Report: W. Columbia Mayor Joe Owens created 'oppressive atmosphere'

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A new report accuses West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens of violating policies and procedures, threatening employees, and creating what the report calls "an oppressive atmosphere of intimidation" in city administration.

The 8-page document spotlights a deep divide between the mayor and some city council members.

The allegations outlined in the report are quite stunning. They cover everything from accusations that Mayor Owens violated the rules to benefit his friends or political allies, to improper procurement involving tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds, to outright threats of firing or demotion directed at city employees.

The report was commissioned by council members who've been battling Owens for more than a year. It was carried out by Columbia attorney and former state prosecutor Robert Bolchoz and comes as West Columbia moves toward a Sept. 30 vote on whether to adopt a strong mayor form of government..

Among the claims are that Owens committed the city to taking delivery of a nearly $69,000 excavator without seeking other vendors and before the council approved the purchase.

The report also describes heavy interference in public safety operations with direct threats to Chief Dennis Tyndall and allegations of ticket-fixing and other misconduct by former Major Matt Edwards.

For example, officers told Bolchoz that Edwards once ordered the shooting of three dogs in what the report calls "a firing squad manner."

The release of this report sparked new reaction today from the mayor and his critics, such as Councilman Tem Miles.

"I hope citizens will go back and review the report and see exactly how this city has been run under the mayor," said Miles. "He has operated as if he's had strong mayor. He has abused powers and I hope they'll go back and see that."

Owens defended himself from the report's findings.

"I have done nothing. Nothing," said Owens. "And like I said all that, I did, where is the money? I had to spend $6,000 of my own money to get elected. In a small town like this. If I'm doing all these things for people, I should be getting paid."

The report cost $15,000 to produce.

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