SUMMERVILLE — Mayor Wiley Johnson has announced he will not run for re-election in November.
Johnson's decision, which he announced to a crowd of supporters at a Friday barbecue and confirmed Monday to The Post and Courier, comes after a tumultuous tenure that included a 2018 censure from Town Council and what Johnson feels was an "orchestrated coup" against him by sitting members of council.
The council sets the tone for the town and for years had been telling staff the mayor has no authority, Johnson said.
That can't be good for a town, he said. "By announcing I'm not running, maybe they'll propose ordinance changes putting things back like they were."
Whether to run for re-election is something Johnson said had been on his mind since the beginning of his term when council members began changing town ordinances he saw as stripping the authority of the mayor's office.
Had council members changed during his tenure, Johnson said he likely would've run again.
"Quite honestly, I think they're still very defensive and not very proactive. Very seldom do they bring things to the table. If we have a new mayor, maybe that will change. If it doesn't, maybe people in Summerville will see change is needed," he said. "It does not serve the people of Summerville well for me to stay in office with some of these councilmen working against me."
Council members in recent months had stressed the importance of the town government returning to civility. Johnson was at the center of this debate, as his June 2018 censure was issued for "abusive conduct to employees," Councilman Bill McIntosh said at the time.
McIntosh said Monday that a majority of disagreements between Johnson and the council were internal matters and a difference of opinion on what the role of a mayor should be.
Johnson, McIntosh said, felt strongly that a mayor should have "free rein" over Town Hall and any level of employee who works there — even as far down as the second and third tiers of workers who report to the town's administrator.
"That's simply not the way it's been done in Summerville, and is not consistent with the council form of government," McIntosh said. "That difference of opinion about the role of a mayor really led to a lot of conflict that really should've been avoidable."
McIntosh said he wished Johnson well and congratulated him on the achievements made during his term. "We still have six months to add to his legacy," he said.
Councilman Bob Jackson said he was surprised to learn Johnson would not be seeking a second term.
"We could've done better at communicating and talking about things before council meetings," he said, without elaborating on the council's relationship with Johnson.
Most important for whoever the next mayor is, Johnson said, is that they recognize the need for Summerville to move from operating like a small town to a thriving city. Finding new, fresh ideas and hiring people with different perspectives is key in moving forward, Johnson said.
"I'm very concerned at the proclivity to hire people from within that maybe aren't the best we can get and maybe aren't qualified, as well as people we could hire if we cast a wider net," he said.
Filing for the 2019 Summerville mayoral election officially opens Aug. 7, though three candidates have already declared — current Dorchester County Councilman Bill Hearn, former fire chief Richard Waring III and musician Fleming Moore.
Johnson wouldn't elaborate on his future plans, "because I don't want to," but said he would stay in the Palmetto State.
In a June 24 column titled "Town ready for next chapter" in the Summerville Journal-Scene, Johnson outlined his accomplishments in improving government transparency and moving forward on town construction projects. He lamented the town budgets, which he said were littered with wasteful spending.
"Summerville is ready for the next chapter in its 200-year history," he wrote. "The challenge it faces is the requirement for fresh leadership and ideas to 'protect our past while planning for our future.'"