LEXINGTON COUNTY SC — A power struggle in West Columbia promises to persist after City Council stripped Mayor Joe Owens on Tuesday of his oversight of their agenda and discussions.
Owens intends to fight a 5-4 decision putting a yet-to-be-selected council member in charge.
“I’m not giving up” on presiding at council sessions, he said.
The change was approved despite pleas from a crowd of 50 residents – largely Owens’ allies – urging an end to bickering.
It’s time for city leaders to stop “arguing like a bunch of kids in kindergarten,” homeowner Pearl Riley said.
Others urged city leaders to step back and try to settle the dispute.
“Whatever differences you have, try to work them out and avoid drastic action,” said Jake Moore, who is city attorney in other communities.
But their expressions of support for Owens didn’t derail the decision to pick someone else to lead meetings.
Council members in favor of the change said it is rooted in Owens’ refusal to allow consideration of views he doesn’t like, primarily during private council discussions.
“Discussion is stymied,” Councilman Tem Miles said. “It’s frustrating.”
Owens insists other views are welcome but not always well-received.
“Sure, I’m opinionated about what I think is right,” he said. “If you’re not passionate, you’re not worth a damn.”
The conflict over the change could be the first skirmish of a legal battle to settle who can be in charge.
Owens contends council members in favor of the change are overstepping their authority.
Putting one of their own in charge through a yearly selection is unusual but permissible, Miles said.
The plan could become a major issue in the next round of city elections in 2015 when Owens and some of his foes face re-election.
Owens said he is receiving retribution for not backing some council members politically and for taking away some of their perks.
Besides Miles, council members supporting the change are Dale Harley, Boyd Jones, Tommy Parler and B.J. Unthank.
Those joining Owens in opposition were Eric Fowler, Casey Hallman and Teddy Wingard.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.