Councilmembers say they are not being informed on projects

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Street Enhancement project latest example
Williamston to consider changing form of government – again

By David Meade

Williamston’s recent Street Enhancement project has been the hot topic of discussion since work began in January and just as the congestion of construction workers and equipment have left and motorists are becoming used to the new driving pattern, the project has become a political issue.

So much so that the issue of changing the town’s form of government is back on the table.

Councilman Rockey Burgess addressed the issue during the Williamston Town Council meeting Monday evening. Burgess left his seat on council and spoke from the floor during the public comments portion of the meeting. He first apologized to residents for giving out inaccurate information about the project.

Burgess said since the project began he has been defending the town, telling people who have complained to him about the project what the mayor had initially told him, that it was a SCDOT project and that although the town initiated and originally designed the project, the town had no input on the final design nor did anyone from the town sign off on the final design.

Burgess said the mayor had in fact made suggestions and signed off on the project about a year and a half ago.

After further research and talking with SCDOT officials, Burgess said he found that the mayor had submitted a plan which was different from the original street enhancement plan submitted in 2011-12 and that the mayor had been in contact with SCDOT on the project numerous times over the past year and as far back as March of 2013.

Burgess said that he had no input on the project and “there was no input from committees on that design.”

Burgess then questioned the mayor as to why no one else, including council, had been consulted about the project.

Burgess said he was very supportive of the mayor’s initiatives but added, “It is very important that your council knows what is going on.

Burgess said he hoped the mayor would follow what he has said about working with council and would “build consensus and not build walls.”

Mayor Mack Durham only stated that there is usually no dialog with council during public comments and did not speak to Burgess’ comments.

After addressing a few orders of business, Councilman Otis Scott made a motion to amend the agenda and to have the town attorney draw up an ordinance to change the form of government.

The motion was amended to draw up an ordinance to change from the present strong mayor form of government to a council form of government.

The change would give councilmembers more authority in the day to day operations of the town.

There was no discussion among council about the proposal. The motion was approved with a 3-2 vote in favor of the change. Councilmen Rockey Burgess and David Harvell voted with Councilman Scott to make the change. Councilman Tony Hagood and Mayor Durham were opposed.

Councilman Burgess and Councilman Scott both said Tuesday that the mayor is not keeping them informed on major projects, a complaint that led to the town considering a change in form of government last year after a similar situation arose.

The previous push to change the form of government was dropped after it became apparent that requirements could not be met to have the issue on the November ballot and Mayor Durham said he would keep council more informed.

Durham began holding monthly council work sessions the week before council meetings to discuss “issues and solutions” that affect the town.

The streetscape project was barely mentioned in any of those work sessions.

Councilman Scott said Tuesday his reason for wanting to change the form of government “in no way is a reflection on the job he (the mayor) is doing.”

Scott said, “The main reason is because we (council) are being left inthe dark. He does things without telling us about it.”

Scott said he was also told the street enhancement was based on SCDOT drawings, “but they came from him.”

Scott said there had been several meetings on the Ellison St. and Hill Ave. street projects but he had not been informed about them. “I could have been there to represent my ward,” Scott said. “I think people elected us to serve them. If we can’t serve them , we don’t need to be on the council.”

Scott said his biggest problem with the mayor is “he doesn’t cooperate with us. The citizens elected me and I’m going to do what I can to serve them.”

Scott said he also defended the town’s involvement in the street enhancement project based on what the mayor had told him.

“It’s bad when the mayor tells you something and you tell the people – and it is a lie. He made that drawing and gave it to them.”

Scott said he hoped the citizens will consider that the council needs to be more involved in the actions of the town and will show their support on the referendum to change the form of government.

“I hope citizens will turn out and show him that we need five people running this town, not one,” Scott said.