— De facto “strong mayor” just might not pay, at least in this town.

The mayor’s duties

Summerville Town Council has given Mayor Bill Collins “temporary authority” to act as administrator, giving him responsibilities such as:

Preparing and administering the budget.

Supervising department heads and non-department employees.

Coordinating town activities with other town, county, state and federal agencies.

Implementing the policies and directives of the council.

Source: Town ordinances

Town Council met for more than an hour behind closed doors Monday to discuss whether to compensate Mayor Bill Collins for his work as “acting administrator,” essentially a full-time job now being done on a nominal $15,000 per year mayor salary. Council then voted to ask town attorney G.W. Parker to look at the legality of paying Collins as much as $50,000 per year in addition to the mayor salary, for as long as he’s handling the administrator job.

But that might not be doable.

“It would seem to me that all they could do is increase his salary as mayor,” said Bill Taylor, the S.C. Municipal Association field manager who advises Summerville. But a legal determination would have to be made by an attorney, Taylor said. State law gives “strong council” governments like the Summerville council the ability to assign administrative duties to an elected official or hire an administrator; it doesn’t provide for paying a voting, elected official any more to do the administrator job.

A 2004 state attorney general’s opinion suggests the official can’t be paid more for that until voters approve a formal change to the government.

“To say, we’re going to pay the mayor an additional $50,000 per year, I think that would run afoul of the law,” he said.

In a strong mayor government, the mayor is elected as both mayor and administrator. In Summerville, Collins serves as administrator on the vote of council, whose members are divided on the move.

He didn’t take part in the closed-door session and sat somewhat edgily waiting. He said he was happy with the result but kidded he was just as glad he hadn’t been impeached.

Collins has served as administrator without pay for the position since council approved the move at his request, shortly after his 2011 election. He campaigned favoring a strong mayor government, saying it would give the town more leverage dealing with regional issues.

The “temporary authority” move has saved the town money from the former administrator’s six-figure salary and has given council breathing room after that administrator resigned in the wake of a scandal involving the town’s mishandling of tens of thousands of dollars of recreation fees.

But under ordinance, council runs the town, and the mayor has only a vote. A change to strong mayor government would have to be approved through a voter referendum. For good or bad, the extra pay would be one more incremental step toward that.

Councilman Bob Jackson questioned the amount of the proposed pay and “what it means for the future.” Councilman Aaron Brown was the lone vote against the move.

“I think (Collins) has a vision. I think he needs to learn how to handle day-to-day administrative duties,” Brown said. “It seems some of the council members are intent to move the mayor to a strong leadership position for the town. If they want to go that way, go to referendum. Let it be fully vetted by the public.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744