Mount Pleasant, this Jim Owens mess is a wake-up call.
The alarms have been going off for a couple of years now — and folks just keep hitting the snooze button.
But it’s time to dial back the vitriol.
On Thursday, Owens abruptly dropped his reelection bid for Town Council less than a month before the vote. The first-term councilman said he’d accomplished what he set out to do, but it was clear what this is really about.
“I also ran to bring about unity and healing to my hometown,” Owens told the Moultrie News, “but the division, dissension and rampant contempt on social media makes it nearly impossible for me to barely recognize the wholesome, welcoming and giving town where I grew up.”
He’s absolutely right, “keyboard antagonists” are dividing the town with petty squabbles, scorched-earth politics and expectations that sometimes aren't tethered to reality.
Unfortunately, Owens surrendered some of the moral high ground by taking the bait and fighting back, calling the mayor a bully, releasing internal documents and embarrassing emails online Saturday to prove his points.
He proved a point, just maybe not the one he intended.
Facebook has made insulting online brawls a national pastime, but this is ridiculous. If Mount Pleasant isn’t careful, this consternation could have serious effects on the town’s quality of life — if not its finances.
Because it’s driving town policy.
Owens was elected to council in 2015 with a slate of candidates backed by the Save Shem Creek group, a bunch of longtime residents opposed to development and not real happy about all the new people moving in. Owens was a founding member.
Save Shem Creekers want the town back the way it was 25 years ago, which sadly is never going to happen.
Fact is, real cities — and that’s what Mount Pleasant is, although it identifies as a town — only do two things: grow or die. And the “town” is growing faster than just about anywhere in the nation.
Owens ran for office to stop that, and did more than his share, supporting impact fees that have slowed business growth to a relative crawl. But as he saw issues from the town’s perspective, he grew in the job. He wasn’t perfect, but he learned what is possible … and what isn’t.
His mistake was acknowledging sobering reality — and occasionally saying "no" to a mob he helped create.
The town couldn’t break its deal with that Shem Creek parking garage or stop a previously approved apartment complex without serious legal consequences. It couldn’t remove the medians from Coleman Boulevard without redoing the entire road.
Owens even defended the town’s attorneys, who also sometimes tell these people things they don’t want to hear.
So they turned on him, attacked him on Facebook.
Owens couldn’t match their nastiness, but he accused former friends and allies of duplicity and hypocrisy — including Mayor Will Haynie and Councilman Joe Bustos — and traded allegations for all the world to see.
Residents were aghast he’d attack them, even when they started it. They've proven Owens right about the “rampant contempt” infecting Mount Pleasant, and he’s shown just how catching that can be.
In recent years, Mount Pleasant has lost a number of serious-minded public servants. Council members Elton Carrier and Paul Gawrych chose sanity over the sanitarium, and Tom O'Rourke has already announced he won't run again.
More and more, smart people with Mount Pleasant’s best interests at heart walk away rather than listen to the incessant bickering of narcissists. If it keeps up, these people will eventually run off the town's talented staffers, who endure far more abuse than they should.
So Owens quit, denying his former friends the satisfaction of kicking him out of office. Next, they will turn on Councilman Gary Santos, another former ally — who was fighting the growth these people despise before most of them discovered Facebook.
But nowadays these folks don't like much of anyone except Haynie and Bustos. And that should worry those two men quite a bit. Because when this crowd runs off everyone else, they will need someone to blame when something goes wrong.
And something is always wrong when you’re dealing with people who are never satisfied.
Mount Pleasant, this Owens mess should serve as an intervention — but it probably won’t. Barely 20 percent of voters turn out for municipal elections, giving the rabble-rousers outsized influence.
Until that changes, expect the hysterics to continue.