Columbia voters head to polls to decide strong mayor proposal - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Columbia voters head to polls to decide strong mayor proposal

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Decision day is here as Columbia voters will decide whether to change it's current form of government. The ballot asks voters if they want to change the city's current council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form, also known as a strong mayor.

Vote Yes and Vote No signs have dotted both the city and county's landscape for the past several weeks.

This has been an effort by both sides to educate the voters since council voted in October to have the special election on Dec. 3. While both made last pitch efforts on Monday, city voters can expect to see both sides Tuesday when they go to your polling location.

At the Vote Yes camp, Mayor Steve Benjamin was flanked by supporters as he laid out six points, promising to hire more police officers and firefighters, giving both raises, and planning to pay for it with attrition.

Benjamin has claimed from the beginning that the strong mayor plan will make him more accountable.

"On day one, I will have the police chief and fire Chief reporting directly to the mayor to remove the multiple levels or approval that too often burden public safety," said Benjamin.

The mayor also promised an inspector general and an independent ethics commission for all city employees if the strong mayor issue passes. The Vote No camp pointed out city employees would fall under the state's current ethics commission.

The Vote No camp also claims the structure could have been changed during the mayor's first term without changing forms of government.

"If he had wanted to change the structure of pubic safety, he had ample opportunity to do that," said Vote No supporter Howard Duvall. "The city Manager, Ms. Wilson, says the police chief has operational responsibility, and he can do whatever he needs to do operationally."

The Vote No camp made more than 500 phone calls Sunday, telling citizens a vote against the strong mayor plan isn't against Benjamin -- that's exactly what fliers put out by the Vote Yes camp would have you believe, claiming Benjamin is being personally attacked. They want voters to know it's not about Benjamin, but changing the city's government.

"Policy changes would still come to council under a change of form of government and so those are policy changes we can make now under this form of government," said Vote No supporter and City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine.

But Vote Yes supporters are making it about Benjamin and accountability.

"Government by committee has not worked, it hasn't met the needs of our citizens, it hasn't responded to those challenges," said Vote Yes supporter and state Rep. James Smith.

Still, the Vote No camp points out billions of dollars have come to redevelop Main Street, even touted in the Mayor's campaign, which was done under a manager-council government.

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