September 6, 2013

Editorial: Columbia voters should sign petition to put strong mayor on the ballot

COLUMBIA’s council-manager form of government isn’t simply slow-moving, indecisive and unaccountable. It’s broken and needs fixing. Fast. Here’s why.

COLUMBIA is ripe for tremendous economic growth, with the resurgence of downtown, the developing riverfront, the explosion of USC and its research campus, the redevelopment of the State Hospital site on Bull Street, the promise of a much-improved bus system, tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements, and more. Businesses and industry are going to come calling with jobs, tax dollars and new opportunities.

But as this editorial board long as noted, the city isn’t capable of making the definitive, timely decisions needed to capitalize on this pivotal moment, because it is saddled with a plodding governmental structure that moves at a snail’s pace while Greenville and Charleston dart ahead of us.

It is a government that drags its feet and kills opportunities with indecision, poor coordination and diffused leadership. And it has done so for decades.

Unfortunately, a majority of City Council embraces this legacy. Why else would council members refuse to trust the democratic process and let voters decide whether they want an empowered, full-time mayor to run the city? Is it because the status quo grants them the same power as the mayor? Or because it allows them to continue as one of seven bosses who dictate the city manager’s every move? Or because it allows members, particularly district representatives, to bring home the bacon?

Whatever the reason, the council’s refusal to put a referendum on the ballot sent a clear message to citizens: If they want change, they must make it happen themselves by going through the laborious process of collecting signatures from 15 percent of eligible registered voters to force a special election.

The gravity of this matter — it could improve the trajectory of the city for generations — compels us to vigorously support the effort. We long have believed that empowering an elected executive — whether it’s the mayor of Columbia or the governor of South Carolina — is the most accountable way to run government.

Eligible city voters should unite to do what City Council didn’t have the courage to do: Let the people decide. This effort already has good momentum; organizers say they’re nearly halfway home. The sooner the more than 11,000 valid signatures needed are gathered and certified, the sooner an election date can be set.

We know voters could say no to an empowered mayor. But unlike City Council, we are willing to trust this city’s voters and then live with their decision.

To sign the petition or help gather signatures, visit letcolumbiavote.com.

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