City council votes to change rules regarding control of meetings - - Columbia, South Carolina |

City council votes to change rules regarding control of meetings

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West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens set the tone for the City Council meeting Tuesday night in his opening statement.

"I will not comment to the media," he said, looking at reporters in the room. "I'm not fanning the fire when my previous remarks were taken out of context."

What Owens didn't say, his supporters did. About 100 people filled council chambers for the meeting. Some were there to support Owens.

"We are ashamed of this council," said the Rev. Leon Blackman. "Each of you have your own districts. You should take care of your districts and let the mayor do what he needs to do."

Some were there to support former West Columbia Police Maj. Matt Edwards.

"He's one fine officer and he is a better man," said one resident.

And others chided the council members on their behavior.

"I see this every day on Fox News," said one woman. "I don't want to see it in my back yard."

"This place was peaceful until you showed up," one man said to council member Tem Miles, who proposed changes to council rules that take power away from the mayor during meetings.

"The mayor has used tactics as presiding officer to prevent consideration of all views," said Miles after the meeting. "He's been abusive to folks, particularly when they've had views he did not agree with."

"Stop acting like a bunch of children and get some stuff done," said another resident. "I am tired of this mess."

After hearing from more than a dozen residents, the council got to business, which included three ordinances that addressed the power structure at meetings. Miles proposed changing the city code to allow for a chairperson to be elected by council to preside over meetings. All three ordinances passed.

Owens said he has the opinion of the state attorney general on his side. Miles disagreed.

"There are previous attorney generals [sic] opinions that indicate council has a right to elect anyone they would like to be a presiding officer," said Miles. "It's not an attempt for a grab of power on my part. It's for the betterment of the city."

Miles said council will elect a chairperson to preside over meetings at the next meeting.

When asked why Miles pushed for the changes, he said several things have occurred in executive session. 

"There have been a lot of things that have been hidden from the public's eyes and those are the issues we're attempting to address," he said.

"I'm thankful to have y'all. I appreciate your support," Owens told the crowd, who got so outspoken during the business of the meeting, someone yelled, "Put your big boy pants on!"

"I've got the people on my side," Owens said. "I've got the attorney general on my side. I've got God on my side."

"You're going to rue this mess you put us in," Owens told Miles during the meeting. "The city doesn't deserve this kind of garbage. We had an orderly city until you came along. This whole fiasco is an attempt to restrain me, to lessen the power of the mayor."

Turns out Owens didn't need to comment to the media after the meeting. He got his message out anyway.

Maj. Matt Edwards also addressed the meeting.

"I am here to support the mayor and support the police department that I love. These guys are the best there is. They will always have my support," he said.

A grievance hearing for Edwards is Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. It is open to the public.

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