Columbia, SC — After some heavy lobbying by The State and the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, voters will soon have the chance to scrap Columbia’s council-manager system of government in favor of a strong mayor. This is a misguided attempt to fix government by introducing a less successful model of governance.
Council-manager was created in response to local corruption and is designed to decentralize power, professionalize day-to-day operations and increase transparency. It uses a corporate model wherein the City Council serves as the board of directors and a professionally credentialed city manager serves as chief operating officer. It’s used by a majority of American cities including the most vibrant, well-managed and fiscally healthy ones. Ironically, it is used by some of the very cities the chamber and The State have cited as models for Columbia — Austin and Greenville, for instance.
And while a strong-mayor system concentrates power and thus makes it easier for chambers of commerce, newspapers and other special interests to exert outside influence, it does a relatively poor job of allowing the voices of citizens to be heard through their elected representatives.
Columbia has high rates of poverty, higher than average crime rates and the same tax base problems faced by every capital city and college town. What makes our city a great place to live is an active, engaged citizenry that has the ear of local leaders. Whatever problems we have were not caused by our form of government, and they won’t be solved by introducing a less-inclusive, less-efficient one.