FLORENCE — In 20 years as a member of the Florence City Council, Sam Pendleton said his philosophy of representation was a simple one: “I said this seat belongs not to me, but to the people of District 1.”
In those two decades, the people of District 1 were heard clearly through Pendleton.
Pendleton, a retired teacher and former president of the Tri-County chapter of the NAACP, decided against seeking a sixth term last fall. Always outspoken when defending his district or championing what he believed was the right course for the city, his past 18 months in office were among his most fiery as the council faced some difficult decisions, which included closing the landfill and how to best use the former Florence Golf and Country Club, which is adjacent to the landfill. He also helped design the shape of his council district after the 2010 census, which became more racially diverse.
Pendleton is the TimesDaily’s news maker of the year.
As a minority representing a district that is largely black, Pendleton said having a place at the table when decisions are made is the most important part of the job. He never missed a scheduled council meeting.
“If I was to be elected, I must always be at the table,” he said. “I believe you cannot make a decision if you’re not at the table, and you can’t make a decision if you are absent.
“I knew the majority could always outvote me, so I used the rules to my advantage,” he said. “That’s why the rules are for the minority. I slowed the issues down and presented as many facts as I could to sway public opinion my way.”
Though he might find himself in the minority politically speaking, Pendleton said he knew that working with other members of the council was an equally important part of his job.
“As I got more experience and was able to work with councilmen on projects they wanted, I worked those council members who had common interests in the good of west Florence,” he said.
One of Pendleton’s most consistent allies on the council was Dick Jordan, who is now the council’s president.
“Down deep, Mr. Pendleton is sincere and he cares about Florence,” Jordan said. “He really wants to see his district and the people there succeed.”
Jordan’s downtown district abuts Pendleton’s west Florence district. The two men found plenty of common ground through the years.
Pendleton’s rhetoric can be fiery, and when he really wanted to emphasize a point, he could become a bit theatrical.
“With all his antics, that was the way he was able to get things done,” Jordan said. “He made improvements to the west Florence neighborhood — streetscapes, sidewalks, reducing crime.
“I respect Mr. Pendleton, but I did not always agree with him,” Jordan said. “But he was always my friend. We understood each other as people. He treated me with respect, and I treated him with respect. That’s what makes government work: You can disagree but still remain friends with one another.”
West Florence resident, the Rev. Billy Ray Simpson, has observed Pendleton through the years and learned from him. Simpson has twice run for public office, most recently in the 2012 mayor’s race. Simpson regularly attends council meetings.
“He’s been such a great and inspirational speaker to me in my short history in the political scene,” Simpson said. “The intelligence and boldness I’ve acquired came from him.”
Simpson said the west Florence community has earned new respect from the rest of the city because of Pendleton’s efforts on the council.
“Anything I can do to support Mr. Pendleton I will do because he has done so much for us,” he said.
Though Pendleton is no longer a member of the City Council, he said he is keeping busy.
“I’m still here helping people when they need help,” he said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.