It is less than two weeks from Election Day and voters in Summerville have a big decision to make, whether to change the way their current local government runs. The big question is, should the Mayor of Summerville have more power?
Summerville’s Mayor, Wiley Johnson, says, “I’m basically a council member, and that’s pretty much it.”
Summerville has what’s called a “Strong Council” Government, which mean the power lies within the town council, not the mayor.
Scott Slatton with the Municipal Association of South Carolina says, “It is the council as a body which is responsible for seeing that their policies are carried out.”
In February, the Summerville Town Council voted to give more power to the town administrator for day-to-day operations. Now the mayor’s main role is to preside over council meetings.
Slatton says, “Though he doesn’t have any extra authority, he still has the title of mayor and is certainly viewed by the public as the spokesman for the town, the spokesman for the council, and has that mayor’s bully pulpit that he can use.”
Some people say a weaker mayor is what works for Summerville.
Dennis Ashley, one of the leaders of Positively Summerville, says, “We fought a revolution in the 1700’s to do away with a king. We decided that multiple voices are better than one person deciding what we are going to do. It’s a very basic concept, more people making the decisions represent more people.”
On the ballot, voters will have the chance to decide if they want to maintain the current Strong Council Government, or instill a Mayor-Council Government, where the mayor acts as the town’s Chief Executive Officer.
Johnson says, “It became obvious that something had to be done or should be done to make the powers of the mayor something that couldn’t be changed on a whim because I feel that the people elect the mayor to do a job under the powers that they give him, not the council.”
It’s all about what the people of Summerville think works best for them, for the executive power to lie in the hands of their council, or the mayor. Representatives from the Municipal Association of South Carolina recommend voters take a look at their current system, and Mayor-Council governments like nearby Charleston and North Charleston to decide which form of government is the best fit.