Summerville residents to vote on form of government

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - In one week Summerville residents will decide what kind of government their town will operate under.

A ballot question will have voter choose whether to keep a council form of government, or give the mayor more power under a mayor-council government.

Under Summerville's current operation, the council makes all decisions about policy. It exercises all legislative and administrative power, establishes all municipal policies, and appoints all employees, according to the South Carolina Municipal Association.

A mayor-council government, also known as "strong mayor" would beef up the mayor's role.

"I would be able to, as Mayor, attend staff meetings," said Summerville Mayor Wiley Johnson. "I feel that's very important otherwise I don't necessarily get the real picture of what's going on in the town."

Johnson wants to be able to put the town budget together, supervise departments and work directly with the town administrator; all things he could legally do under a mayor-council form of government.

"I think it's important for the Mayor to have his finger on the pulse of the town," Johnson said. "There's no better way than to have access to department heads and the town administrator."

According to the state Municipal Association, the mayor would also be able to call special meetings, act as the Chief Executive Officer, hire and fire employees per the town's policies, and ensure faithful execution of the laws.

Some people who live in Summerville don't like the idea of a mayor-council government.

"Power should be with the people instead of one single individual," said Wesley Donehue, of Summerville.

Not only is Donehue a resident of the town, he's also the spokesperson for the "Vote No" campaign.

He feels what's taken place over the last year has created tension among officials, and said the local government should stay the way it is.

"If he (Johnson) would just do what the past mayors have done and actually work with people, compromise, build a coalition and get things done, which is the way government is supposed to work, then he wouldn't have to grab all of this power for himself," Donehue said.

Johnson feels governmental changes are needed as the town's population grows.

"We're 50,000 plus people now," he said. "We could be at 100,000 or 75,000 people easily within the next few years."

"We're a smaller more charming small town, and small towns operate better, quite frankly, under a council form of government," Donehue rebutted.

Under mayor-council form, the council serves as the legislative body and makes the policy for the town and are able to approve the annual budget, which must be balanced.

This form of government would not give more power to the Mayor when it comes to voting on issues during council.

In July voters put together a petition in order to get this question put on the ballot for residents to vote on.

According to the S.C. Municipal Association, 142 towns and cities in South Carolina have a mayor-council government, including North Charleston and Charleston. Only 96 cities and towns operate under a council form of government.

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