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Pawleys Island: Nine employees share three rooms and one plaque

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Along with its tradition of honoring the town’s top citizen, the Pawleys Island Civic Association has a tradition of springing the award on the unwary. Mayor Bill Otis, former Police Chief, Guy Osborne and Linwood Altman, the association’s founder and president, have all been unsuspecting recipients.

This year, the annual meeting of the civic association was a gottcha moment for nine people: the town’s paid staff. Seven police officers, the town clerk and the assistant to the mayor were named Citizens of the Year. They attended the meeting thinking they were there just to see Mike Fanning sworn in as the new police chief.

“These people are so much to this town,” said Howard Ward, a civic association board member. “They represent the voice, the eyes, the ears and the compassion of this island. They’re here 24/7. Their hearts are always in the right place.”

“Oh, wow,” said Town Clerk Diane Allen, who was seated in the front row of the Pawleys Island Chapel next to Linda Abate, assistant to the mayor.

“That was really sweet of you guys,” said Sgt. Clayton Naar, a former Detroit cop who is the town’s longest serving employee at 13 years. “It surprised the hell out of me.”

“I’ve never seen a group of people work together more and take their job so seriously,” said Ward, who was the first Citizen of the Year recipient in 2005. “This is the town of Pawleys Island. This is what makes it work day in and day out.”

While the association’s annual meeting is usually an informal affair, the change in command of the police department gave it a sense of ceremony. Osborne and Fanning both wore dress blue uniforms instead of the polo shirts and shorts that they wear on patrol.

“I’ve worn a uniform since I was 11 years old,” Osborne told the audience of about 200. “I was a crossing guard at my school.”

Then came the Boy Scouts, the Army and police work.

“I’ve never been associated with a police department anywhere in the state of South Carolina, and I’ve travelled extensively in my 42 years as a police officer, I’ve never had the reception that I’ve had here and the help that I’ve received from this town and its civic association,” Osborne said.

After Otis administered the oath of office to Fanning, Osborne pinned a badge on the new chief. “I’ll try not to stick you, buddy,” Osborne said.

With a salute and a handshake, leadership of the department changed hands.

“I have been welcomed with open arms by everybody,” Fanning said. “Even though I don’t sound like y’all, I really feel like I am a Pawleys Islander.”

Fanning is a native New Yorker who retired after 20 years with the NYPD.

With Osborne’s departure, the town has one vacant position in the police department. A part-time officer who filled in for vacations or special events recently took a full-time job out of the county. Fanning said he is looking at the staffing level to make sure the town can maintain round-the-clock coverage with its own officers.

“I would like to replace the open position,” he said.

He is working through the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office to get laptop computers for the town’s patrol cars. That will cut the time it takes to get information, such as vehicle registrations. And he has suggested the town take another look at traffic cameras, which could record vehicles entering and leaving the island and help solve burglaries and break-ins.

“For the amount of people who come to this island every week throughout the whole year, it’s really probably one of the safest places on earth,” Fanning told the civic association. “And I hope to keep it that way.”

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