West Columbia mayor ready to defy removal

03/31/2014 9:18 PM

03/31/2014 9:19 PM

West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens promised Monday to defy an attempt to keep him from presiding at City Council meetings.

“I’m not giving up the seat,” he said.

His pledge came on the eve of a showdown Tuesday with City Council members seeking to strip Owens of his control of their agenda and discussions.

Five of nine council members want to put one of their own in charge of their sessions despite an opinion from the state attorney general’s office that said the step isn’t permitted.

“It says it’s illegal to remove me,” Owens said. “It’s something that falls on its face.”

A stand-off on who is in charge likely would head to court for settlement.

Meanwhile, feuding among city leaders is escalating as Owens is accused of slander, a claim he denies.

Councilman Boyd Jones is seeking damages from Owens for allegedly saying the councilman accepted bribes and kickbacks as a condition of allowing use of facilities at a public park, according to a lawsuit that Jones filed in Lexington County Circuit Court.

Those claims are false but Owens has spread them since the start of the year to harm Jones’ reputation, the lawsuit said. No specific occurrences are cited.

“There’s no grounds for it whatsoever,” Owens said.

The slander claim is retribution for looking into complaints that Jones gave friends preference in using park facilities, Owens said.

Jones is among council members wanting to curtail Owens’ authority.

The park is not named in the lawsuit but referred to as one in the area that Jones has represented since fall 2005. That area includes Butler Park, operated by Lexington County recreation officials. The six-acre facility on Raleigh Street has athletic fields, a playground and picnic facilities.

It’s traditional for neighborhood leaders such as Jones to be given oversight of widely scattered local parks, county recreation director Randy Gibson said.

No protests about Butler Park management have been received, Gibson said.

Owens says he is a target of payback for decisions that anger council members, some of who lost perquisites and some of whom he doesn’t support politically.

Backers of the change say the mayor unfairly refuses to allow consideration of views he doesn’t like, primarily during private council discussions.

The changes, they say, are a realignment to assure other views can be heard.

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