West Columbia mayor starting petition drive to put strong mayor - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

West Columbia mayor starting petition drive to put strong mayor referendum on the ballot

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Mayor Joe Owens (Source: westcolumbiasc.gov) Mayor Joe Owens (Source: westcolumbiasc.gov)

Like his counterpart across the river, West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens will try to convince constituents that the city will be better off if they give him more administrative muscle.

For much of 2013 Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tried to hammer home the idea.

South Carolina's capital city would move forward a lot faster if voters re-elected him and then made him a strong mayor.

Voters handed Benjamin a split decision.

A second term but a resounding "no" to his proposed change to a mayor-council form of government.

Now it is West Columbia's turn.

Mayor Joe Owens feuding for months with a majority of the nine member council is also asking voters to switch to the system that makes the mayor the city's chief administrator.

Owens and supporters are launching a petition drive to put a strong mayor referendum to voters.

He declined to appear on camera, but told WIS by phone it's a response to the council's action last month to remove his authority to preside over meetings and executive sessions, a move Owens says subverts the will of voters who made him mayor.

Councilman Tem Miles says the mayor will likely gather the signatures he needs.

"I fully intend to spend the time between that petition being presented and when the vote is called informing the citizens of West Columbia as to what the change would mean," Miles says.

The petitioners need about 1,250 names before the council takes the next step to pass an ordinance placing the question on the ballot.

Miles says a key issue for voters centers on whether Owens is the man they want making budgetary and personnel decisions.

"There's a lot of things that a good city administrator can smooth out if you have a rough mayor," Miles says. "But if you don't have that city administrator there and you have a person operating with unilateral control that even his supporters classify as rough as a cob, I think there's a great risk for our city for future issues of liability and improper decisions."

Miles suggests there's more going on with this proposal than just the mayor's disagreements with his critics on council.

That the push for strong mayor is motivated in part by an effort to reinstate former police department assistant chief Matt Edwards.

Mayor Owens told WIS Edwards is helping to organize the petition drive.

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