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Portraits of the elected town council and mayor hang in the lobby in the Executive Office suite at the Mount Pleasant Town Hall Monday, June 3, 2019. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

It seems lately that a lot of folks have strong opinions about what Mount Pleasant Town Council should be doing or not doing, depending on the social media platform you are on. I thought I would take a moment to at least try and give a council member’s perspective.

I’ve always had a positive impression of how things should be conducted, but like most who run for office, winning is easy, governing is much harder.

Mount Pleasant is very different from our neighbors North Charleston and Charleston, which have a strong-mayor form of government. We run as a council form of government. All nine members of Town Council are equal in voice and vote. The mayor presides over our Town Council meetings, but he has no more authority than any of the eight other council members when it comes to policy decisions. Any action derived from a strong council should be the product of debate, collaboration and compromise.

Since 2017, individual council members and staff have faced daily challenges from inside and outside forces using intimidation tactics and threats, both direct and indirect, which seriously hinder this body’s ability to provide good governance. This serves no good purpose when it comes to the real work we should be doing. Sadly, the policies that have been implemented over the past few years to ensure transparency and the ability to be heard have been slowly eroding away. Any council member who challenges or questions these acts is ridiculed by some on social media and harassed for taking part in discussions and debates independently, then voting to fulfill our obligation as a supportive democracy within our municipality.

There’s really no time for badgering or devious op-eds and tweets by most members of council. So where’s it coming from?

A recent Post and Courier article by reporter David Slade highlighted this persistent infighting and refusal to collaborate, which has reached an untenable level. Of course, 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.

Anybody can be a keyboard antagonist; they aren’t putting their lives on hold to be a public servant. I’ve always believed that if you sling mud, you’ll always lose ground. Mr. Slade’s article begs the question: Why does council appear fragmented and unable to work with our mayor? Also, I’m troubled by Councilman Joe Bustos’ comment that our situation is irreparable.

Our main source of dysfunction is our general lack of leadership. Our mayor misunderstands his function in a strong-council form of government; he does not have the authority to unilaterally impose policy or decisions upon our council.

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The task of decision-making and policy creation rests exclusively in the body as a whole — all nine, with equal measure. We still have a common goal: to address the needs of all citizens in Mount Pleasant without bias in order to manage growth, improve the quality of life and improve infrastructure.

The first step in correcting this dysfunction is an acknowledgement of and respect for polite, open and civil discourse without fear of retribution. Town Council and our citizens deserve that. We need to be encouraged to agree to disagree when necessary, speaking up for all of our constituents, and voting for or against the ideas and proposals brought forth by members of council.

The misleading rhetoric directed at some individuals who are not always in agreement with the mayor has turned healthy debate into a hostile and bitter environment.

Hopefully we still live in a civil society, but I guess we’ll find out by the flare up of posts on social media in the form of Facebook and Twitter.

Jim Owens is a member of Mount Pleasant Town Council.

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