While he realizes that infrastructure upgrades aren’t the most eye-catching headlines for a local community, Lander alumnus Blake Stone, city manager of Abbeville, South Carolina, insists they’re some of the most essential.
The core functions of local government, according to Stone, are those things we don’t see—those things that happen beneath our feet and above our heads, or in the early morning hours while most people are still asleep. Water lines, power lines and public sanitation. Behind these public services is a hardworking team of professionals at the City of Abbeville, with Stone at the helm.
Since becoming city manager in 2017, making significant investments in those public services is what Stone is most proud of. The City of Abbeville’s Community Development Department, which was implemented under Stone’s leadership, has so far helped the city acquire over $6 million in grants for these services over the past five years.
“We’ve been able to complete some fairly large infrastructure projects that have been nagging issues for the city, including the renovation of our waste water treatment plant,” Stone said. That project alone required $4 million in funding. The city has also invested close to a million dollars into its hydro-electric power plant, and is coming up close on investing over $2 million on the replacement of its water line that runs beneath the city’s Main Street.
“And we’ve been able to invest over $600,000 into our opera house,” Stone added, which is run in partnership with the Abbeville Community Performing Arts Foundation (ACPA). The city’s main departments are also housed inside the opera house building, which hosts concerts, musicals, plays and other special events throughout the year. It’s located in the heart of the city’s historic downtown district, known by locals as “the Square” because of its iconic square layout and home to several locally owned boutiques and restaurants. Abbeville is a small community of only 5,500 residents, “but it punches way above its weight limit,” Stone said.
His passion for Abbeville stems from the fact that he is an Abbeville native himself. After finishing his B.S. in Political Science, Public Administration Emphasis at Lander, he went on to receive his Master of Public Administration from Clemson University, while also completing an internship under Abbeville’s previous city manager, David H. Krumwiede. After finishing his education, he stayed on as Krumwiede’s assistant city manager before taking his current post as the city’s top executive. “Mr. Krumwiede did a lot for me, and the City of Abbeville,” Stone said. “I’m thankful for his mentorship and for his service to Abbeville.”
While there are pros and cons to working in the community you grew up in, Stone says the pros far outweigh the cons. “Since I have a lot of connections in the community, I’m able to see the effects of the things we implement,” Stone said. Those personal connections with friends and neighbors—people he’s known his whole life in some cases—gives him a unique perspective of how the city’s progress impacts the lives of the people who live in Abbeville. Stone says those same friends and neighbors are always reliable for “a lot of good feedback, and good constructive criticism, too.”
But aside from passion, Stone says it was his education from Lander that laid the groundwork for a successful career in public administration. He valued the personal attention that he received from Lander’s faculty, and the support they gave him while he was considering what the next steps would be after graduating Lander. “At Lander, you get that personal touch,” Stone said. “They were really invested in me as an individual and my growth as a student thereafter.”
Among those professors who put Stone on his current career path was Dr. Lucas McMillan, professor of political science and dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Lander, who also helped coordinate an internship opportunity for Stone with a local member of the South Carolina General Assembly. “Not only did Blake work in the member’s local office,” said McMillan, “but also went to Columbia to work in his Statehouse office and see the workings of government.”
Dr. Kimberly Richburg, associate professor of political science at Lander who served as Stone’s academic advisor, remembers Stone’s “insightful” contributions to class discussions and learning experiences. “It was an absolute pleasure to have such an exceptional student in our learning environment,” said Richburg. “It was obvious that Blake was bound for successful future career endeavors.”
Those class discussions are what Stone says he valued most from his time at Lander—the chance to have meaningful conversations with students and faculty, as well as guest speakers and civic leaders who are routinely hosted on campus by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Among other things, such as public speaking and research methods, Stone says that thoughtful civil discourse was a vital core skill he learned as a student at Lander, and one that is essential for those working in public administration.
“It’s okay for two individuals to have disagreeing ideas,” he said, “and still be able to communicate civilly about it.”