Columbia Rotary Club members and their guests voted Monday against changing the capital city’s form of government to a strong mayor, according to an informal tally taken after a lunch session.
The tally was 36 against the plan, 23 for it and 11 undecided. Whether that vote reflects the view of the entire Rotary membership of 270, or the thousands of Columbia residents who will formally vote on whether to adopt the strong mayor form, is anybody’s guess.
“I don’t know how the whole club would have voted,” Rotary president Hal Stevenson said later. “It might have been pretty evenly split.”
Rotarians voted after an hourlong neutral explanation of South Carolina’s three forms of city government — strong mayor, council and council-manager.
“This is an educational session,” Henri Baskins of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council told Rotarians. Hopefully, the presentation “would clarify what the issues are,” she said.
In his presentation, Municipal Association of South Carolina analyst-legislative advocate Scott Slatton avoided taking a position. Instead, he delved into details about how each form of city government worked and tossed out factoids like:
• Of South Carolina’s 16 largest cities over 25,000 population, three use the strong-mayor form of government. Ten use the council-manager form of government. Three use the council form of government.
• Of 270 towns and cities in the state, 145 use the strong-mayor form of government. Ninety-one of those 145 strong-mayor cities and towns have populations of 1,000 or fewer.
• After the strong-mayor form of government, the council form of city government is the most popular, with 93 cities and towns using that one.
• If Columbia residents reject the strong-mayor form of government next Tuesday, it will be four years before it can come to a vote again.
Some in the audience pressed Slatton to give an opinion.
“Won’t you agree with me that according to federal crime statistics that 13 of the most dangerous cities to live in are run by strong mayors?” asked Howard Duvall, now retired and former executive director of the state municipal association.
“I would agree that you can find those numbers, yes,” said Slatton to laughter.
It all depends on the people who govern, Slatton said. “All three forms of government work well so long as everybody understands their roles and responsibilities and stays in their lanes, things work fine.”
The choice before Columbians Dec. 3 is whether to adopt the strong-mayor form or stick with the current council-manager form, which the city has had since 1949.
After lunch, Rotary president Stevenson predicted the citywide vote would “be pretty close. However it turns out, we all need to come together afterward and make the city the best place it can be.”
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.