MOUNT PLEASANT — Jim Owens, a councilman at the forefront of the town's efforts to restrict rapid development and who authored its ban on single-use plastic bags, has abruptly dropped his bid for reelection.
Owens, 61, was elected in 2015 along with a wave of candidates concerned about the town's unbridled growth. He was among a core group of council members — Joe Bustos, Gary Santos and Will Haynie, who later became mayor — who were closely allied with the Save Shem Creek group.
Rifts later emerged on the council, Owens and the Save Shem Creek group had a falling out, and Owens criticized both the group and Haynie in an opinion piece in which he wrote "our main source of dysfunction is our general lack of leadership."
“My family and I deserve better than what we have received from folks who have cast disparaging and untrue remarks," he said Thursday.
With Owens' decision, the Nov. 5 election will mark the second consecutive Mount Pleasant election where most Town Council incumbents declined to run. Council members Bob Brimmer and Kevin Cunnane earlier said they would not seek reelection this year.
Having three open seats creates an opportunity for Haynie to consolidate power, as he and his supporters seek to change the town's form of government to one where future mayors would have greater power, like the mayors of Charleston and North Charleston.
Some candidates already have pledged to back Haynie's effort to replace the town's legal team, which has advised the town against several legal fights over development that some were eager to wage. A few candidates have said they also would vote to overturn the ban on plastic bags that Owens championed.
“I think Jim disappointed a lot of people who supported him in the past," said Jimmy Bagwell, chairman of the Save Shem Creek Corp. “I think the council meeting on Tuesday night, when Jim showed a lot of indecision and abstained on the vote for the height at Patriots Point, I think he got a lot of backlash on that."
The vote Tuesday was to allow taller buildings at a hotel and office complex at Patriots Point, which was narrowly approved with Owens declining to vote.
Bagwell also criticized Owens for opposing plans to allow for taller buildings at Peach Orchard Plaza on Coleman Boulevard, which Bagwell said was a necessary compromise on a development plan there.
In his June commentary in The Post and Courier, Owens wrote, "Some of the folks at Save Shem Creek Corp., where I was a founding member and on the board of directors, have a tendency to blame me and the majority of council for not voting in lockstep with Mayor Will Haynie. I struggle to understand the mindset of those who differ greatly from the group I helped form years ago other than a deep desire to control council."
While Owens described his decision as a suspension of his campaign, Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration Director Joseph Debney said Owens has informed his office, in writing, that he's withdrawing from the race. Owens did not dispute that Thursday.
“Councilman Owens’ announcement is surprising," Haynie said Thursday. "Had we known at Tuesday’s council meeting, we would have given him a fitting sendoff. I thank him for his service and wish him and his family all the best."
Debney said it's too late to remove Owens' name from the Nov. 5 ballot. Any votes for Owens will not be counted, and notices alerting Mount Pleasant voters will be placed in polling stations.
"All I wanted to do was help govern my hometown," Owens said. “Imagine what we could accomplish if no one cared who gets the credit."
Voters will fill four at-large council seats on Nov. 5. Aside from Owens and Bustos, the candidates are Stephen Becker, Howard Chapman, Brenda Corley, Gary Davis, Laura Hyatt, Mike Lawrie and Jake Rambo.