COLUMBIA, SC — Columbia’s neighborhood leaders are divided on whether changing Columbia’s form of government is a good idea for their communities and the city.
A special vote for city voters on the issue is Dec. 3, just over two weeks away. Just how much power the mayor should have has been the central question in the vote to change Columbia’s government from a council-manager form where a professional city manager runs the city, to a mayor-council form where the mayor has significant authority running the city.
Durham Carter is one of Columbia’s neighborhood leaders who supports the strong-mayor form of government even though critics say citizens and neighborhoods would lose out if citizens choose a strong mayor.
The Lower Waverly neighborhood leader said a strong mayor could address issues in the community like overgrown lots and crime.
“I would like to have someone that is accountable that is elected by the people in a democratic society,” Carter said.
John Stucker, immediate past president of the University Hill neighborhood, said a strong mayor would stop the political interference from city council to city government.
City council has “six little mayors” now, Stucker said.
But Marvin Heller, a leader in the Lyon Street neighborhood, opposes the strong mayor form, because he doesn’t want to compete with business interests.
Under the current system, Heller said he has the ability to reach out to several council members. But he said under a strong mayor form, he would feel he had only one option.
But having someone politically responsible for executive decision-making is a good thing, said Dean Slade, president of Columbia Council of Neighborhoods.
Slade, who said he speaks for himself and not as a leader of the neighborhoods, said he finds himself in the minority among his colleagues.
A number of people Slade has spoken with appear to not support the initiative, especially in the Eau Claire Community where he lives, he said.
Most of the people he talks with want to preserve the status quo, he said.
Those who want to keep the current council-manager form of government include Ellen Cooper, president of the Coalition of Downtown Neighborhoods and past president of the Cottontown/Bellevue Neighborhood Association.
Cooper said this is one issue where neighborhood leaders are acting as individuals to take a position. She said when her neighborhood takes a stance it usually involves more meetings, discussions on the pros and cons and somewhat of a vote.
She said she doesn’t think there has been time to do that about the strong-mayor referendum.
Cooper opposes the strong mayor referendum because she thinks a professional should run the city.
Elizabeth Marks, president of the Robert Mills Historic Neighborhood Association, opposes a strong mayor because the initiative was not organic, she said.
“This did not grow up from the demands of the people,” Marks said.
Staff writer Dawn Hinshaw contributed.