City officials have enough signatures to force strong mayor vote - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

City officials have enough signatures to force strong mayor vote

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

City of Columbia officials say they have enough certified signatures from a petition that would force a referendum on changing the city's form of government.

In a statement released Friday morning, city officials say the Richland County Elections Office certified 11,757 signatures. The city needed 11,063 total signatures to push the referendum to a vote.

County Election Director Howard Jackson says his office spent all day on Thursday checking and double checking the results of the petition in order to hand it off to City of Columbia officials Friday morning.

The results ended almost a week and a half of counting for election officials. After checking the first 500 signatures, they rejected only 58, the majority because the signatures did not match up with the signatures on their voter registration cards. The process them moved to checking the remaining 12,065 signatures. They then checked 1,174 signatures  and rejected just 73 of those.

The petition would force a citywide vote on whether or not Columbia should go from a city manager-council form of government to a strong mayor-council form of government.

Current Mayor Steve Benjamin has been a proponent of strong mayor since he came in to office several years ago.

"Columbia has been involved in this discussion for decades, and the citizens have never had the opportunity to have their voices heard, so I'm very proud," said Benjamin.

Council has voted against changing the city's governmental structure several times, but voted Wednesday night to allow a vote on the issue during a Dec. 3 special election only if the results of the petition were certified.

Petition organizers delivered just over 12,000 signatures to county elections officials last week.

With the results certified and delivered to the city, it appears the referendum will be on.

Councilman Cameron Runyan, another strong mayor supporter, issued a statement on Twitter after news of the certification broke out.

"I'm disappointed Council set the #StrongMayor election for the holiday season, which will be costly to taxpayers & burdensome to voters," said Runyan. "But nothing can take away from how proud I am of the people of our city. We earned our right to vote!"

Councilwoman Leona Plaugh says the effort now turns to educating the public.

"I would hope the citizens of the city would become engaged and I think many of them have, no matter whether they're for the strong mayor form of government or whether they think they know enough about it to be for it or against it," said Plaugh.

Councilman Moe Baddourah, who is also looking to unseat Benjamin, agrees with Plaugh.

"It's important that the results reflect the true will of the people," said Baddourah.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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