SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - Summerville Town Council voted on Wednesday to approve the first reading of an ordinance that changes how the town is run.
The ordinance, which passed with a 5 to 1 vote, would transfer some of the new mayor's responsibilities to a town administrator. Council members said the intention is not to take away powers, but revert back to old ways.
Council heard from the public in a packed meeting room Wednesday night where both Mayor Bill Collins and Mayor-Elect Wiley Johnson were present, with many of their supporters in attendance.
Johnson feels council is trying to strip the mayor of his power before he gets into office.
One woman supporting Johnson told council that the changes are not right, saying,"You're giving Summerville a black eye."
Councilman Aaron Brown, the only person who voted against it, made a motion to table the amendments, but failed to acquire a second vote.
Council is expected to meet with Johnson before the final and second reading of the ordinance in December.
"The first thing you think of is sour grapes," Johnson said earlier Wednesday. "It's like a little kid on the playground, taking his marbles and going home. He's mad."
On his website, Johnson posted, "This is hijacking the powers of a democratically elected officer and giving it away to others. We expect to see this kind of coup in a banana republic, but not in Summerville."
Johnson says he doesn't think voters would agree on making changes to how the Mayor's office is run.
"I was elected under the current ordinances," Johnson said Wednesday in an interview. "That is what people elected me under. They expect me to govern with those, and amend them when needed and as needed."
"If it's such a great idea, why not just table this, and we'll talk about it in January or February," Johnson said.
When current Mayor Bill Collins was elected, he acted as administrator as well as mayor.
Johnson has said that Summerville needs a qualified person in that position.
"With that job comes authority and responsibility," Johnson said. "That is what I have all along said we need here in Summerville."
Collins, who lost his bid for re-election last week, resigned from the town administrator role Wednesday.
Johnson believes a town administrator is necessary and looks forward to that election process in January. However he is concerned about changing the role of that job.
"They're absolutely stripping the powers from the mayor in order to render him weak and helpless and not being able to take control of things when he needs to," Johnson said.
Mayor Collins thinks otherwise.
"Summerville has a strong council, weak mayor form of government, which we've always had," Mayor Collins said. "The mayor has nothing but one vote."
Mayor Collins said these ordinances are a way to help, "clear the deck" for incoming Johnson.
"Mr. Johnson campaigned on his intentions to hire a professional town administrator and promised he would give back to the town $30,000 of the mayor's $45,000 to help fund compensation needed to pay an administrator (estimated to be between $150,00 and $200,000 per year)," Collins said in an email. "In an effort to enable Mr. Johnson to hit the ground running when he takes office, on Nov. 9th I relinquished the powers to run the city on a day to day basis."
"A mayor is effective in Summerville if he is able to communicate with council and build a consensus," Collins said. "You can't do anything with four votes."
"I have enjoyed my service as mayor of Summerville and thank the many citizens who have given me their support and input," said Collins. "I still believe Summerville's best days are ahead of us."
Wiley Johnson will be inaugurated into the mayoral position in January.