W. Columbia council votes to strip meeting powers from mayor - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

W. Columbia council votes to strip meeting powers from mayor


West Columbia City Council has voted 5 to 4 to strip Mayor Joe Owens of his power to preside over council meetings.

The vote came late Monday night during a council meeting that Owens jokingly referred to as more of an "execution" rather than a meeting.

"They might win this battle, but they won't win the war," said Owens.

Council quickly adjourned after the vote and Owens got in one last dig before the meeting's end.

"Now, if I was chairperson, I think I'd let y'all talk because I know you've got something to say," said Owens.

And talk they did. The vote caused an uproar within the assembled crowd of citizens, with one man standing up and pointing his finger at one council member.

"Hey, I got news for you, buddy: You're gone," said the man. "You remember I told you that. You're gone! You are gone, buddy!"

The vote appointed Councilman B.J. Unthank as council's chairperson, which gives him the mayor's power to preside.

Owens called the vote a "total abuse of power" and said it largely undoes the voting will of the people.

"What you have done with five votes, you have changed what 836 [voters] did," said Owens. "We think it's illegal, so let them go with it. It's a power thing."

Councilman Tem Miles has led the charge in trying to get the change made and defended the vote.

"We simply wanted to go to a process where there was more accountability to ensure that council meetings both in public and in executive session were run in a process where fair deliberations can occur," said Miles.

Owens filled us in. The vote had to do with a former West Columbia Police major. 

"Matt Edwards was fired and they upheld the grievance," said Owens. "Of course, three of us voted against it, six of them voted for it.

Miles, who has been up front about not being a fan of how Owens runs things, said it wasn't appropriate to talk about what happened in executive session.

"The person who is subject to the grievance committee is entitled to received a copy of the grievance committees recommendation after we vote. I wanted to afford that person the opportunity to receive it," said Miles.

Even though he can't run the meetings, Owens is still mayor, and plans to be for a long time.

"If I live, I'm going to run again, and I'll win, I hope," said Owens.

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