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Life as a Small Town Mayor Was Interesting

EdgefieldDaily.com Guest Columnist
Part 3 of a 4-part short story

web posted December 10, 2007
CARL LANGLEY – Being a small town mayor in most places is not a very exciting job, so a mayor’s main job is finding something interesting enough in town to grab and keep his attention. You can only watch so many haircuts at the town’s one-chair barber shop or watch so many oil changes and tire repairs at the corner gas station before dullness sets in on a grand scale.

Not that it was all dull for me. I am the mayor I wrote about in the first three parts of this series and the miracle is that I survived the last two years, the most dreadful times in my life.

For at least six years into my two terms as mayor of New Ellenton I had to deal with the usual complaints about dogs in garbage cans, claims about speed traps and Saturday night drunks, but there came an awful day when I had to face an event that would test anyone’s spirit and soul.

The month of truth came with the killing of young Wally Slayton, a monstrous act that never would have happened but for the vanity of a young woman who developed a blood lust and gained a following of the town‘s worst idiots.

In the end, we all were able to say goodbye to her and the four jerks who followed her down the path of criminality. I hope that the horror they inflicted on my town will follow them to the grave. They will never deserve my sympathy or that of anyone else who loves and honors his fellow man.

The death of Wally Slayton was the low point of my tenure as mayor of New Ellenton, during which time I took pride in building a new town hall, renovating a civic center and paving a lot of streets. I also obtained funding for fencing at the local athletic field and to build a set of stands for the fans.

The young woman who masterminded the murder of the teen-aged boy was given a chance at a good life by a kind and gentle couple. Her adoptive mother and father attended the same church I did, and they were there every Sunday and were better churchgoers than me. Being good parents, they stood behind this murderess to the bitter end. I don’t fault them because at least they tried, unlike some of the parents of some of the others.

As I write this final part in my series of articles the young woman who chose a life of crime and murder is still behind bars after being sent to prison in late 1981, six months before I left office. I hope she stays there the rest of her life because this is one case where the justice system worked.

I, Carl Langley, entered the office of mayor after serving two years on the town council and I often wondered how I lasted. During my eight years as mayor my wife left me and I pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge. There were moments when I felt like taking to the road and disappearing but I couldn’t shame my parents or those who believed in me. I survived some awful setbacks in my life, but I must confess they had a terrible impact on my pride and confidence. Today, I am fully recovered and have a wonderful life with a great, intelligent lady. I haven’t had a drink in 25 years and have spent the last 20 years trying to help others, with my primary focus on saving the unfortunate dogs and cats who mean so much to our lives if we show them love and respect.

In looking back over the years, I must confess that I didn’t go out of office in a blaze of glory but with spasms of relief. If ever a man waited anxiously for his last day in public office it was me. I counted down the days. I also knew that I would be turning the town over to one of the most decent, honest and caring people it was my good fortune to call a friend.

Gene Whitman, a country boy from Alabama who came to New Ellenton several years before me, took over as mayor after I left office on the last day of April 1982. The voters made a wise choice when they elected my good friend Gene. He was a civic servant in the truest sense of the designation.

Gene had served eight years on council during my time as mayor and always was an advocate for doing the right thing. He took money from his own pocket to furnish needed items when the town treasury was short. He was one of the most honest men I have ever known, and I was proud to call him my friend.

On Memorial Day of 1985 I received word that Gene had taken ill on a trip to Charleston with his lovely wife, Peggy, a former president of the state Jaycettes. She brought him home and two days later he was diagnosed with the most virulent of all the dreaded blood cancers. The town would suffer after he died with a year left on his first term.

In the days following Gene's death I thought of how he stood by me in the hours after my car was burned, speaking out against the violence that had erupted in the town. His reward two nights after the car burning was to have his house shot into by night riders who could have killed his son.

The shotgun pellets ripped through a window on New Year's Eve 1980 and struck a wall across the room, but thankfully Gene's son was not in the room at the time. "These people are going to keep it up until they kill someone," Gene said at a meeting of the town council. His words were prophetic and turned into reality five months later.

During my time as mayor I met many people who could have done a better job of running the town than I did, but not one of them ever sought or held office. and most became offended when it was suggested that they seek office.

I once was told by a man who had served on council before me that everyone should have to spend at least one term on council or one term as mayor. “That would teach them a lesson,” the former councilman remarked. He had been a tank gunner in George Patton’s army during World War II and observed that it was an easier job than being a councilman.

I really respected that man and after two years on council and eight years as mayor I found what he had told me was true. Serving in public office in a small town, where you have to wear many hats, would be fitting punishment for some people, especially those critics who openly hint that they could do a better job.

With my departure and Gene’s death, New Ellenton fell into disgrace. A succeeding mayor obtained state funding for a sewer system, then ran roughshod over property owners while converting a lot of the taxpayer money to his personal use.

He was indicted for abusing the public trust, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to jail. He served only about two years and moved away from town. He should have been jailed for at least 10 years. I don’t think the town has ever fully recovered from the shambles he created.

I have often thought of my friend Gene and will maintain to my dying day that if he had lived New Ellenton would have seen all its promise come to fruition. Gene had great visions for his adopted town and he loved it with a passion. Not many who have lived there can make or justify by their deeds such a claim.

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