Summerville council members question the role of mayor’s adviser

Some Summerville council members are questioning the role in town government of Mayor Wiley Johnson’s former campaign manager, Peter Gorman (above).

SUMMERVILLE — Opponents of newly elected Mayor Wiley Johnson are questioning if he is really the person running the town.

Ever since Johnson defeated incumbent Bill Collins in the mayor’s race on Nov. 3, Johnson has claimed some council members are trying to take away his authority.

The latest dust-up unfolded Wednesday when Councilman Walter Bailey asked that council discuss the ongoing role of Peter Gorman, Johnson’s former campaign manager.

Bailey said Gorman — an unpaid adviser to the mayor — represents himself as Johnson’s chief of staff, which has “an aura of authority” and could create legal liability for the town.

Bailey made a motion, which he eventually withdrew, to discuss the issue at next week’s council meeting.

“Mr. Gorman is in the town hall, behaving as if he’s a town employee with some supervisory capacity,” Bailey said. “In my opinion, it’s creating morale problems.”

Councilman Bill McIntosh agreed that Gorman’s role has become an issue with town employees.

“I don’t think he should be called anything,” McIntosh said of Gorman, adding that Johnson can seek counsel from whomever he wants. “The giving of any kind of title, I think, is going to create confusion with our employees.”

Johnson ran on a platform of restoring the town administrator position, which was assumed by Collins when he took office in 2011. Gorman, who is retired, has said he is not interested in serving as administrator, but he is often at Johnson’s side.

Gorman is “simply an adviser, just like a number of people advise me,” Johnson said.

Gorman has no authority over town employees but does have a key to the mayor’s office, as does Councilwoman Christine Czarnik, who ran on the same issues as Johnson and was also elected in November.

Asked if he refers to Gorman as chief of staff, Johnson said, “We have used various terms throughout the campaign and also after the campaign to describe his relationship with me.”

After the meeting, Gorman, who for a decade served as deputy mayor of San Francisco, said he often sits in on staff meetings, but “the mayor has told me not to speak up, and I have honored that.” Gorman called the Bailey’s accusation nasty and vindictive.

The Finance Committee, which includes the entire council and sets the agenda for council meetings, did vote to consider motions defining the role of the mayor and town administrator. Those motions won initial approval in November but were deferred in December and January.

Johnson has said the motions, if passed, would render him no more powerful than a council member.

Council’s next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at the Summerville Municipal Complex, 200 S. Main St.