SUMMERVILLE — Mayor Wiley Johnson oversteps his boundaries as the town’s leader and keeps employees from doing their jobs, according to town council members.
“Mayor Johnson has this idea that that’s what a mayor does, that he barks out orders to people,” said Councilman Bill McIntosh.
Johnson's actions are affecting morale in Town Hall and leaching over into the public eye, officials said.
He was censured by council Thursday and threatened with being replaced as the town’s representative on intergovernmental groups such as the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments.
It’s the latest in long-standing rancor that has marked town meetings and business since Johnson was elected in 2015.
“If you’re going to pass some kind of resolution like that, don’t you think that’s the last resort instead of the first resort?” Johnson said. “Nobody has come and talked to me about this. They simply want to do it out in public at the council meeting. It begs the question, why are they doing it?”
But at least one councilman said the issue has been ongoing since before Johnson took office, and several have tried to talk to him about it.
“We literally started dealing with this issue of giving directives to employees — what we considered to be abusive conduct to employees — before the election,” McIntosh said.
The resolution, which was added to the agenda Wednesday per a request from council members Aaron Brown, Walter Bailey and Bob Jackson, passed 5-2, with Johnson and Councilwoman Christine Czarnik voting against it.
According to the resolution, Johnson violated the town’s Code of Ethics and Conduct by “intentionally and repeatedly” disrupting Town Administrator Colin Martin and other staff from their jobs “to meet his individual needs” without council's authorization.
He has 10 days to sign an acknowledgement that he has read the Code of Ethics if he is to continue as chair of the town's Finance Committee and as a member of COG, according to the resolution.
“They tried to insinuate that there was something nefarious about it, as in, I was doing things for my individual needs,” Johnson said. “I’ve never done anything like that. It’s always been connected with the mayor’s office and duties of the mayor’s office."
The most recent email, provided to The Post and Courier by the town, is a June 4 note from Johnson to Martin that said, “SUV in ditch on W 4th North St. and N. Pine since before the weekend. Have it removed ASAP.”
Bailey said that email "is one of many similar emails going out from the mayor. ... In addition, I get reports of face-to-face comments he has made to people. It’s creating a very unpleasant atmosphere in Town Hall.”
The email is “by far not the worst example of conduct that we have found but it may be as clear an example as we have," McIntosh said. "None of the seven of us (council members) can simply call up the administrator on our own and say, 'do something ASAP.' That’s not how it works.”
Johnson admitted he has asked employees for information.
“How else do you find things out?" he said. "I’m supposed to be the ambassador for Summerville. How am I supposed to do a good job if I don’t know what’s going on in the town? Why should I even have an office in Town Hall if I can’t talk to people?”
Even before Johnson took office, some employees complained about receiving directives from him or his unpaid adviser, Peter Gorman. For example, in Nov. 11, 2015, Gorman wrote to then-Police Chief Bruce Owens, “I can tell you this: we will be looking for a new police chief with new policing ideas.” Seven months later, in June 2016, Owens announced his retirement after tangling with the mayor over issues such as the mayor’s appearance at a crime scene in March 2016 and the color of police vehicles.
Also in March 2016, Council revised ordinances that defined the mayor’s powers, saying they were merely restoring the job description to the way it was when longtime Mayor Berlin G. Myers was in office after allowing former Mayor Bill Collins to also act as town administrator from 2011 to 2015. Johnson said council’s action turned him into merely a ribbon-cutter.
Later that year, Gorman led a campaign to change the town’s government to a strong-mayor form. Nearly 60 percent of the voters were against the measure.
“He understands about the council form of government,” Bailey said. “He ran on it. But he lost the referendum and cannot accept it.”
Now some wonder about the future.
Johnson refused to sign the Code of Ethics when it was passed in June 2017, saying that it duplicated or interfered with his sworn duties as mayor.
Asked if he’ll sign it now, he said, “We’ll see in about nine days, won’t we?”
He believes the censure was a political ploy "trying to smear me as much as possible." Current County Councilman Bill Hearn announced earlier this spring that he will run for the nonpartisan mayor's seat when it is up for re-election in November 2019.