It seems pretty obvious, given this week's council vote, that Summerville Mayor Bill Collins is getting a raise.
Summerville has been without a town administrator for a little more than two years now.
It opted to soldier on without one because Collins said he would step in and take over the administrator's duties. In fact, Collins campaigned on moving toward a strong-mayor form of government, and the council voted to give him temporary authority to act as administrator.
That was in 2011. It could hardly be called temporary now.
Summerville council members voted 4-2 this week to ask the town attorney to draft an ordinance increasing the mayor's salary from $15,000 to $45,000. Because of state law, the increase wouldn't take effect until 2014.
This would solve the problem that arose this year of whether to give the mayor a contract for the additional work he's doing.
But it doesn't address the larger issue.
Who's in charge?
Summerville will emerge from this change with, if not a strong-mayor form of government, then at least a stronger mayor, while retaining — on paper anyway — a strong-council form of government.
Changing from strong-council to strong-mayor is supposed to be up to the voters, by a referendum, according to state law anyway.
Yes, having Collins act as administrator has saved the town money. But it might be putting too many different responsibilities on one person.
“I think the mayor is very good at going out and networking and getting things done,” Councilman Bob Jackson said. “I think if we had an administrator, that would free (Collins) up to do a lot more of that.”
There's no reason not to play to the mayor's strengths. Except being mayor isn't a lifetime appointment, despite former Mayor Berlin G. Myers' near 40-year turn at the helm.
The laws have to outlast the people in office and make sense for the positions and the town.
Best for the town
Here's the other wrinkle: The council isn't all that jazzed about converting to a strong-mayor form of government.
“I have not heard anybody that's for it other than Mayor Collins,” Jackson said.
And there's good reason for that.
Like many folks, Jackson said he believes it's better having more people involved in town decisions — within reason of course.
For instance, the council did give Collins authority to act on behalf of the town at regional meetings. It makes no sense for him to be at a table with the likes of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and not be able to fully participate in decision making.
“I would like us to address a job description for what the mayor will be, because the mayor has changed and the town has changed,” Jackson said.
“We've grown enough that I think the days of the mayor being there just a couple of days a week are over.”
That's a good point. Maybe it's time to ask the voters if they agree.
Editor's note: Earlier versions of this story misidentified Summerville Mayor Bill Collins. The Post and Courier regrets the error.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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