Mount Pleasant government decides not to change from a council form of government. A discussion to change the form of government and election method of council members for the Town of Mount Pleasant was held during the July 1 Police, Judicial and Legal (PJL) Committee meeting. The committee had a lengthy conversation and did not take any action to move anything forward before next council meeting Tuesday, July 9.
Scott Slatton, the legal and public policy advocate for the Municipal Association of South Carolina presented a PowerPoint presentation to the PJL committee on the forms of government throughout the state.
Slatton shared that there are 270 municipalities in South Carolina. Of those, 207 have a population under 5,000. The three authorized forms of government are mayor-council, council and council-manager. There are 142 mayor-council operated municipalities, 95 council operated municipalities and 33 council-manager operated municipalities.
He explained the different responsibilities for all parties involved in all three types to the committee members.
"The council itself can vote on an ordinance to set a date and put a question to residents on choosing one of the forms of government. If the council does not do that, then a petition of 15% of the municipalities' qualified electors (and) voters can submit that petition to the city council. Then the council has to pass an ordinance setting a date for a referendum. A majority of the people that come out and vote for that particular election determine whether or not the form of government changes or not," Slatton said.
"No matter if the vote is successful or if it fails, another referendum to change the form of government can't occur for another four years. That way we're not ping ponging back and forth between multiple forms of government over a short period of time," he added.
Slatton explained that when working with towns and cities across the state considering a change in their form of government, they advise the question on the ballot or part of the ordinance passed to set up the referendum sets a date certain for when the change could take place.
"Any time you change from one form of government to another there are a number of logistical and operational issues that have to be taken into consideration. Ordinances that will have to be amended to reflect the new form of government and that can take some time," Slatton said.
The Municipal Association of S.C. advises when changing forms of government to look no further than six months to a year from the date of an election to give time to make necessary changes before the new form becomes effective.
For more information from the slideshow Slatton presented about the three forms of government, visit masc.sc and search 'forms of government.'
PJL Committee Chair, Mayor Will Haynie asked Slatton if there is a municipality and what size if one, that has gone from an at-large council to districts and what the process looked like.
Slatton said they would have to do some research, but that they'd probably direct the town to speak with Will Roberts at the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office and Department of Administration.
"He would be the expert and the authority to help you move from your at-large to single-member (districts)," Slatton said.
Haynie said he's only familiar with district-represented municipalities that operate with a mayor-council form of government. Slatton listed a handful that operated as council form with single and at-large seats. He said the representation style by city is listed on their website.
Slatton said all forms of government in South Carolina work just fine, it just depends on what the municipality would prefer and whether or not the people who occupy the positions are responsible and successful.
The town attorney, David Pagliarini walked the committee through slides on changing the form of government, ballot language and the method of election.
Pagliarini said he spoke with Joseph Debney, executive director at Charleston County Board of Elections and Registration about the deadline for the wording of the referendum. He said that it was not approved by Charleston County legal counsel at this time but Aug. 15 would likely be the deadline.
Pagliarini walked through the details of each of the five different methods of election. He explained ward lines and district representation for all the different methods. He explained that regardless of what the committee and council decide, if the referendum were on the ballot for district lines it would not take place for two years. During those two years they'd have to work with the state on ward lines, distribution, as well as potential changes in town ordinances.
Councilmember Gary Santos said their current form of government reminds him of a pizza.
"The way we have our government situated now you can eat the whole pizza if you want. But if you go to single member districts you get a slice," Santos said. "If other members of council don't agree with the person that represents your area, you're not going to get a whole lot."
Haynie asked if it was likely that if the town went to districts and there were court challenges for people that disagreed if they would be tied up past when they're supposed to go into effect. He related district zoning to the recent school district zoning that just took place for Wando and Lucy Beckham High School. He said that was one school district, but the town council seats would be eight districts.
Pagliarini said an often litigated issue as Haynie suggests and assumes the matter would be bestayed until it could be resolved. Theoretically the town could have a referendum on the ballot this fall, and if approved would start in the fall of 2021. Any court challenge could delay the town to stay on their current system until resolved.
Haynie questioned how long Mount Pleasant has had eight seats on council. Pagliarini was not sure and said he didn't know it to be any different, at least in a modern era. He said the council could pass an ordinance for a different number if they wished.
"I don't see any valid initiatives being put on by council for either question for this November. I think it might something we can do and think about later if the need comes up. If we decide the will of council is to do that. But, I don't see that happening this year unless the committee members have some other motion or anything that anybody wants to make," Haynie said.
Haynie also confirmed that any office positions for council and mayor are tied to the off-year elections (2017, 2019, 2021), but a referendum can be done in any election or even a special election.
"So that can be done at any time so I'm speaking personally; there's no reason to rush anything and try to get anything done this year," Haynie said. "I just think it would be too hurried and there wouldn't be enough time to discuss it."
Santos said he agreed with Haynie. No other committee members made a motion. Haynie thanked the Municipal Association for educating them on the forms of government and the meeting adjourned without a recommended change to the town's government.