Batesburg-Leesville Town Council swears in newest members

Bob Hall is sworn in as the new District 8 representative on Town Council.
Johnnie Mae Speach-Lemon affirms her oath of office as District 4 representative.

Three members of Batesburg-Leesville Town Council were sworn in and took their seats on the governing body Monday night, while an outgoing community servant defeated in last week’s municipal election was honored for his two decades in the local political arena.

Johnnie Mae Speach-Lemon was seated as the new representative for Town Council District 4, while Bob Hall assumed the District 8 seat. Incumbent Councilman Olin Gambrell, who ran unopposed to retain his District 2 seat, also was sworn in by Town Attorney Chris Spradley.

“I’m just ready to do my part,” said freshman Councilwoman Speach-Lemon, who defeated longtime incumbent Charles Simpkins in last week’s balloting. “I want to meet with my district to find out what their concerns are so I will know exactly what to present to the Council. I’m just ready to work and learn – because I know I have a lot to learn – and to just get involved and do what I can do.”

Sitting in the chair that had been occupied by outgoing Councilman Simpkins earlier in the evening, Councilwoman Speach-Lemon knows she has big shoes to fill. “It may be a little intimidating, but I think I’m going to be okay,” she said.

Outgoing Town Councilman Charles Simpkins accepts a recognition plaque from Mayor Lancer Shull.

The Rev. Simpkins, first elected to Town Council in 1999, earlier had gathered up his personal belongings as he left the dais and was presented an engraved plaque by Mayor Lancer Shull, recognizing his community service.

“It has been a wonderful, tremendous experience to serve as Councilman for District 4 for the past 20 years,” the Rev. Simpkins said after the meeting. “I look forward to continued progress and growth in our community with the new Council coming in, and I’m excited about the future of Batesburg-Leesville and feel great about being a part of its past.”

Meanwhile, new Councilman Hall finished Monday night’s meeting in the District 8 seat, which has been vacant since May when Councilwoman Megan Hallman resigned suddenly.

“I look forward to working with the other Council members to try to move this community forward,” the freshman Councilman said. “I’d like to see it grow. We need to increase our tax base. Money is the essential ingredient; it’s like sugar in a cake. I’d like to see more community involvement. This hall was full tonight, but for all the wrong reasons…We need people here who are going to get involved and help us move this community forward.”

A large crowd had gathered at Town Hall earlier to witness the passage of resolutions honoring the Batesburg-Leesville High School marching band for its successes during the most recent competition season, as well as the Batesburg-Leesville Mites and Termites youth football teams, who won their respective divisions in the Lexington County youth football league. Once the resolutions were passed and photo opportunities staged, a mass exodus ensued, and the gallery remaining to witness the rest of Town Council’s more mundane work thinned considerably.

Given the recent history of the District 8 seat, which has seen several resignations over the past four years, Councilman Hall is looking forward to bringing some longevity to the position.

“My wife and I have discussed the issue, and she has told me that I would be foolish if I burned my campaign signs.” he said with a sly grin.

Incumbent Town Councilman Olin Gambrell takes his oath of office again.

Two other political hopefuls whose campaign signs remain standing around Town were in the audience Monday, observing the night’s proceedings. District 6 candidates Christopher Derrick and Paul Wise, whose contest last week ended without a clear victor, will meet again in a runoff election scheduled for next Tuesday, Nov. 20.

The winner of that contest will succeed outgoing Councilwoman Susan Whittle, who was not in attendance Monday night.

In other action, Town Council voted to table action on the proposed first reading of a rezoning request for an eight-acre parcel near the west entrance to town at West Columbia Avenue, North Bethlehem Road and Russell Street. The property owner had requested rezoning from “Industrial District” to “General Residential” because a potential buyer for the property has expressed interest in establishing a new subdivision in the area.

However, Council members voted to delay action until a special work session could be held to discuss the rezoning. There is no word on when such a work session – most of which generally are not well-attended by the voting public – might be scheduled.

The meeting concluded with more disruptive theatrics by Councilman Steve Cain, who attempted to hijack the Town Manager’s monthly report by bringing up topics not germane to the topic but was called out of order by Mayor Shull. Councilman Cain, a physically much larger individual than the mayor, approached the mayor on the dais after the meeting, looming over him and spewing vulgarities. Councilman Cain, who has had previous run-ins with local law enforcement, later cornered the mayor in the narrow hallway in front of the restrooms, out of view of the Town Hall security cameras, and continued his attempts at physical intimidating the mayor.

Story by Tony Baughman / Published November 14, 2019