Mount Pleasant Town Council may change its election rules

Mount Pleasant’s current Town Hall. Mount Pleasant is considering requiring members of the town’s volunteer boards to resign before they run for Town Council.

MOUNT PLEASANT — It’s an idea that pushes all sorts of hot buttons: local elections, freedom of speech, even development and growth.

On Monday, Mayor Linda Page floated a plan to require members of the town’s volunteer boards to resign those unpaid positions before they run for Town Council.

Enough council members liked the idea that the proposed ordinance will go before full council for approval May 12.

Page said she raised the issue not because of one instance but because of several conversations she had, particularly revolving around the town’s Planning Commission. That volunteer board’s meetings often are packed because it makes recommendations on all the town’s controversial rezonings and proposed developments.

“If people are questioning positions of appointed board members, then we need to discuss it, whether it’s right or wrong,” she said. “It’s a matter of integrity for all of us.”

If the town were to require board members to resign before running for town office, it might be the first in the state to do so, said Reba Campbell of the S.C. Municipal Association.

“I’ve polled three of our four resident experts who work in the field and none are aware of this anywhere else,” Campbell said. “That’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but that’s to the best of our knowledge.”

In North Charleston, City Councilman Todd Olds served on that city’s Planning Commission while running for office and didn’t resign until he had won his council seat.

Page said one concern she has heard is whether board members have a political advantage because of their service.

“If you have an appointment, you have a microphone,” she said. “And if you have political aspirations, then you have an advantage.”

But Town Attorney David Pagliarini said the basis of an ordinance change should not be that board members and commissioners have an unfair advantage. Instead, it should center on the mission of these boards and whether that can conflict with one of their members running for office.

There’s certainly no guarantee the change will pass.

Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall voiced strong support for it, calling it “a wise, sensible move,” but Councilman Chris Nickels, who plans to run for re-election later this year, said he did not support the idea.

“I’m worried about the chilling effect of this,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a real or perceived problem, and why it’s coming up this year instead of in years past.”

Councilman Mark Smith said he was “not passionate about this issue either way,” but said if it were to pass, it should not take effect until the town’s 2017 elections.

Town Council’s Police, Legal and Administration Committee voted 3-1 to recommend an ordinance.

Councilman Ken Glasson, who was not a member of the committee but also plans to seek re-election this fall, said he also has received emails questioning votes that have taken place.

He said there needs to be more discussion about what is taking place on town boards. “We see our commission members online making opinions of this and that,” he said. “Is that right? I don’t know.”

While it’s unclear if any other local government has these restrictions, the issue has come up locally.

In 2013, Charleston County GOP Chair Joe Bustos resigned that post after facing criticism about his ability to balance his duties to the party with his nonpartisan bid for the Mount Pleasant mayoral seat.

In 2005, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office advised a Department of Social Services director that she did not have to resign that post to seek election to Allendale County’s Clerk of Court post — but the advisory opinion also suggested she also pose the same question to both the county and DSS.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.