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August 21, 2014

West Columbia mayor: Ticket threat increased safety

West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens said he urged police to drop a traffic ticket issued to a motorcyclist who allegedly sped by the mayor’s home in 2012 after concluding the driver had learned to slow down.

West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens said he urged police to drop a traffic ticket issued to a motorcyclist who allegedly sped by the mayor’s home in 2012 after concluding the driver had learned to slow down.

Political foes are blowing the incident “all out of proportion” in claiming the episode suggests he will interfere regularly with officers should he win a referendum that would put him back on top at City Hall, Owens said Wednesday.

The mayor said he approached the motorist who stopped on his own to discuss road safety on neighborhood streets.

“I did what any average citizen would have done,” he said.

But an argument “escalated” between the pair, leading him to call police to come and issue the motorist a traffic ticket, Owens said.

Recordings obtained by West Columbia United – a group opposed to putting Owens back in control – show Owens identifying himself as a constable and mayor during the call to police.

Constables are auxiliary police officers.

The ticket was cancelled after subsequent conversations with the motorcyclist convinced the mayor that the episode increased the driver’s commitment to safety, Owens said.

Some political foes of the mayor say the episode displays an unflattering side of the mayor.

“He uses the badge and gun (as a constable) for intimidation,” City Councilman Tem Miles said.

Efforts to reach the motorist were unsuccessful.

Political skirmishes are increasing with the approach of a Sept. 30 ballot on a proposal that would restore Owens back to power at City Hall.

Release of the recordings comes after a report ordered by City Council members in conflict with Owens that said he bent rules to help friends and punish anyone who challenges him.

That report stopped short of saying Owens did anything illegal.

Owens’ allies organized the effort to reclaim his power at the ballot after a divided council stripped him of it April 1.

The plan would make the mayor stronger than he was by putting Owens in charge of managing city services and staff as well as presiding over council decisions.

Owens is focusing his campaign for the proposal on being the victim of a coup.

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