Methinks the Mayor doth protest too much

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To the Editor:

A few editions ago you kindly published a letter detailing my views about the organization of local government.

In a nutshell, I suggested that, with a $33,000,000.00 annual budget, it was time allow a professional manager to take over and run the City of Georgetown’s day-to-day operations.

That can easily be done if voters adopt what is called “Council-Manager” form of government. Since a majority of voters would have to agree to that sort of change in a referendum, the letter called upon City Council to place the question on the ballot in November.

In discussing this proposed change, I wrote that a majority of cities in South Carolina have adopted “Council-manager” form of government. In abbreviated response, Mayor Scoville chided me in last Friday’s paper, taking issue with my statement that “[m]ost cities and towns in South Carolina have adopted [the Council-manager form of city government],” pointing out that “according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina, out of the 270 municipalities in S.C., 145 have the “strong mayor” form and only 32 have the council-manager form.”

He then gratuitously added “It always amazes me when someone goes to so much trouble to write a letter or other document but fails to do basic fact checking.”

Mayor Scoville is correct. I failed to include the 208 small towns with populations of less than 5,000 residents in my count when using the expression about “most cities and towns.”

He added those communities in his total of 270. With those 208 small towns subtracted South Carolina’s, 62 largest modern cities and towns remain. Of those 62, 38 have adopted “Council-manager” form of government.

They include (but are not limited to) the Capital City of Columbia with its 129,272 residents (as listed on the Municipal Association’s census), Rock Hill with its 66,154 residents, Greenville with 58,409 residents, Sumter with 40,524 people, Hilton Head Island (37,099), Florence (37,056), Spartanburg (37,013), Aiken with (39,524), Myrtle Beach (27,109), Anderson (26,686), Greenwood (23,222), North Myrtle Beach (13,752), Bluffton (12,893), Cayce (12,528), Beaufort (12,361), Fort Mill (10,811), our sister small port of Port Royal (10,678), and Newberry with its famously successful Municipal Opera House and auditorium (10,277).

Of the 24 cities and towns with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 – the statistical category Georgetown fits into – 10 have adopted “Council-manager” form, and four others have straight “Council” run local government.

The remaining 10, Georgetown included, presently operate under the “strong mayor” form of local government.

As for the 208 small towns (5,000 or less), their budgets may not warrant the expense of hiring a professional city manager.

Most, but not all, rely on a “strong mayor” to run their towns.

That would certainly be true in communities like Pawleys Island with 103 permanent residents, the Town of Troy with 93, or Ward with 91, Pelzer with 89, Ulmer with 88, Plum Branch with 82, Cope with 77, Tatum with 72, Jamestown with 72, Govan with 65, Peak with 64 or Jenkinsville with 46.

But, in truth, my earlier letter was not about numbers.

Instead, it detailed some of the reasons why I believe that the time has come to think about transferring responsibility for running local government from the hands of amateur politicians and into those of a professional manager trained and experienced in government administration.

Not included among the concerns listed in the letter were ones about the opportunities for political cronyism in hiring, favoritism in sole-source contracting, a whole array of conflicts of interest, nest feathering and the like that are inherent in any system of government where elected officials possess near absolute control over the instrumentalities of government.

Temptations to use those to reward friends, punish enemies and do little favors for one’s self can be great, especially so to those of weak character.

Those sorts of things are not unheard of in local governments around the nation. Those same dangers will continue to lurk in the future.

That, and not all candidates for public office are trustworthy. The time for voters to consider, address and reduce those types of concerns arise during the terms of the various offices, not as part of politican campaigns for those same offices.

That’s when empty promises are most often made.

Be all that as it may, since (a) my letter had nothing to do with Mayor Scoville or his performance in office and (b) numbers clearly do not tell the whole story here, I invite the Mayor to take the time to address the issue of which form of government – “strong mayor” or “Council-manager” – will be best for the citizens of Georgetown in the years to come.

Again, that question has nothing to do with him or his performance on the job. It has to do with the fundamental facts that (1) he is not immortal, (2) sooner or later a new mayor will be elected, (3) the opportunities and dangers of future mismanagement are real, and (4) the electorate will benefit from a full and fair discussion of the questions involved and, (5) after considering the pros and cons involved, deserve an opportunity to decide how they want local public affairs handled in the future.

And, if the editor will allow a personal note, it is this: It’s not about you, Jack, so spare the low caliber sniping. It’s about the future and, as Yogi Berra might say, the future ain’t over yet.

Tom Rubillo

Georgetown

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