Dr. Carolyn Prince is humbled and overwhelmed by the people who came out to vote for her as mayor in November.
Prince was sworn in as the first African-American mayor for the City of Bennettsville at a noon ceremony on Jan. 2.
She admitted she wouldn’t have won without the support of people coming together.
“I don’t think they saw color,” she said. “They had trust and confidence in who I am, what I stand for and how I live my life. I didn’t ask people to contribute but I got contributions from people.”
Recently, one of her good friends died. But before that, he had called her to tell her that his 94-year-old sister in Washington, D.C. wanted to donate money to Prince’s campaign.
“She said she had lived to see President Obama (become president) and she lived to see an African-American mayor of Bennettsville,” Prince said.
Before she was elected mayor, Prince was a member of the Marlboro County Council for 19 years. Eight of those years were as chairperson.
Currently, she serves on the Executive Committee of the Pee Dee Council of Government and has done so for eight years and the last five as vice-chairperson.
She retired as a longtime educator from Marlboro County Schools at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Life of service
Helping others and giving back to the community was instilled in Prince by her family — her father, mother and grandmother.
“They saw a need and had the talent and resources to make a difference,” Prince said about them.
In her home church, her grandmother was the backbone of the church. If there were families who didn’t show up for church, Prince said her grandmother would ride around the next day to see if they were sick or in need.
Her mother taught school and was active in the church, the Sunday School, and the Eastern Star.
Her great grandmother was one of the founding women for the Eastern Star.
“This is what they did,” she said. “Children learn what they see. I try to help and do whatever I can.”
Prince said she does not call herself a politician.
“I call myself a public servant,” she said.
Prince is following in the path set by her ancestors.
“This is all I know. I have been blessed to have all of my needs taken care of one way or another,” she said. “I have always done things by faith.”
Bennettsville has a council-administrator type of government. City Administrator Max Alderman runs the day to day operations of the city.
Prince said she sees herself as facilitating the city council meeting and trying to create opportunities for the city to work together.
This is why some of her goals include more training and completing a strategic plan for the city.
“When you are small and rural and have limited income or contingency fund, you have to make strategic decisions,” Prince said. “It is important that the mayor and city council work together so we are making the best decisions for our resources.”
Prince felt like the six key initiatives from the county’s recent strategic plan presented at the recent Chamber of Commerce and County Business After Hours hit on things that are important to the city and the county. One thing is Destination Marlboro, which would be a marketing campaign to attract new residents to Marlboro County.
“People are ready to look at things we can do together,” she said.
The city and county have not always had a good relationship and she admitted she did not understand all the dynamics of it.
“It was in the past,” she said. “Let’s learn from the past and move forward. We are too small, too poor, and too rural to duplicate services. If we want to promote the county and city, Destination Marlboro makes sense.
Prince was adamant when she said the county was going to have a free-standing emergency department in the future.
Some inroads have been made by talking with administrators at Scotland Health, legislators and others to help change the state regulations that currently prohibit hospital systems outside a 30-mile radius of the county and the North Carolina hospital systems from establishing a mini-hospital in the county.
The goal is to move forward with the initiative when the General Assembly goes back in session. To achieve the free-standing emergency department, the General Assembly would have to pass a variance to allow this to happen in the county.
“We are not giving up on that because we do need a free-standing emergency room,” Prince said.
Other goals include having the city council come together and be a strong cohesive team, complete a strategic plan, be good stewards of the financial resources, and provide more transparency to citizens.
Prince also wants to have involvement from young people in the strategic planning process to make the city better for them.
She felt the city officials need to work with Marlboro County School District and the county to bring more appropriate jobs here.
The quality of life for people is very important to her.
“The cavalry is not coming to save us,” Prince said. “We are going to have to work to save ourselves. I see the city and county looking at ways we can rebrand ourselves to get people to come here to work, to retire here or stop here on the way to the beach.”
Editor’s note: the swearing-in ceremony occurred after this edition was sent to the press. Photos from the occasion will appear in next week’s edition.