One point I'd like to make with regard to this letter on today's page, which takes exception with our advocacy of a strong-mayor system for Columbia, most recently articulated in our Sunday editorial:
The State’s Sunday editorial, “City should change system, not hire
another manager,” with dismay concerning your recommendation that
Columbia change its form of government.
Choosing a strong-mayor
form over the council-manager system could have dangerous consequences
for the city. These involve the likely emergence of a cult of
personality and abuse of power by individual council members.
in the 20th century, the council-manager system was formulated (some
say for the first time in Sumter) to bring professionalism to city
administration and to distance politics from the daily operation of
Overall, the hiring of professional managers
to carry out council policy has been successful. Even cities as large
as Dallas have city managers. Philadelphia has a strong-mayor form of
Selecting the strong-mayor form would be ill-advised
because a less-than-stellar mayor (after all, how many Joe Rileys are
there in South Carolina?) could make matters much worse.
is now seeking a professional manager and then should work to ensure
that he implements goals of efficient and effective government while
letting council set policy.
JOHN A. HUFFMAN
There is one thing that opponents of strong-mayor always have to confront when they try to dismiss the idea: Joe Riley. They always have to say, "There's only one Joe Riley," or "Joe Rileys don't grow on trees," or "Joe Riley isn't going to move to Columbia."
Why do they have to say that? Because, when they look around for examples to support their point, if they were to say, "Why, look at the only other major city in South Carolina that has a strong mayor," they would immediately have to say, "No, DON'T look at the only other major city in S.C. with a strong mayor," because in that city, the system is a generally acknowledge success. And by generally acknowledged, I mean that Charleston gets all sort of national recognition for being a well-run, well-led city. And while Mr. Riley always has opposition (which you would expect a Democrat to have in a city with so very many Republicans in it), he wins re-election time and again with about three-fourths of the vote.
No, Joe Riley is NOT going to move to Columbia (he decided that for good when he decided not to run for governor in 1998, which was a terrible shame for our state). But let me tell you something just about as certain — if there is another Joe Riley out there, he isn't going to run for mayor of Columbia unless we make the job worth running for. And right now, it isn't.
Yes, folks, I know that council-manager was considered a "reform" when it came along, an alternative to bossism and the like. So was, in its day, the city commission form, which I had the opportunity of studying up close and personal in Jackson, TN, long ago.
But look around you: This system is NOT WORKING, and it has not worked under the last several city managers. The city is a mess, and no one can be held accountable for fixing it. Each member of the council (including the mayor, who has no more say than any other member) can point to the other six and claim, quite truthfully, that he or she lacks the power to do anything without a majority.
So everybody skates when we have the kind of mess we have now, except for the city managers that come and go.
This needs to change. And the first step is putting someone accountable to the voters in charge.