Council hears presentation on forms of government

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By David Meade

During a work session held Monday, Scott Slatton of the SC Municipal Association presented information to Williamston Town Council on the forms of government and changing the form of government.

Slatton explained the three types of government the state allows for cities and counties which are: Mayor Council or Strong Mayor From of Government; Council Form of Government or Strong Council/Weak Mayor; and Council Manager. Williamston currently operates under the Strong Mayor form of government.

Slatton explained the roles and responsibilities of each form of government and gave examples of each.

He said there are two ways to change the form of government, council referendum after having two readings on an ordinance and by voter petition, with 15 percent of the registered votes requesting council to put the issue on a referendum.

During the presentation Slatton said, “All three forms work just fine, so long as each of the people who are involved understand their form of govenment and stay in their lanes. The problem is when they swerve out of their lane.”

There were questions from the public and councilmembers about responsibilities of council and mayor and recourse or consequences if policies and procedures are not being followed.

Following the presentation, Town Attorney Lee Cole advised Council that the town would not be able to meet a requirement of having a referendum certified by the town’s election commission within 45 days prior to a general election. Cole said the town would have to have the referendum question certified by the town election commission by August 15 to have the issue placed on the general election ballot.

Cole said the town could open itself to a lawsuit by the losing side of the referendum question if it is not certified by the Aug. 15 deadline as required.

Cole noted that other guidelines include a required first reading on the ordinance, then at least six days before having the second reading with specified language stating the form of government the town wants voters to change to and public notices that are required. He said those could possible be met.

Once the issue is voted on it cannot be on the ballot again for four years.

Councilman Rockey Burgess stated that his biggest concern was having the majority of the town vote on the issue and that would be more likely if the issue is voted on during the general election.

“I want the majority of the town to feel comfortable if we change it,” he said.

Mayor Mack Durham said he thinks the town operates just fine under the strong mayor form of government it currently has.

“We have accomplished more in the last 18 months than in any previous administration,” Durham said. “I don’t think a change in the form of government could change that.”

The mayor said he would like to see more communication from the council.