County administrator in the final lap

The fire is fading. It’s time to go home. After almost 28 years, I will retire shortly from the position of Laurens County Administrator. It has been a privilege and a distinct honor to serve the county of my birth for most of my professional life. I am not exactly sure of what I will do in retirement but I am sure it will be within the confines of Lake Greenwood and the Enoree River. This is my home and I am not leaving. My good friend and colleague Jim Coleman calculated that I have attended more than 600 council meetings since I began this job in mid-1988. Looking back, I believe I have missed one full meeting and two half meetings. I spent the one fully missed meeting in a bar in Key West, Florida. For the two halves, I served as a pall bearer during one and awaited the birth of my last grandchild during the other. I am not foolish enough and hopefully not arrogant enough to claim credit for all of the progress Laurens County has made during the last quarter century. Collectively, we have come a long way in the areas of emergency services, economic development, law enforcement and detention services and in the county’s basic ability to answer questions and to respond to requests. These improvements have been the result of constant and tireless work by elected officials, staff and the citizens of this county who have provided the resources. It is a huge mistake in public life to forget why there is a public life. We serve the citizens and they deserve our best effort. It is very difficult to recognize and thank all of those who have helped me along the way. I have been fortunate to work for and with a number of County Council members through the years. I particularly want to thank the men who have served as chairman during my tenure. I consider the late Hugh Jacobs, Joe Babb, Gene Madden, Don Jackson, Joe Edwards, Jim Coleman and current Chairman Joe Wood as close friends and mentors through the years. Laurens County has always benefitted from dedicated staff and I wish I could thank each one personally. I do want to thank particularly long-time Clerk to Council Betty Walsh, retired Director of Public Works Scott Holland, County Attorney Sandy Cruickshanks and current long-time staff members Joey Avery and Bill Wilson for putting up with my mood swings, bad decisions and occasional foul language through the years. I owe so much to so many more and you all have my eternal gratitude. I cannot end this without pointing to some things that Laurens County has not done well during my service. Rates of pay for country employees continue to lag and the county’s fiscal condition, while still healthy, will decline as fund balances dwindle. However, the most disturbing issue to me is my county’s inability or, more to the point, unwillingness to plan for its future. I have heard enough hogwash and lies over the years about the innate evil of long-term planning. As King Dixon and others are courageously pointing out, there are very real reasons why our county is losing population and has difficulty sustaining retail development. We have met the enemy and they is us. I hasten to add that the basic good in this county far outweighs our setbacks and difficulties. Someone observed once that you don’t really see the good will in a community until you have a child married or a loved one buried. I have done both and the Laurens County community responded with support that my family would have received nowhere else. I retire, happily, to the care and good grace of the women in my life. My mother, Sarah Segars, is going strong at 93. Ever supportive and always willing to share an opinion with her only son, she thrives in the company of her great-grandchildren. My two sisters, Mary Workman and Lindy Segars, love their only brother very much. I don’t tell them enough how much they mean to me. I miss my late father, Bob Segars, every day. He died in 2010 and all our family aches for him. My daughter, Brooks Gaylord, is in her mid-30’s now and enjoys a very successful life as a corporate attorney and mother of three. Our pride in our only child is boundless and she continues to break my heart as I remember her as a thin six-year old in a $100 ballet costume that did not quite fit. I have never given my wife, Jeanette, enough credit for supporting me and holding our family together. She saved my life in the 1970’s and she sustains it now. I love her very much. Finally, our three grandchildren continue to enrich our lives. Paul, the youngest, will be a year old at the end of April. He grins most of the time and he has a mean left hook that can send a pair of glasses flying across the room. It was my task to watch him the other day and he was trying to unplug a lamp when I finally caught up. The twins, Sarah Brooks and Patricia, make my heart ache. Neither dominates her sister and their personalities delight and enrich. Sarah Brooks, always dressed in purple, puts her hands on her hips and waggles her finger at her irreverent grandfather. My heartthrob, Patricia, prefers basketball to ballet and denim to lace. They are both playing T-ball this spring so I know where we will be on Monday nights. Thank you, Laurens County. And so long. It’s been a great run. No, one hell of a run. (Ernie Segars is the retiring Laurens County Administrator and former associate editor of The Clinton Chronicle.)

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