out of a burning building, but most of the time it is about being there as a medical first responder or rescuing a victim trapped in a crushed car. What if it was your grandpa in the burning building, your child who stopped breathing, or your mom trapped in the car? How much would you pay to save them? How much would you pay to make sure that there was team of highly trained professionals with the right equipment ready to come at a moment’s notice to help grandpa, your child, or mom? That’s what your tax dollars are for. We work hard to pinch every penny but we all need to work together to fund emergency services so that the firefighter’s story doesn’t include a tale associated with the loss of life due to lack of training or equipment failure.

As the weather gets colder our Department of Public Safety experiences an increase in call volumes associated with fires. This winter please take the steps needed to make sure you are never playing a leading role in a firefighter’s story.

Ladder 1 is a "quint". It is designed to do the work of two trucks by providing a ladder for working on tall buildings and also providing pumping capcaity to fight any size fire. Purchasing a "quint" is a cost effective way to get additional fire fighting capability for our commuity. A federal grant paid a portion of the cost, saving the city over $300,000 of the cost of this vehicle.


Public Safety personnel at the scene of a residential apartment fire casued by a cooking stove.

Coffee Makes Life Better

We started something new last week at the municipal center. We moved the coffee pot out into the lobby so you could have some too. It takes me about two cups to get going in the morning, and the staff felt that you might need a cup to keep you going strong all day as well. It surprised me though that a few of our citizens were skeptical of the coffee pot.

On more than one occasion, customers expressed the thought that by providing a cup of coffee we might be getting ready to change some things about the way we do business. We might be planning to increase a fee or do something else to make your life harder. Our goal is to make the quality of life in our town better, not more difficult.

Our electric utility operation is in the business of making life better. Every day, every week, every year since the early 1900s when our electric utility operations began, the City of Clinton’s Department of Public Works has powered our days and nights.

From that morning cup of hot coffee, which you can now get in our lobby,  to the late-night television news—and all the hours in-between—we keep the power flowing. 

Just a generation or two ago, people still marveled at electricity’s uses and improvements to their lives.  After all, it wasn’t until the 1940s that our country was fully electrified. 

Now we take for granted the contributions that electricity makes to America’s economy and infrastructure.  But just think about what a day without electricity would be like for you—and think how long that day would be for your children or grandchildren.

The City of Clinton’s electric system is known in the industry as a “public power” utility.  It’s one of about 2,000 utilities across the country that have been created as community-owned, hometown enterprises.  They are operated by local governments as a public service, with the mission of providing electricity in a safe, efficient, and reliable manner and with proper protection of the environment. 

The public power formula provides numerous advantages for our utility.  First, we are driven by public service, not profit.  Secondly, we exist to serve you – our fellow citizens, friends and neighbors.  Our loyalty is to our customers – not stockholders. We take pride in helping to make Clinton a good place to live and work. We are accountable to you, not to a management and board of directors in another city or country.

Unlike private utility providers, a public utility such as ours conducts all business in an open and transparent process. We follow democratic principles, with the City Council creating our utility policies. Citizens and utility customers are invited to attend a City Council meeting which occurs on the first Monday of each month at 6:00 PM in the City Council Chambers located on the second floor of the M. S. Bailey Municipal Center at 211 North Broad Street.

The City of Clinton and the Department of Public Works work diligently every day to provide reliable electricity. We have been recognized by the American Public Power Association with the RP3 award for meting high standards when it comes to safety, reliability, and long term management of our utility operations. Clinton provides highly reliable power to commercial and residential customers. Our reliability numbers are some of the highest in the region.

When the power does go out, you can rest assured that our utility crews are quickly responding to the issue. Regardless of the time of day or the weather, our personnel are going to report to work and repair your distribution system. Often, our utility employees are leaving their homes and families in the dark so they can work to restore power to your home, family, and business.

You can rest assured that the City of Clinton will continue to provide reliable electricity—and deliver it to you instantaneously, day or night.   We hope we can also rest assured that you will continue to support of public power as an American tradition that works in the public interest here in Clinton, South Carolina.