By Paul Gable
West Columbia voters said a resounding “NO” to a change in government Tuesday, defeating an attempt by supporters of Mayor Joe Owens to change the form of city government to a strong mayor type by a 2 to 1 margin.
Now the council must decide if there are further steps to be taken regarding some of Owens’ alleged actions while in office.
Since first taking office, Owens may have assumed the duties of a strong mayor and more, under the current council form of government, in violation of state law.
Owens, reportedly, unilaterally approved a $10,000 raise to former police Major Matt Edwards, something he is not allowed to do under the current council form of government. Edwards was subsequently dismissed from the department when his position was made redundant during a department reorganization and has filed a lawsuit.
Edwards was, reportedly, a leader in the effort to have the form of government changed to a strong mayor type which would have put Owens in charge of managing city services and the 200 employees of the city.
A report commissioned by a majority vote of city council to look into possible abuses of office by Owens alleged,”… it was routine practice for Mayor Owens to order the public works department to provide some type of service that violated the City ordinances. I was informed of several instances in which the Mayor directed the head of public works to have construction debris removed from properties, and in which the Mayor ordered the clean-up of private property at taxpayer expense as favor to a citizen.”
Using city employees to provide services on private property as a favor to a citizen is public corruption, as well as gross misuse of taxpayer dollars. The report should be turned over to SLED for a complete investigation into its findings.
Both sides in the strong mayor referendum fight have said its time to heal the wounds that have been inflicted between the mayor and council.
However, it is within the fiduciary responsibility of each council member to ensure there has been no misuse of taxpayer dollars or abuse of power by the mayor or any member of council.