It seems lately that a lot of folks have strong opinions about what this town council should be doing and not doing, depending on the social media platform you are on. I thought I would take a moment to try and give an objective perspective from a councilmember’s viewpoint. I’ve always had a positive impression about how things should be conducted, but like most who run for office, winning is easy, governing is much harder.
The Town of Mount Pleasant is very different from our neighbors in North Charleston and the City of Charleston who have a strong mayor form of government. We run as a council form of government where all nine members of town council are equal in voice and vote, and it takes at least five votes or majority to enact policy. The mayor presides over our town council meetings, but he has no more authority than any of the other eight councilmembers when it comes to policy decisions. Any and all action derived from a strong Council should be the product of debate, collaboration and compromise. Since 2017, individual councilmembers and staff have faced daily challenges from inside and outside forces using intimidation tactics and threats, both direct and indirect, which seriously hinder this body’s ability to provide good governance. This serves no good purpose when it comes to the real work we should be doing. Sadly, the policies that have been implemented over the last few years to ensure transparency and the ability to be heard have been slowly eroding away. Any council member who challenges or questions these acts is ridiculed by some on social media and harassed for taking part in discussions and debates independently, then voting to fulfill our obligation as a supportive democracy within our municipality. There’s literally no time for badgering or devious editorials and tweets by most members of council. So where’s it coming from?
The recent Post and Courier article highlighted this persistent infighting and refusal to collaborate which has reached an untenable level. Of course, some of the folks at Save Shem Creek Corp., where I was a founding member and one of the board of directors, have a tendency to blame me and a majority of council for not voting in lock step with the mayor. I struggle to understand the minds of those that differ greatly from the group I helped form years ago other than a deep desire to control council. I would be shocked to think that Mount Pleasant’s well-respected matriarch has any idea as to the amount of disdain which some people from this organization advocate for, let alone type behind a keyboard. Anybody can be a keyboard aggressor; they aren’t putting their lives on hold to be a public servant. I’ve always believed that if you sling mud, you’ll always lose ground.
Our main source of dysfunction is our general lack of leadership. Our mayor misunderstands his function in a strong council form of government; he may not unilaterally impose policy or decisions upon our council. The task of decision making and policy creation rests exclusively in the body as a whole: all nine, with equal measure. We still have a common goal: to address the needs of all citizens in Mount Pleasant without bias in order to manage growth, and improve infrastructure. The first step in correcting this dysfunction is an acknowledgement and respect of polite, open, and civil discourse without fear of retribution; the town’s citizens and town council deserves that. We need to be encouraged to agree to disagree when necessary, speak up for all of our constituents, and vote for or against the ideas and proposals brought forth by members of council. The misleading rhetoric directed at some individuals who are not always in agreement with the mayor has turned healthy debate into a hostile and bitter environment.
Mr. Slade’s article begs the question: Why does council appear fragmented and unable to work with our mayor? Also, I’m troubled by Mr. Bustos’s comment that our situation is irreparable. He’s been on council for a number of years and seen his own record fall prey to bitterness and resentment.
We, again, find ourselves in the midst of another FOIA “crisis” and our mayor and Mr. Bender are squarely in the middle of it. Knowing the past relationship between Mr. Bender and the mayor makes me wonder. What is this all for? Why invite more chaos and lawsuits yet again? It all started with the mayor’s individual FOIA request for an incident report. The report obviously contains information about minors; I refused to request a copy of the report despite the mayor’s insistence over the course of several emails. The town redacted the report to protect the identity of these children. This has led to more embarrassing headlines and Mr. Bender tossing out more unflattering editorials. And why? Was it because the town chose to follow the law and seek assistance from the court in a legally authorized process? The citizens, including myself, grow weary of paying for lawsuits that some on this council willingly invite. I have already sat in four mediations where the town, thankfully walked away without paying a dime. I will continue to seek out the facts and educate myself and I will make every attempt to work with all my fellow council members and staff for the sake and benefit of the town we all love; but I refuse to let half-truths and intimidation affect my conscience or guide my decisions.
Hopefully we still live in a civil society, but I guess we’ll find out by the flare up of posts on social media in the form of Facebook and Twitter.
Jim Owens serves as a councilmember for the Town of Mount Pleasant.