Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Editorial: Enough; Town uses council form of government

The Town of Summerville uses a “Council Form of Government.” We urge our town leaders to accept it and get on with doing the business of Summerville.

Much debate has surrounded the various forms of government used in municipalities around the state – Council, Mayor-Council, Council-Manager.

With the Local Government Act of 1975, also known as the Home Rule Act, Summerville selected the “council” form of government. Since that time, the town has made modifications to fit its needs over time.

The difference in each form of government is defined by where the executive and administrative powers of the local leadership are vested.

In all cases, however, the legislative function – the lawmaking/ordinance creation – remains with council members.

The actual “form of government” is determined by the roles and responsibilities of each local entity – mayor, council and chief administrator

Summerville adjusted its council form of government when it allowed former Mayor Bill Collins to take on the bulk of the administrative responsibilities. At the end of his term he then gave up his expanded administrative duties, which allowed the council to put the town back in line with the council form of government it selected in the mid-1970s.

The motives behind that move were obvious. Council members and the seated mayor did not want to give administrative power to a new mayor – a new mayor who they suspected would use his powers to wrest control of the town and appoint anyone he saw fit to any number of positions of under him.

From the tone of the rhetoric that we’ve seen go back and forth for the last six months, their suspicions appear to be valid.

A referendum petition that would restore the administrative powers of the mayor and give Wiley Johnson increased power continues to move forward. The petition has been circulating at various venues.

Reverting back to a modified form of government is not what the town needs right now. Instead, we urge voters to support the pure form of government that was established years ago.

Further we ask those who continue to fan the flames of discontent to instead rise above the bickering and find ways to build unity in our community. We continue to hear derogatory monikers such as the “Gang of Four” and “Good Ol’ Boys” assigned to some members of the town council.

But shifting the power from a council of seven to one man is not wise – especially in Summerville’s charged political climate. We have great respect for Mayor Wiley Johnson and his desire to guide Summerville into prosperity through managed growth.

He is passionate about many of his desires. Voters saw that and elected him to execute his vision.

Much like a business that has a board of trustees with a board chairman and chief executive officers, we see our town council as a board with the mayor at its helm and our newly hired town administrator as the city’s CEO.

Any operation is doomed to fail if the chairman of the board demands all the power in order to be effective. Likewise if this is the only way Mayor Johnson and his supporters feels he can be successful, then he and our town are doomed to fail.

The petition for a referendum restoring the enhanced powers of mayor is dividing this town. Now, more than ever, we need unity with our city, not name-calling and political posturing.

We urge Johnson to use his position as Summerville’s leader to build alliances on council and find common ground. He should use statesmanship and decorum to push his agenda forward. Likewise, we expect town council members to work toward compromise and agreement to move Summerville forward. We have seen some evidence that this is possible.

There may be a time when Summerville needs a different form of government, but that time is not now. Now is the time to set differences aside and work to benefit all residents.