Petition signatures calling for strong mayor referendum being - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Petition signatures calling for strong mayor referendum being counted still

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Richland County election officials say they won't be rushed. Results of the strong mayor petition certification process promised Thursday are taking longer than expected.

Wednesday night Columbia City Council set a special election date of December 3rd, but that hinges on the petitions being certified.

The election office has promised one of two things: they'll either let city leaders know they have enough signature to certify the petition or they'll tell leaders they've got to keep counting.

For the last week, it's been frustration coupled with a time crunch as Columbia's leaders haggled over when to give voters a ballot referendum to change the city's form of government.  It's split council causing heated exchanges between members and Mayor Steve Benjamin.

"Time is not just our fault, it is your fault as well," council member Tameika Isaac Devine told Benjamin at the meeting Wednesday night.

"And a week later council summarily dismissed again the opportunity for citizens to have the right to vote, and several weeks later the  citizens turned in over 12,000 signatures saying we will have the right to vote," Benjamin replied.

One of the issues is cost. City council disputed the Mayor's claims a special election would cost taxpayers $150,000.

"We budgeted for a special election anyway and it's very unlikely that we will have a run off this election, so we actually have money in our budget for another election," Devine said.

Now the question does the process move to the ballot or does the count continue? With the time frame issue sort of settled, the effort now turns toward education. The mayor started that Wednesday night.

"If the city manager has the power to do it now, than more likely or not the mayor under the mayor-council form of government will have the authority to do it under the new form of government," Benjamin said.   

But council members pointed out some questions they still don't have answers for.

"These aren't questions that I have, these are questions that citizens that have elected me, have posed to me, and I want to get them the answers so they can make an informed decision when they go to the ballot December 3rd," said Devine.

Election officials have spent the last week sorting through 12,000 signatures turned in last Wednesday.  Having the record in an electronic database has helped, but the elections director says it's been a time-consuming process.

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