"Change" - the buzz word of 2008 - came early to Fort Mill.
After 24 years under Mayor Charlie Powers, the town had a new leader. Danny Funderburk took over the center chair on town council in January. Among his campaign promises was to bring more residents into town government. Upon taking office, he moved quickly to set up seven new boards, commissions and task teams to tackle various issues facing Fort Mill.
"Fort Mill has always been populated by talented individuals who have a strong interest in giving back to the community," Funderburk wrote in an e-mail to the Fort Mill Times. "We're also benefiting from our growth, which is bringing an influx of new people who also have talent and a similar desire to contribute.
"We needed to create more opportunities for people to serve. So we took a hard look at Fort Mill's challenges and acted to help address them by creating seven new boards, commissions and task teams. We've successfully expanded the opportunities to serve for any of our citizens possessing the time, talent and inclination to do so."
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Among the new bodies are the Arts Commission, a Fort Mill Hall of Fame Commission, a Parks and Recreation Commission and the Veterans Memorial Park Task Force. They have been working on things such as the town's renovation plans for the unused theater on Main Street, creating a hall of fame for Fort Mill's notable residents, organizing a bike race through downtown and creating a veterans memorial park.
While a multitude of citizens' committees have been functioning for years in nearby Tega Cay, until this year - with the exception of the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Historical Review Board and the Housing Authority Board - all of Fort Mill's committees had been made up of town council members.
"It's been proven over time that expanding our appreciation of the arts creates a very positive impact on our quality of life," Funderburk wrote. "I think putting a group of talented people together to help us develop an arts and cultural strategy was an easy decision for council to make."
He's more pragmatic than ideologue.
"While I'm conservative on many issues, I feel I've demonstrated a progressive attitude on many others," he wrote. "The bottom line is, I'm open-minded enough to realize that, depending on the issue or situation, I may need some combination of any number of strategies in order to be effective."
A native of Fort Mill, Funderburk worked with a number of civic organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, Move Fort Mill Forward and the Masonic Lodge, prior to running for the Ward 4 Town Council seat, and then for mayor. He takes pride in his hometown and views his public service as a logical extension of his efforts to "keep this town one of the best places in the world to live and work."
Some feathers ruffled
But some of the change Funderburk brought ruffled a few feathers in town early in his first year on the job. In May, a new town-sponsored festival, Springfest, ousted the long-running Fest-i-Fun from its spot as the town's premier festival. Fest-i-Fun was run by an independent group and took over Main Street for three days during the first weekend in May. Springfest moved the festivities to Walter Y. Elisha Park on North White Street and condensed it into a single day.
Funderburk recounted how during his mayoral campaign he came across several people who wanted to see improvements made to Fest-i-Fun. In researching ways to do that he found "a number of insurance, liability and public safety issues," he said.
"It was decided the town would take back ownership of the event and implement a concept focusing on food and music. Working with the Close family, we addressed many of the public safety concerns by moving from Main Street to Elisha Park. We also eliminated the carnival hawkers, mechanical rides and for-profit food peddlers and turned the food vending over to our churches and nonprofits."
The result was better food and more money staying in the community, Funderburk said. By nearly all accounts, Springfest was a success and the town is now working on next year's festival.
Funderburk's first year also saw the completion of the annexation of several properties owned by Clear Springs Development and other Springs-related holdings and the annexation of the Kanawha project, which will include a new York County Museum and a sustainable development along Sutton Road at I-77. Together, the projects more than doubled the town's geographic footprint.
That, too, was not without controversy.
"I think once you accept the inevitability of growth and the development of the property, it only makes sense to bring it inside the town limits," Funderburk told the Fort Mill Times. "Clear Springs and Kanawha proposed the annexation of their properties in an effort to develop efficiently and appropriately. They had every intention of developing their property, and would have developed it whether we annexed them or not.
"By annexing, we gained considerable control of how and where the development would take place and, to an extent, when it would take place. Furthermore, the plans they presented were healthy plans; designed to provide Fort Mill a mix of retail, commercial and industrial uses that will work against the usual fiscal impact often caused by residential development.
The plan calls for infrastructure to be paid for by tap fees and municipal Improvement districts. Roads will be widened and/or built at their expense, and they'll be held to a high standard in leaving large amounts of open space and greenways for the public. In fact, the development agreements Clear Springs and Kanawha proposed were in near perfect concert with the comprehensive plan we had just invested $150,000 to write. In Clear Springs alone, the projected net gain to the town over the life of the project will be $102 million dollars while the net to the School district will be approximately $139 million."
Funderburk is proud of all the town's accomplishments, but two that really stand out during 2008 are creating a strategic planning calendar and advancing "volunteerism" among Fort Mill residents. He also convinced the council of the need to hold a monthly workshop meeting in addition to the regular council meeting, and to hold quarterly planning meetings.
Downtown revitalization efforts, begun under Powers, are continuing as well. This year workers cut down the street trees on Main Street and installed several crosswalks, hanging flower baskets and new traffic signals. More work is scheduled and Funderburk wants the effort to become an ongoing capital project that the council would budget funds for every year.
As the year drew to a close, Funderburk found himself the subject of scorn from all corners of the globe as news came that he had forwarded an e-mail about then Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and the possibility that he is the biblical Antichrist from his personal e-mail account to a small group of family and friends. He did not add any comments to the message, which had been circulating on the Internet for several months by that point, and said he was curious about the content of the e-mail because of a recent discussion among that group regarding the same issue.
In the days following a published story about Funderburk forwarding the e-mail, the phones at Town Hall were flooded with calls, and angry e-mails were arriving in droves at the Times.
The story was referred to on a multitude of online discussion boards and even showed up on the HuffingtonPost.com and on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim message board.
Funderburk apologized publicly at the next council meeting and said he was sorry for sending e-mails about other candidates as well.
"I'm sorry for the discomfort that the forwarding of the e-mail caused my family, my friends and any Fort Mill citizens who were genuinely affected in any negative way by the forwarding of the e-mail," he wrote. "I do recognize that people will closely scrutinize the actions of public officials and the forwarding of such e-mails is a bad practice. I will refrain from that practice in the future."
He tries not to dwell on regrets but rather on doing better in the future.
"I offer this item for consideration: a great quotation by J. Lubbock in which he states, 'When we have done our best, we should wait the result in peace,'" Funderburk wrote.