Drive seeking to restore Owens to power in West Columbia nearly done

tflach@thestate.comJune 16, 2014 

Allies of West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens are ready to turn in petitions seeking a ballot that would put him back in charge at City Hall.

The effort is an attempt to overturn a move by a majority of the nine-member City Council that stripped him of his oversight of their agendas and discussions.

It comes after a power struggle erupted this spring among leaders of the Lexington County community of 15,000 residents that Owens supporter Jimmy Brooks said left the mayor “pushed to the side.”

Supporters of the change plan to turn in petitions next week with several hundred signatures from city voters seeking the ballot.

A referendum would occur within 90 days – the choice of when is up to council members – after county election officials determine that at least 1,238 valid signatures were obtained.

That check probably won’t occur until mid-July, after a series of ballots for candidates are done, county election director Dean Crepes said.

“We want to go in a good bit over so there is no question,” said Brooks, spokesman for the pro-Owens group West Columbia Voice.

The change sought would put a strong-mayor approach in place, giving Owens more clout at City Hall than he had, since he would oversee its daily operation as well as be in charge of council decisions.

“I’m going to be working for it, absolutely,” said Owens, 70, who was elected in 2011.

Councilman Tem Miles, an Owens critic, predicted the ballot will occur in early fall to give opponents time to organize and make their case on why the change is a bad idea.

“It’ll be a very intense educational campaign,” he said. “It’s a major change in the way our city is run.”

Miles is among five council members upset with Owens’ style, which they say is intolerant of views he doesn’t favor.

Owens says he was penalized for outspokenness and taking away council perquisites.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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