Council members debate salary structure under strong mayor - - Columbia, South Carolina

Council members debate salary structure under strong mayor


On the eve of the controversial second reading vote to change the form of Columbia city government, Columbia City Council members openly speculated what the salary of a "strong mayor" would look like.

Council also discussed an ordinance to change the mayor's salary if the strong mayor referendum is approved by voters.

The officials got so serious about voting on a potential salary for a full-time mayor that current Mayor Steve Benjamin and Councilman Moe Baddourah, who are both running for the job, had to leave the room.

But many wondering how council members could even vote on a salary when they haven't even discussed the mayor's actual job responsibilities.

Many on council said they couldn't begin to debate a salary increase without first knowing the job description.

The ordinance, requested by Councilman Cameron Runyan, would change the mayor's salary if the voters want a change in government.

Council and community members seemed less interested in the mayor's paycheck and more interested in what his day-to-day duties would entail.

The mayor currently makes $17,500 a year and his job description is set by state lawmakers.

City attorney Ken Gaines told council that the state statute sets what the mayor does on a daily basis, not council.

Council members said they wanted more clarity on this issue before voting on the ordinance.

"We are discussing setting a salary when we have not had a discussion about what the job responsibilities would be, nor have we talked about what the form, the organizational structure of our city would be," said Councilwoman Leona Plaugh.

"I would suggest you clean up the ordinance, make it a simple pay increase for the mayor, and not have it connected to any change in the form of government. We need a full-time mayor, and Mayor Benjamin could certainly do well under a full-time job," said Howard Duvall, the leader of a group seeking a month-long delay in the strong mayor referendum.

"Mayor Benjamin says he works over 60 hours a week at $17,500," said former mayoral and city council candidate Joe Azar. "We as citizens are getting a great deal, so why should we raise it?"

"There are very real questions, and sometimes very complex legal issues that need to be answered before we're asking to change a form of government that we would have to keep for a minimum of four years before you can even revisit it," said Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine.

There is still time for council to approve this ordinance before the general election if they so choose, but of more pressing concern is Wednesday night's meeting to see if the petition has been certified and if not, how council is going to proceed. 

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