HICKS COLUMN: Mount Pleasant mayor needs bigger job, not paycheck
Let's get one thing straight: Billy Swails didn't ask for a raise.
A couple of Mount Pleasant town councilmen have proposed bumping the mayor's pay by 50 percent, to a whopping $36,000. They say this salary would attract more candidates to the next election and better reflect the size of Mount Pleasant, which is the fourth-largest city in the state.
They are right, to a point.
Even though the town is basically run by an administrator and the mayor's job is partly ceremonial, it really isn't part-time. Not in this day and age, not when the mayor sits on every board from Patriots Point to the Aviation Authority.
But Swails, who doesn't even accept the $24,000 that currently comes with the job, is dead-set against it. He gives the mayor's salary to the town to use on one-time expenses, and will keep doing that no matter what.
“Whether it's $100,000 or $24,000, if I decide to run again, I'm not going to take it,” Swails says. “We really don't need to do this if I'm going to run again.”
Form of government?
Part of this is civic pride.
Here you have one of the biggest, nicest, most prosperous cities in the state and they pay their mayor a pittance compared with the six-figure salaries mayors in North Charleston and Charleston pull down.
It doesn't look good.
But the difference here is one of bureaucracy. In Chuck and North Chuck, the mayors are essentially running the show. In Mount Pleasant, Swails is just another vote on council. The funny thing is, a while back Swails proposed changing Mount Pleasant's form of government to a strong-mayor, like the two Charlestons, which would put the person making the biggest decisions entirely at the mercy of voters.
As Swails says, Mount P. has more in common with Charleston and North Charleston than Awendaw.
Town Council didn't really want to put it to voters, probably for the same reason the Legislature doesn't look kindly on anything that gives the governor more power.
If that's the way it's going to be, then the pay doesn't really matter.
Now, cynical folks might read Swails' opposition to this as a pre-emptive strike to deter competition in next year's mayoral election.
But that's not the case.
Swails says he doesn't think a $12,000 difference in salary would move anyone, and that is probably a correct assessment.
The mayor says he appreciates the council's concern, but he's going to try to put this issue to rest at the Town Council meeting next week.
But since this has come up, perhaps it's time to revisit the idea of changing the form of government in the promised land. The latest census says there are 67,000 people in Mount Pleasant, but it's probably over 70K right now.
That's a good-sized city, and the growth is not going to let up. If council really thinks the mayor should be better compensated, perhaps he or she should have more responsibility, too.
Mount Pleasant is getting too big for a small-town government.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.