Category Archives: 2013 Columbia Mayor

Re-elected Mayor Benjamin pumped up, feeling his oats

famously cover

Last night at the annual meeting of the City Center Partnership in the Tapp’s Arts Center, Columbia’s just-re-elected mayor got up to speak, and urged those present to address him henceforth as Steve “Landslide” Benjamin.

Yes, it was a joke. Everybody laughed. (Although when it was mentioned at another meeting I attended today over lunch, mayoral aide Sam Johnson said yeah, he was trying to discourage “Landslide” from calling himself that. Also joking. I think.)

Over at ADCO, we were particularly pleased to see the above cover on last week’s Free Times. On account of, you know, we came up with “Famously Hot.” I really enjoy the fun that Free Times has with the brand, such as on this cover last year.

famously strong

Sypolt drops out, backs Benjamin

Lest you forget, Sypolt was the “Larry” in the “Larry, Moe and Steve” contest for mayor of Columbia.

Here’s the news:

Former deputy Larry Sypolt withdrew from Columbia’s mayoral campaign Monday and threw his support to Mayor Steve Benjamin.

“I think it’s a disservice to the community for Steve and I to run against each other,” Sypolt said in front of police headquarters in downtown Columbia, with Benjamin at his side.

Sypolt dropped out after acknowledging that he has come to agree with Benjamin on public safety and other issues….

Benjamin’s main rival all along has been Moe Baddorah, of course. I was talking to Moe today at Rotary, less than an hour before I saw this news. So I missed a good chance to get his reaction.

I asked how he thought the race was going. “Well,” he said. He asked how I thought it was going, and I said I had no idea. These municipal elections, with their tiny turnout, are so hard to predict. All you have to go on is yard signs (and Moe has plenty of those) and endorsements. And those can be unreliable. All those endorsements didn’t do Daniel Coble all that much good. Moe grinned at that.

Mr. Baddourah, having learned a tough lesson from his defeat at the hands of Seth Rose for county council several years back, is big on door-to-door. He says he’s visited every neighborhood in the city.

And he thinks turnout might be greater than usual, because of the pull of the Richland Library referendum — from both sides of the issue.

But he said “no” when I asked whether that was something he was hearing about as he rang doorbells. Nor, he said, are people talking about strong mayor. So what is he hearing about? “Public safety, infrastructure, water bills, and not trusting the government.”

I also spoke, somewhat more briefly, with Steve Benjamin late Friday afternoon, at a campaign event at City Roots.

He, too, is confident, and he says he has objective reason to feel that way — he got some good numbers from a poll early last week. (I haven’t seen the numbers; but that’s what he said.)

Since I spoke with the mayor, The State has endorsed him. Here’s the link.

How do y’all think it’s going? If you force me to say, I say Benjamin wins fairly handily. But then, you don’t ever count Moe Baddourah out, as Daniel Coble can tell you.

Y’all guesses are at least as good as mine, and probably better. What do you think?

Moe, Larry and Steve to debate on WIS Tuesday

Moe Baddourah at the Midlands Reality Check on Tuesday.

Moe Baddourah at the Midlands Reality Check on Tuesday.

As a member of the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, I’m happy to report that the organization is co-sponsoring a mayoral debate next Tuesday evening:

On this coming Tuesday, WIS TV and CRC will co-host  a debate among the three candidates for mayor of Columbia;  Moe Baddourah, Steve Benjamin, and Larry Sypolt.   The event will be televised live from WIS studios….
Listed below are the specifics of the event:
Moderators:  WIS TV news anchors Judi Gatson and Ben Hoover.
Location:    WIS-TV Studio, 1111 Bull Street

Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Time:  7 p.m.-8 p.m.

Note that I had nothing to do with setting this up. This is actually the first I’ve heard of it. But I thought I should disclose the connection.

The council has been working lately to become a sort of convener of civil conversations in the community. We had that forum last year about the penny sales tax referendum, then another this year about strong-mayor (which I missed because of a conflict). The council is scrupulously careful to make these programs as neutral and as informative as possible. Watch and see how you think we’re doing.

Steve Benjamin at Midlands Reality Check on Tuesday.

Steve Benjamin at Midlands Reality Check on Tuesday.

That’s not a ‘photo.’ It just isn’t…

This is a very, very small thing to let bother me, but it’s Monday morning, so here goes…

It really bugs me that Rally, that web application that lots of political consultants use for their clients these days, is always sending emails that are headlined, “A new photo from (insert name of candidate),” when what it’s calling your attention to isn’t a photograph at all.

Sometimes the main message is text. Other times, it’s some sort of graphic element that may or may not contain a photo, but still is not, strictly speaking, something you would describe as a “photo.”

For instance, today I received a Rally message that said, in the body, “Steve Benjamin posted a new photo about Mayor Steve Benjamin.” And below it, I found the following:


Below that was the following text:

Join me for Harvest Fest at City Roots, one of our last campaign events before the November 5th Election. This Friday at 4PM. Free food a…

Not a photo in sight, except for a tiny thumbnail at the top, which was not “new.”

Does this bother anyone else?

Cindi Scoppe on the now-rare ‘loyal opposition’

Cindi Scoppe had a good column in the paper today — one I might have written myself (ironic, self-mocking smiley face).

She was praising Leona Plaugh for attitudes that used to be fairly common among elected officials, but now are alarmingly rare — and practically nonexistent within the District of Columbia.

An excerpt:

Ms. Plaugh, you might recall, helped lead the opposition to Mayor Steve Benjamin’s rush job on the contract the city signed this summer promising tens of millions of dollars in incentives to Bob Hughes in return for his developing the old State Hospital property on Bull Street in accordance with city desires. She criticized the way the deal was rammed through so quickly that people didn’t know what was in it and she criticized what she did know about its contents. And she was happy to repeat those criticisms when she met with us.

But when my colleague Warren Bolton asked her what happens next, she said, essentially, we make it work.

“Once you vote for something and it’s done, it’s done,” she said. “We all need to get on the bandwagon now and hope it’s the best it can be.”

A few minutes later, when she was talking about her surprise at ending up on the losing end of a 2010 vote to turn control of the Columbia Police Department over to the Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, and we asked why she hadn’t brought that idea back up as the department’s woes have mounted, she recalled all the debate and public hearings that had preceded that vote.

“I don’t think you continually go back and harp on things that this council has already voted on,” she explained, “unless someone on the other side is ready to change their position on it.”


Then we got to the city’s decision this spring to purchase the Palmetto Compress warehouse over her objections, and the news in that morning’s paper that a local development group had tentatively agreed to buy the property, at a small profit to the city. And there wasn’t even a hint of sour grapes when she told us, “I hope I lose my bet with the mayor and that that will be a roaring success.”

What put an exclamation point on all of this was the timing. Our conversation with Ms. Plaugh took place at the very moment that what passes for grownups in Washington were racing the clock to reach a can-kicking agreement to keep the federal government out of an elective default. An agreement that we weren’t at all certain they’d be able to sell to their colleagues.

Which is just mind-boggling….

As Cindi went on to say, Leona was expressing the attitude of a member of the loyal opposition, “a concept that no longer exists in Washington, outside the occasional Senate gang, and is falling out of favor at the State House, replaced with open disdain for the idea of even talking with people in the other party, much less accepting defeat and moving on.”

And our republic is much, much worse off for that quality being so rare.

Benjamin calls ‘Urgent Community Meeting on Crime Control’

This just in from Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin:

Urgent Community Meeting on Crime Control

Dear ,

I’m sure you know an innocent young woman was shot early Sunday morning while waiting for a taxi in the Five Points area — the victim of a stray bullet fired by a career criminal.
As the father of two girls, I was heartbroken and outraged by this senseless act of violence. Our prayers are with the young victim and her family. And our minds must now be focused on what more we can do to make the Five Points area and our entire City safer.
Fortunately, the new video cameras we recently installed in the Five Points area helped our City police quickly identify the suspect. But even more aggressive prevention is needed.
We’ve endured far too many of these tragedies in Columbia. A precious 4-year-old girl injured in a gang shooting while watching television in her living room. A hard-working mother of four killed while providing for her family at a local bakery. These are painful reminders of the battle we are fighting in every corner of our city to get repeat violent offenders off our streets.
For that reason, I am inviting you and all our neighbors to attend a special community meeting this Wednesday, October 16, at 5:30pm at the Columbia Police Department’s PACE Team Headquarters (Food Lion Parking Lot), 1001 Harden Street, to talk about new ideas and solutions to make our City safer and more secure.
We are making progress in crime control. We now have a fully funded police department, we’ve restored first responder budget cuts and we’ve cut overall crime rates including violent crimes. To brief you, here is a list of several reforms I’ve been working on as Mayor. For example, we’ve called for…
  • A citywide crackdown on gang violence with new resources for our Anti-Gang Task Force.
  • A campaign to get illegal guns off of the streets.
  • Aggressive prosecution of violent crimes to the full extent of the law, while ending the revolving door that puts thugs back on our streets to strike again.
  • A new policy to keep politicians away from crime scenes, keep politics out of law enforcement and ensure public trust in our police department.
Clearly, we need to do more. That’s why we need to hear your ideas, comments and suggestions for ways to do better. Most of all, we all need to stand together and work together as one city–to make Columbia safer for all of our families to live, work and play.
Please join us Wednesday at five-thirty in the afternoon at the CPD PACE Team HQ at 1001 Harden St. I look forward to seeing you.
In service,
Mayor, City of Columbia
P.S. — If you can’t make the meeting on Wednesday and have something you would like to share, please email me at

Steve Benjamin on ecodevo, strong mayor, tax base, etc.


I thought about calling this “Ivy Day in the Committee Room Redux,” but I’d used that gimmick before. You can see how I’m tempted when I attend a small political gathering in the back room of an Irish-themed pub.

Anyway, I went to another of Jack Van Loan’s Kaffeeklatsches with Mayor Steve Benjamin, and he talked with the folks there (a group invited by Jack, who is a Benjamin supporter) about a number of issues.Benjamin Jack

When I entered the room, he was talking about economic development, and saying, “Cities grow from the inside out.” Which is kinda why those of us who look (admittedly, from the outside, Kathryn) upon Columbia as a whole, instead of through the lens of this or that neighborhood, tend to like such things as the strong-mayor initiative.

He went on to say later why development is so important in the Vista and Five Points and Main Street and other commercial corridors, and why it was so important to get Bull Street going — the fact that one of Columbia’s “skyscrapers” (he used the word somewhat ironically), such as the Capitol Center (SC’s tallest building, where the Cap City Club is) or the new one next door with EDENS and McNair Law Firm, or Nelson Mullins’ Meridian Building, brings in more tax revenue than a 600-home residential development.

Hence his emphasis on “vertical development.”

Look south from the Capital City Club, he said, and if you see five buildings taller than four stories that are on the tax rolls, “you’ve done something special.” The view in the other three directions are similar.

Not that he would give up such key drivers of the local economy as USC, Fort Jackson and state government, but if you’re going to keep the city going, it needs more tax base.

Then he talked about strong-mayor. Most there were for it. One man said he’s for it, but friends he was going to see tonight were not, and he wanted to know what to tell them when they say, “What about cronyism?”

Benjamin answered diplomatically, possibly because I was there (and Charlie Nutt, the new publisher of Free Times, as well). He said something vague about how cronyism could occur under other systems as well. What I would have said, of course, is that you’ve got cronyism now; it’s just harder to see. If everyone, from voters to media, has a strong executive to focus on, you know where to look for cronyism. This or that person is connected to the mayor. Much, much easier to spot than with a little-known city manager who reports to seven bosses.

The mayor said one thing about strong-mayor that surprised me. Maybe he’s said it before, and I missed it.

He said that he would NOT hire a professional administrator to oversee the rest of city government and report to him. He said that all of the department heads — with special emphasis on the police chief — would report directly to him.

This sounds good — “buck stops here,” and all that. And indeed, when he said it, Jack muttered, “Damn right.”

But I questioned it. I said, couldn’t you have the best of both worlds? Wouldn’t it answer the concerns of the Howard Duvalls of the world, who say that the current system is better because you have a professional manager in charge, while you can’t guarantee an elected mayor would have any administrative skills.

Benjamin conceded the point, and emphasized that he hasn’t really fully thought out all the details of administration should he be re-elected and strong-mayor passes. First he’s working on he re-election, and after that will “focus like a laser beam” on the strong-mayor issue.

But he defended his statement about no administrator by expressing his concern that such a position could dilute the accountability that is the best feature of strong-mayor.

And, he added sort of jokingly, hiring a manager wouldn’t really satisfy Howard Duvall. He had a point there…

Howard, I don’t think YOU need more time on strong mayor

While I was giving blood yesterday, I saw a TV news report about the strong mayor issue, and there on the tube was Howard Duvall, former head of the state municipal association, standing in front of a group of people who are against the reform.

What struck me as weird was that Howard was asking that the referendum be delayed. For a month. He wanted this delay in part because people weren’t going to have time to study it adequately:

“If the people speak to a change in our form of government, let us do so with full awareness and knowledge,” group spokesman Howard Duvall said on the steps of the Eau Claire print building.

And I thought, Really Howard? People don’t know what they think now? And they’re not going to have enough time to wise up on the issue in the next seven weeks? But another four weeks will make it just right?

It’s just that Howard was not an ideal vessel for that message. I already know what Howard thinks about strong mayor. He’s said he was against it for years. Just as I’ve said I was for it for years. (Which will prompt Kathryn to say nobody cares what I think, since I don’t live in the city — which I’ll be happy to address separately.) Howard is fully informed on the issue, and well-equipped to disseminate his views on the matter. Seems to me that if he hasn’t reached people with his message by Nov. 5, things aren’t going to be that different by Dec. 3.

And yeah, Howard’s a special case, but it’s a bit hard to accept the idea that this has somehow snuck up on informed voters. We hammered it home at The State for years, and the paper most recently actually published a front-page editorial — something that never happened in my day — on the subject. Mayor Benjamin advocated for a referendum when he ran for office in 2010, and so did Moe Baddourah (although he reversed himself as soon as he was elected). The city council has had how many votes on it this year? At least two I can think of off-hand. This has been one of the hottest local issues for months (and years and years, for those paying attention).

So I wasn’t persuaded on that point.

But Howard had another point as well, which was “Let’s make sure that the process of change does not taint the outcome.” Which is a slightly dense statement, but let’s dilute it a bit. As The State paraphrased,

Duvall said the bipartisan group does not want a change in form of government to become a referendum on Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is seeking a second term and is a strong advocate for changing the mayor’s office into the chief executive of the city with the hiring and firing power now vested in a city manager.

Now that’s a different and intriguing point to consider.

I can see how a person might favor Steve Benjamin’s re-election but be opposed to strong mayor, and be worried about other people agreeing with him or her on the referendum, and worried they might also vote against the mayor. Of course, there’s a converse scenario in which Moe Baddourah’s chances are swamped by a big pro-strong mayor vote.

But I think people who are smart enough to find their way to the polls ought to be able to make two decisions instead of one. And… it seems like a sort of bait-and-switch to elect a mayor without knowing what that mayor’s powers will be. In fact, it would be better if the referendum were held before the mayoral vote — like, a couple of years ago, ideally (which should have happened). But it seems that same-day is the best we can do — Columbia voters can choose their mayor, and choose the powers of that office, at the same time.

Also, I appreciate having a mayor who is willing to stake his re-election, to some extent, on his stance on this reform issue. Someone who wants to be elected, or re-elected, to the office should share whatever vision he has for the city’s future. And if strong-mayor is part of that vision, I appreciate his willingness to run on it.

Kevin Fisher, in his column this week, raises another concern — that having the referendum too soon could backfire into a vote against the reform. Which, in fairness, is another way to read Howard Duvall’s concern about the process tainting the outcome. I think there’s something to that concern. This issue has been on the front burner so long that it’s kind of ridiculous that anyone would consider this a rush to judgment, but I have no doubt that some will feel that way. Never underestimate voters’ ability to completely ignore an issue until the last minute.

But in the end, I’m unpersuaded by calls to delay yet again. I agree with Warren Bolton:

Yes, it’s imperative to hold forums and disseminate information to help voters learn about the current council-manager structure as well as mayor-council, or strong mayor. But I can’t imagine that it would be too difficult for voters to comprehend a helpful nuts-and-bolts presentation on council-manager and mayor-council soon enough to vote in November.

Truth is, many voters know more about strong mayor than they do the people running for mayor and City Council. Nobody is asking for more time so voters can be educated about the people who will help run the city the next four years.

With it apparent that petition organizers have collected enough signatures to trigger an election, it only makes sense for the city to go ahead and schedule a vote on Nov. 5, along with other municipal elections. If that doesn’t happen, then the council would have to spend around $150,000 for a special election on the referendum.

And for what? A few more weeks to get information out to voters? Let’s be real. Voters need enough information to help determine which form they prefer. They don’t need a 16-week course that counts toward a college degree.

Oh, and by the way: Speaking of public forums, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (of which I am a member) is holding a public informational session on the issue next Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Eau Claire Print Building, 3902 Ensor Avenue. As with the forum we had last year on the penny sales tax referendum, both sides will be presented as fairly and completely as possible. David Stanton will again moderate.

NOW strong mayor may be on the Nov. 5 ballot (yeah, I’m confused, too)

This just in, from

COLUMBIA, SC — Backers of a referendum to change Columbia’s form of government on Tuesday afternoon will submit petitions with what they assert are sufficient signatures to force City Council to put a strong-mayor option to voters on Nov. 5.

The petition still must be certified by the Richland County Election Commission and the county elections and voter registration office…

Matthew Richardson, a Columbia attorney hired by a group of citizens and business leaders who organized the drive, said once the county certifies enough names on the petition, an election must be held no sooner than 30 days or longer than 90 days from certification, according to the state petition law.

“Obviously, November 5 is a viable date,” Richardson said…

Yeah, I’m confused, too. Didn’t The State tell us categorically just last week that “A massive drive to collect signatures to force a referendum on a strong-mayor form of government in Columbia won’t get the 11,000-plus signatures needed to put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.”

I think I may see the trouble. That earlier report was based, apparently, on this: “Friday at 5 p.m. is the deadline for submitting signatures to put a question on the Nov. 5 ballot, according to Richland County Elections director Howard Jackson.” That is to say, last Friday, Sept. 6.

So either he, or Matthew Richardson, is wrong.

I hope it’s Mr. Jackson who’s wrong, as I’d like to see this on the ballot…

Some talking points on the library bond vote

I haven’t seen a lot out there about the Richland Library bond vote on the Nov. 5 ballot. So I thought I’d pass on this memo I received from folks who are pushing for a “yes”:

Dear Friends,


Did you know the Richland Library bond referendum will be on the November 5 ballot?  Below is some basic information.  If you would like more details or how to be involved in Vote For Our Libraries, contact us!  803-233-2414

Richland Library


Since 2007, the library has had a capital needs plan that calls for renovations and additions to all library facilities based on the changing ways we serve and advance our community.


Key Facts:


Why is the Library Requesting a Bond Referendum?

Voter approved bonds are the only way the library can obtain substantial funds for building and renovations. The goal is to update all library locations by adding and reconfiguring space, technology and resources to better fit the way customers need and use the library today. The capital needs plan was developed in 2007 and is reviewed each year. The only new buildings are Ballentine and Sandhills. Following green building guidelines and sustainable practices will mean substantial energy savings for all locations.


Why now?

It’s been 24 years since the last bond referendum in 1989, and most of our facilities haven’t been significantly improved or updated since then. Interest rates are at an all-time low – it costs half as much today for twice the value added in 1989.


What will it cost the taxpayer?

Estimates indicate the maximum impact on taxpayers to be $12-14/year for a $100,000 home. For as little as one cup of coffee each month, we can ensure access to needed resources and technology, as well as the opportunity to share information and exchange ideas.


Why spend money on libraries when everyone has a smartphone/tablet?

Technology has made libraries more essential to their communities – not obsolete. In fact, many people in Richland County rely on the library for access to technology, computers and the Internet. Even if you may not use the library, your friends, family and neighbors are most likely relying on its services.

Since he’s opposed by Moe and Larry, mayor should change his name to ‘Curly’


Just passing that on. I didn’t come up with it; it was mentioned to me by a local attorney.

It arises from the fact that Mayor Steve Benjamin is being opposed for re-election by Councilman Moe Baddourah and former FBI analyst Larry Sypolt.

If the mayor would only make this one little change, think of all the great national coverage the campaign would get.

It’s meant to be. There’s already a major heading in the Wikipedia page about Larry, Moe and Curly headlined, “The Columbia Years.” I am not making this up…

Image vs. reality: The utter powerlessness of the mayor of Columbia

I thought this was an interesting contrast.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s re-election campaign sent out the above video, showing the mayor standing before a group of cops — the city’s anti-gang unit — and talking tough about how gangs won’t be tolerated (when he’s not talking about reaching out to troubled youth who are all “very talented” and just need a guiding hand, an apparent contradiction that reflects the different constituencies he’s trying to reach).

So there you have an image of a mayor who is in command of the city’s sentinels, pledging to protect us all from crime.

Then, you have what happened in the real world — the reminder last night that the mayor is not in charge of the police department, and has no control over the person who is:

COLUMBIA, SC — Columbia’s mayor and city manager had a public falling out Tuesday, barely seven months into a workplace relationship that critics once decried as too close.

The split occurred over Mayor Steve Benjamin’s proposal to ban city administrators and politicians from active police crime scenes. City manager Teresa Wilson said she took the proposal as a shot aimed to impugn her integrity because of her decision to go to the site of the July 12 arrest of state civil rights leader Lonnie Randolph.

“I don’t care who it is. I’m not going to allow anybody to attack my personal credibility,” Wilson told The State newspaper after Benjamin’s proposal died in a 5-1 vote. The mayor was the only one of the six council members at the meeting to vote in support of his suggestion that would have allowed City Council members to be censured and employees to be disciplined…

Benjamin is fully aware of how powerless he is, the video image from that press conference notwithstanding. In fact, he put out a release about it today:

Serving as your mayor has been the dream of a lifetime and a great personal honor and I have used this office as forcefully as I can to advocate positive improvements in our city.
I’m proud of the progress we are making in building a safer city, creating jobs, improving education and providing a high quality of life for our citizens.
But recent news has helped to demonstrate that the present “weak mayor” system of governance in Columbia is outdated and structurally flawed. Like all Columbians, I’m frustrated by how long it takes to get things done.
Under the current system, I have:
But ultimately, I am limited to a role of advocacy. The Mayor of Columbia has only one vote on a seven-member council and no administrative authority.
It’s time for a change. It’s time to switch to a “strong mayor” form of government.
Columbia has grown to the point that we need a mayor with modern executive authority. The present system muddies the waters of accountability. The time has come to make me and all future mayors accountable to the voters for the quality and efficiency of city government.
That’s why I’ve asked City Council to meet on August 13 and support a referendum that would let the voters decide whether they want a modern strong mayor form of government or whether they want to continue our present system of city management by committee.
My request of City Council is simple: let the voters decide.
Some will argue that we should keep the present committee system. Some will say they don’t want mayors to have executive powers. That’s okay. Let everyone make their case in a public debate to be decided by the people of Columbia.
Surely no one who believes in the founding principles of America would stand in the way of allowing the public to vote on how they choose to be governed.
I hope my colleagues on City Council will join me in giving voters the chance to make their voices heard. And if Council fails to empower the people, then I will stand strongly behind a petition drive to give voters access to the ballot.
If you agree that it’s time for a change, please consider contacting your City Council members. Let them know you support giving the people of Columbia the opportunity to vote on their form of government.
As always, I thank you for your time and consideration.

Steve Benjamin, Mayor
City of Columbia, South Carolina

As you know, I’m completely in agreement with the mayor on this. The executive functions of the city should be in the hands of someone elected by all of the city’s voters. There is simply no accountability under the current system.

But while I’m with him on the main point, I was struck by the irony of his mentioning his desire “to enact policies that remove all hints of politics from law enforcement,” on the same day his campaign is touting video of him posed in front of a row of uniformed cops…


Benjamin says Randolph charges shouldn’t be dropped, and Wilson shouldn’t have run to the scene

The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.

The mayor, (rightly) injecting some politics into policing in Five Points, back in September 2012.

I thought this was an interesting thing for a major running for re-election to do. He sent out a release weighing in on a controversial recent arrest by the city’s police department:

Keep Politics Out of Policing

July 24, 2013, Columbia, SC

Dear friends,

As you know, public safety has and continues to be my top priority in the City of Columbia and, while we’ve made real progress over the past several years, a number of recent high-profile incidents have further demonstrated the need for continued focus and action.

It is for that reason and because we must ensure the public’s trust in our police department, that last week I called for a SLED investigation into claims made against the Columbia Police Department and I firmly believe that we must allow that investigation to proceed without any political interference. Our state’s law enforcement officers are very capable of conducting a thorough investigation. I am confident that they will perform their duties objectively and comprehensively and provide us with a full report to act upon. Furthermore I will make absolutely certain that whatever SLED reports will be transparent and fully disclosed to the public.

Let me be clear: I have no tolerance for corruption of any kind and if there is any wrongdoing found as a result of SLED’s investigation, I will push for any wrongdoers to be immediately fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

It is extremely important that we remove politics from this equation. We must let the cops do their jobs without interference. That is a key concern of mine with this investigation as well as with the issue of Dr. Lonnie Randolph’s arrest in Five Points.

Out of concern for Dr. Randolph and out of concern for our criminal justice system, I am strongly recommending Dr. Randolph’s charges not be dropped before the case reaches the courtroom.

Dr. Randolph appears to have a medical condition that influences his behavior beyond his control and, if so, he has my deepest concerns and sympathies. But we must let the legal process unfold like it does for any other citizen. It is up to a judge or a jury, with the victims’ input, to decide the end result, not politicians, police chiefs or administrators.

Dr. Randolph’s arrest demonstrated why we should not have administrators or elected officials showing up at crime scenes unless specifically requested by law enforcement. However well intentioned, it can send the wrong message and can create an appearance of impropriety and it needs to stop now. People must know that the criminal justice system works the same for all of us and does so without political interference and without special treatment for anyone. Justice for all requires special favors for none.

That’s why I’ve asked city legal counsel to draft a policy which I will present at our next City Council meeting clearly stating that, in accordance with our ethics policy, an active crime scene is no place for politicians or administrators.

At that same meeting, I will also push for us to move forward with a comprehensive, nationwide search for a permanent Police Chief. It’s time to bring stability to CPD’s leadership.

I believe a lot of these issues would be easy to resolve if, in fact, the Mayor had the authority to resolve them.

As Mayor, I have used the bully pulpit provided this office to push for much needed change and often been successful in doing so. That’s how we passed our local preference policy and kept tens of millions of dollars in city contracts with local businesses, that’s how we got the Bull Street deal done and that’s how we’ve achieved the rebirth of downtown securing roughly $300 million in new capital investment over the past two years alone.

But it’s important to understand that I have very little administrative authority under our current form of government. Here in Columbia, the Mayor does not supervise city staff, the City Manager or the Police Chief. And when we are faced with challenges like these which require swift and decisive action, all I have is one of seven votes on City Council and the long slow process that goes with it. That is the simple fact of our system, a fact that we need to change.

That being said, I will continue to use those tools afforded me to keep pushing for a safer and more secure Columbia. That is my priority, it is the people’s priority and nothing is more important.

As always, thank you for keeping informed, getting involved and making a difference in our city.
Yours in service,

Steve Benjamin
City of Columbia, South Carolina

This may seem kind of weird to those who don’t understand the city’s council/manager system of government.

In a more logical and politically accountable system of government, the mayor wouldn’t be a helpless witness to the actions of the city’s administrators. He wouldn’t have to propose policy changes to be voted upon by the whole council; he could just tell his manager (or chief of staff, or whatever his senior appointed subordinate was called) not to do that anymore.

Contrary to the mayor’s headline, I think we need more politics in policing, in the sense that the department should report to an official elected by the people of the city, rather than to an unelected person who, since she has seven bosses, really answers to no one.

Anyway, I thought it interesting that the mayor chose to speak out in this manner.

What’s with all this Mickey Mouse in the Columbia P.D.?

This is just embarrassing — or should be — to anyone associated with the Columbia Police Department, or with city government, period.

Some of y’all have begun commenting on it on a previous thread, but I thought I’d start this separate one with a link to this morning’s story in The State, a portion of which follows:

COLUMBIA, SC — A Columbia Police Department captain was fired Monday after city officials said he failed to report to duty, secretly recorded a phone call with a supervisor and engaged in spreading rumors.

But David Navarro, the former captain, says he has done nothing wrong. In fact, he has signed a sworn affidavit accusing interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago of asking him months ago to participate in a scheme to frame the chief’s boss on drug and weapons charges. The affidavit was provided Monday to The State newspaper by Glenn Walters, an Orangeburg attorney who is representing Navarro in his dispute with the city. Those who lie on affidavits risk criminal charges if their statements are proven false.

The back-and-forth between Navarro and city officials led Monday to one-on-one meetings between news reporters and City Manager Teresa Wilson, Santiago, the city’s human resources manager and three other city employees. In those interviews, city officials gave almost unprecedented explanations about Navarro’s firing. Typically, city officials only will confirm a firing and then cite a policy of not speaking about personnel matters….

… as, you recall, city officials did and still do with regard to former Chief Randy Scott. Which sort of stands out — this willingness to take public sides in the dispute and discredit Navarro. (At this point, a city official is saying, “We can’t win with you media types. You blast us when we won’t talk, and you blast us when we do.” And I suppose there’s something in that.)

The reference to “the chief’s boss” above is not to former Chief Scott, or to City Manager Teresa Wilson, but to senior assistant city manager Alison Baker.

Which sort of points to part of the problem. In this weak mayor, council-manager form of city government, the lines of accountability are wonderfully vague and confused, to anyone who doesn’t make a profession, or at least an avid hobby, of following city government. There is no one elected by the city’s voters who can act unilaterally to straighten out the mess, as there is no elected executive in charge of the police department. The mayor is but one of seven votes on the council.

Which is why stuff like this just festers, on and on. In the meantime, the seven elected co-directors of the city, to the extent that they can work together, need to do what they can to sort out this ongoing soap opera that is the Columbia Police Department. Because it’s not taking care of itself. That is to say, contrary to the myths propagated by advocates of the council-manager system, the “professionals” aren’t handling it very well.