W. Columbia council sets date for strong mayor vote

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - West Columbia City Council has set a date for a special election to determine the role of the city's mayor.

Last Spring, council voted to limit Mayor Joe Owens' powers by removing his authority to run meetings and executive sessions. As a result, Owens and supporters launched a petition drive to put a strong mayor referendum in front of voters. They only needed 1,250 signatures, but gathered 1,600 signatures.

According to the law, the issue must be voted on no longer than three months after all the signatures were gathered, so the latest they could hold the election would be October.

At a special meeting Thursday, council voted 6-3 to set the election date for Tuesday, September 30th. If approved by voters, the new form of government in West Columbia would take effect one year later.

As a strong mayor, Owens could gain more executive powers running meetings, managing daily affairs at city hall, and the people who work there.

West Columbia now operates under the council form of government with an administrator appointed by council, meaning the responsibilities of the administrator are set by council.

We reached out to USC local government expert Dennis Lambries who says that the type of government doesn't matter as much as those who are in the positions running it.
"What people need to understand is that the form of government is irrelevant with the success of government. Look at the difference between Greenville and Charleston, two opposite forms of government both very successful because of a variety of reasons; their councils have come together as a team and had a common vision for the future of the area moving forward," said Lambries.

Charleston operates under a strong-mayor form of government and Greenville relies more on their city manager.

The City of Columbia operates under the council-manager form of government. It was only six months ago that residents voted against making Mayor Steve Benjamin a strong mayor.

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