Pair see reason to get involved

Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Gene Smith (left), a new member of the New Ellenton City Council, and Richard Brancato, a member of the city's water commission, question their subdivision's 2005 annexation.

AIKEN --- Working in New Ellenton's city government wasn't what Gene Smith and Richard Brancato had in mind when they each decided to retire to Aiken County with their families.

But they say some decisions by the town's council persuaded them to get involved in local politics.

On March 25, Mr. Smith was elected to the New Ellenton City Council, and Mr. Brancato was elected to the city's water commission, each to a four-year term.

The two men said they hope to foster the idea of accountability in government and have more open meetings.

"A lot of things are done, and they aren't held accountable," Mr. Smith said.

Incumbent Mike Kellems and Daniel Braswell also were elected to the council, and Jackie Keenan and Charles Duval were elected to the water commission.

Mayor Vernon Dunbar said he welcomes the additions and looks forward to working with them.

"I hope they can provide some stability and expertise to what we're trying to accomplish in New Ellenton," he said. "I just hope they come in ready to work."

In June 2006, Mr. Smith, a retired police officer from Los Angeles, purchased property in the Three Runs Plantation subdivision, which is about 3.5 miles east of New Ellenton. It wasn't until November, when he and his wife received their substantial property tax bill, that the couple and the other residents of the subdivision discovered they were residents of New Ellenton.

The two men teamed up and went searching for answers regarding the city's 2005 annexation of the subdivision, which they say isn't legal under state law.

Looking into the issue convinced both men that retirement would have to wait.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Brancato decided that if they were going to be considered residents of New Ellenton and pay city taxes, they needed to get involved.

"If I'm going to be a part of the city, I want to be a part of a good city," Mr. Smith said.

"I want a closer working relationship between the city of New Ellenton council and the water commission," Mr. Brancato said. "They have independent meetings, which they are supposed to have, but they seem to work against each other rather than with each other."

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com