Rep. James Smith on why he’s for strong-mayor

Here’s a release I received today from Rep. James Smith:

There are many good people who care about the future of the City of Columbia on both sides of the debate about our city’s form of government.  Please allow me to tell you why I’m VOTING YES for a Strong Mayor tomorrowand I hope you will too.

Columbia is fortunate to be served by a dedicated and conscientious City Council and city staff who do their best to serve us every day.  But I believe our city is hindered by a system that lacks the fundamental elements of accountability that are the bedrock of our Democracy.JES_post_pic

We know this issue has been debated and discussed for the better part of two decades. We know this is the most popular form of government in South Carolina and the same model used by our state and federal governments.  And we know the only reason we have this chance to adopt a more effective and accountable Strong Mayor form of government is because over 12,000 individuals just like you who signed a petition and demanded the right to vote.

Some in opposition want to make this about politics and power.  But the simple truth is that City Council’s authority doesn’t change at all and a Strong Mayor would have no more power than the City Manager has right now.  The only difference is that you hire the Mayor and you can fire the Mayor.  The same can’t be said of the City Manager.

The Mayor answers to you and it doesn’t matter how many petitions you sign or how loudly you protest, the City Manager never will.  That’s the only difference… but it makes all the difference.

  • When the city comes to edge of bankruptcy and no one is held accountable, the system is broken.
  • When no one takes responsibility for years of deferred water/sewer maintenance resulting in EPA intervention and rate increases, the system is broken.
  • When the police chief can’t do his job without getting permission from an Assistant City Manager, City Manager, any number of department heads and a panel of politicians, the system is broken.
  • When the red tape keeps the Mayor you elected from doing what you elected him to, the system is definitely broken.

We need to fix it.

This is our chance to make a real difference, to step forward into a new and more effective government and build the Columbia we’ve always dreamed of.

This is our moment. Tomorrow, December 3, Vote YES for accountability. Vote YES for safety. Vote YES for change and for a greater Columbia.

We’ve been on hold long enough.  Let’s move forward together.

Your friend,

Representative James Smith

19 thoughts on “Rep. James Smith on why he’s for strong-mayor

  1. Mark Stewart

    It’s hard to argue with that logic.

    When this became a referendum on Benjamin, it was clear that the status quo supporters have nothing better than personal attacks and insinuations – never the sign of a strong position.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    The police chief has repeatedly said, as has the city manager, that he does his job without asking any permission. Somebody got to James. I am disappointed.

    However, he is the only prominent city resident, well, I guess Nikki counts, who is in favor.

      1. Kelly Payne

        Not as prominent as you Brad! I was diappointed in Gov Haley’s decision to weigh in on this local issue. Rep Smith lives in Columbia, so it makes sense for him to speak out. I also live within the city limits but I do not support this change. The current City of Columbia structure requires that elected and appointed officials work together as a team. Why destroy the team to allow one person to grab all the power?

    1. Mark Stewart

      Nice backhand to the non-prominent among the citizenry.

      I guess we can see that the “prominent city resident(s)” appear to like the council-manager form because they believe it gives them more personal access to decision-makers. Sort of how the Planter class set up this state’s legislative state, isn’t it? For maximum meddling and backroom influence peddling…which is certainly what Columbia has in spades.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Oh, absolutely. The people who have invested time learning to manipulate the current system always oppose anything that would open government up to be more democratically responsive.

        I say that not to criticize those stakeholders in the status quo. Some of them are among the best, most caring people — people you’d like to have on your side. But they’re just too invested in the way things are…

        When we did the Power Failure project in the early 90s, I was struck by how so many of the smartest, most caring, involved people in the state opposed reform. So we hosted a series of lunches inviting groups of those people to the newspaper for a discussion. The pattern tended to be this: These people had learned how to get what they wanted under the current system — because they were among the very few South Carolinians who had a clue how the system worked. Our project was about opening government up so that it could be responsive to the rest of the electorate.

        1. Doug Ross

          Those stakeholders also hold an advantage either through their occupation which gives them access to key decision makers or else have the time to invest in building those relationships that others with regular jobs cannot.

          1. Mark Stewart

            However, this won’t change even if the structure is changed. That’s just the way of things; which is why I do not understand why committed, “prominent” citizens would what to cling to the existing failed approach – they aren’t going to loose out in the least in a transition to a more accountable form of governance. But they will certainly gain – the entire city and greater region, too, will be the beneficiaries.

      1. Mark Stewart

        As in impertinent non-resident of Columbia – who nonetheless has a deep interest in seeing Columbia be the best place it can be – with no personal influence to peddle or axes to grind, I am strongly in favor of restructuring the model of government to inject a common-sense accountability to what has become a train wreck of a responsibility avoiding send up of municipal leadership and management.

        The model is broken; what is now is the best this weak structure can ever be. That is in no way good enough for the Columbia of today – and especially for the city of tomorrow. This has been proven over and over again for decades now. Vote for accountability. Vote for responsibility. Vote to unshackle the city from its leadership malaise.

        1. Silence

          How can you say that the model is broken? It’s used sucessfully by many cities – many of the BEST cities have council/manager systems.

          1. Mark Stewart

            Cities that thrive under a council/manger system do so in spite of the governmental structure. Just don’t tell me, Silence, that Columbia’s implementation has been among the “best”.

        2. Kelly Payne

          Because SC law forbids recall elections, you can’t replace a mayor until that person’s four-year term is up. If a professional manger isn’t doing the job, he or she could be replaced immediately by a vote of City Council. It’s a question of accountability every day, not ever four years.

          Columbia is growing at a reasonable pace, in fact I’d say we’ve had a cultural renassiance compared to other mid-sized cities. Let’s improve what we have, not destroy it.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Thank goodness “SC law forbids recall elections.” And government by referendum, too.

            The best system is representative democracy, with representatives elected to make laws, and an executive elected to carry them out.

            There is no way you EVER get leadership if an elected leader can be recalled the moment he does one thing that’s unpopular. Barring gross malfeasance, an elected official should serve the entire term.

            That said, folks who focus on “you can’t fire the mayor for four years” ignore the fact that an elected mayor is going to be FAR more sensitive, day in and day out, to the public will than a hired manager who reports to seven bosses and never has to care what voters think. That’s just the way the world works.

            A mayor serving four years may be able to (and should) take a political risk now and then, simply because he DOES have four years. But he’s going to be watching his back to make sure that in the aggregate, his tenure is pleasing to the voters.

          2. Leon

            Charles Austin was not doing his job as city manager. Was he replaced immediately by City Council? I’m sorry but I cannot see how anybody who cares about good government would be voting NO. There’s got to be something in it for them to vote against the “strong mayor” form of government. If the No’s carry the day today then all I can say is Columbia will have the same kind of dysfunctional government in the future and it will certainly be richly deserved by the citizenry (at least, those who voted NO and those who didn’t bother to show up to vote YES).

    2. Silence

      James Smith wants to run for Courson’s Senate Seat next time it’s up for a vote. He’s trying to curry favor with certain donors and supporters…

  3. Silence

    A public service announcement:
    If you are voting “NO” – vote today at your regular voting location.
    If you are voting “YES” – you should vote tomorrow at your regular precinct.

    This message has been brought to you by the Richland County Election Commission, the letter “D” and the number “8”.

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