West Columbia City Council Votes to Strip Mayor of Power

West Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- West Columbia City Council members voted to strip their mayor of some of his power Monday night.

He's no longer in charge of council meetings. The decision comes after about a month of debate between council members and the mayor, a power struggle, of sorts, by some of the council members and the mayor.

In the end, and after a 5-4 vote, Joe Owens is still in office, but his duties have changed.

Tempers boiled over again at the council meeting, but it's the month of back-and-forth that led the Mayor to know his fate was sealed.

"I knew it was coming," Owens said. "I have not done anything to deserve this. I have done things for people, people I supported me. I have had 75 calls supporting me."

Councilman Tem Miles proposed a series of four city ordinance changes in March, each aimed at stripping the mayor of some of his duties.

Miles said it's Owens' behavior behind closed doors that led to the decision.

"The mayor is elected by the city at whole, and I have great respect for that, but the public does not see his conduct in executive session," Miles said.

The changes would have given the city's Mayor Pro-Tem the ability to preside over meetings, but the Mayor wrote to South Carolina Attorney General, Alan Wilson, asking for his opinion on the matter.

The Attorney General wrote back, saying that the "(mayor pro-tem) can only serve during an absence or disability of the mayor."

Council tweaked the language to give the power to a "Chairperson," instead.

Councilman B.J. Unthank was nominated as Chairperson. The 5-4 made it official.

"How can five people take away 800 and something votes?" longtime City resident Pearl Riley questioned. "It is not right, it's wrong. The mayor has been treated unjustly."

As to the next step the mayor plans to make in fighting this latest vote, his attorney, Stephen Burn, said it could end up in court.

"Very well could end in some kind of litigation, or certainly at some kind of hearing before a judge," Burn said. "We're going to look into all those issues."

The changes that council voted on will become effective immediately.


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