Editorial: Referendums won’t cure Chapin, West Columbia ills

08/30/2014 9:00 PM

08/29/2014 6:45 PM

THE UNACCEPTABLE, petty bickering that led to planned referendums asking voters in Chapin and West Columbia to change their towns’ form of government fall far short of the careful and deliberate consideration needed for voters to make reasoned and informed decisions.

No one on either side of of the debate in these towns has done anything to encourage intelligent and thoughtful dialogue. That’s because they’re not interested in determining the form of government best suited for overseeing the affairs of Chapin and West Columbia. They want power, control and political payback. Personality clashes and druthers have trumped the greater good.

In Chapin, where total gridlock reigns because of the power struggle between the mayor and a majority on the council, voters are being asked to weaken the mayor. In West Columbia, a majority of the council prevailed in its battle with the mayor by voting to strip him of the limited power he had; the planned referendum asks voters not just to restore his power but to give him much more.

The mayors and council members in Chapin and West Columbia have failed to meet the basic expectation of any elected official: that they work collaboratively and in the spirit of compromise to make laws, be good fiscal stewards, deliver services and protect quality of life. Whether it’s overbearing and wanton decisions by the mayors or divisive lawsuits and end-runs by council members, they’re all complicit in causing the turmoil that has beset their towns, creating division among the electorate and damaging the image of their communities.

And instead of finding the common decency to treat one another respectfully and sit down and work out their differences, elected leaders and their supporters are soiling the sacredness of the ballot box in an attempt to get votes to resolve their small-minded disputes.

To make matters worse, no matter what voters decide, changing forms of government can’t heal what ails Chapin and West Columbia. Even with a Sept. 30 date set for a vote in West Columbia and continued — and senseless — debate in Chapin over whether that date will hold for that community as well, the acrimony and petty power plays have escalated.

Voters are being taken advantage of, and they should find it repugnant. They’re being asked to transform their government’s structure for no other reason than to resolve political spats. Which won’t be resolved, no matter how they vote.

The wise thing for them to do is reject both these measures until such time that their communities — and their elected leaders — mature enough to have civil, thoughtful, well-reasoned discussions about governance.

While much effort has been expended to force these votes, the manner in which some elected officials have carried themselves suggests that the more important votes are those coming up in 2015 and subsequent years, to determine who should serve on the councils and as mayor.

If voters choose well, the outcomes of those elections might address what really ails these towns. These referendums won’t.

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