West Columbia to Take on Strong Mayor Vote

First vote of its kind in city's history


By Monique Wiliams

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) - Tuesday, September 20, voters in West Columbia will head to the polls for the first time ever to decide if they prefer a strong mayor form of government...or not.

In a special called meeting today, council members voted 6-to-3 to hold a special referendum this fall with the following question: "Shall the municipality of the City of West Columbia change its form of government from council form of government to mayor council form of government. Yes or No?"

Dealing with the spread of political power among officials comes as tensions grow between Mayor Joe Owens and council members.

The proposed change in government would have shift more executive power from city council to an elected mayor. It's a topic that led to finger pointing, name calling and flared tempers among council members during a special called meeting on the issue.

"I can't run meetings or executive sessions. That's the mainstay for dispersing information to rest of council," said Mayor Owens.

"To take and give all power of a city this size to one person is a dictatorship and I'm for representative democracy," said councilman Tem Miles.

Voters feel caught in the middle.

"I'm a man of peace, a godly man, but I really get tired of this childish stuff," said Morris Phillips.

The city, which consists of 15,000 citizens, 200 employees and a
$24-million annual budget, has operated under council-mayor form of government since 1974.

If the referendum passes and the strong mayor form is accepted, it will go into effect September 2015, one year after the initial vote.

The City of Columbia sent the same issue to voters at the end of last year during a special election, and it didn't pass. 57% of voters rejected the measure to 43% who supported it.

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