Strong mayor, sewer settlement dominate discussion in mayoral fo - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Strong mayor, sewer settlement dominate discussion in mayoral forum

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The Meadowfield neighborhood had the opportunity to ask questions of the three candidates for Columbia city mayor on Tuesday night.

All three mayoral candidates answered questions on three main topics: strong mayor, public safety, and the city's water and sewer system.

Each candidate had about 10 minutes to make their pitch to the public and then the community had the opportunity to get more clarity on some of the big issues facing Columbia.

The biggest and hottest of topics was, of course, the continued discussion on strong mayor.

If enough signatures are certified on the strong mayor petition, that form of government could be on the November ballot. Mayor Steve Benjamin has been a big advocate because he says there is too much bureaucracy.

"We have systemic challenges in our current form of government in which our police chief has to answer to an assistant city manager then to a city manager, then to a council of seven people," said Benjamin. "If he makes decisions, which he does to do every single day, it has to be approved by human resources or purchasing department or fleet services department."

Councilman Moe Baddourah says there are still too many questions about a strong mayor system and he believes there is not enough time to get them answered before Nov. 5.

"Whether we need full-time mayor, part-time mayor, we need to know what the salary is, we need to know what we will do with the city manager," said Baddourah.

Larry Sypolt says he would support a strong mayor form of government if term limits are in place. But Sypolt's main platform is public safety. He says CPD's leadership needs to be strengthen by merging it with Richland County, at least for a few years.

"City of Columbia is lacking a lot of resources that they need," said Sypolt. "Richland County has it, so with an agreement they have access to that overnight. That's the biggest thing."

Baddourah agrees that CPD needs more leadership. He says that starts with a permanent police chief -- a search he says should have already been started.

"On May 16, I emailed the city manger and asked her to go ahead and process or start the process of hiring a police chief. Till this day, we're still waiting on this process to begin," said Baddourah. "I have the same questions you do. I think we should have hired a police chief 5 months ago or started the process."

Mayor Benjamin says city needs to wait until the SLED investigation is complete and he says a stronger police department is contingent on a strong mayor system.

"I want to make sure any and all allegations have been fully vetted and that we have a clear road ahead of us of exactly where we're going," said Benjamin.

Citizens also raised concerns about the water and sewer system. Just today we learned a settlement has been reached in a lawsuit regarding raw sewage overflows. As a part of that agreement, the city must spend more than $750 million dollars upgrading the system.

All three candidates admitted that could mean another rate hike for customers down the road.

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