Having read the well-prepared feature story on the future of Charleston's mayoral office, it occurred to me that now too is the time to begin informed discussion about something even more important than individual personalities: What form of government does Charleston want as it advances well into the 21st century?

Historically, Charleston has had a strong executive in the mayor's office, with council members falling sometimes in line and sometimes not with the mayor's agenda. This goes back much earlier than the current administration, and will continue in the next unless another municipal government organization is put in place.

The council-manager form of governing was first implemented in Sumter about 100 years ago.

Since then it has grown to be the most popular method of running a city much like a corporation is run. The business of providing efficient and professional services to the citizens is the primary role, the primary product of city government, not politics.

Council-manager government allows city council to hire or fire the chief executive - the city manager, not the mayor. If the mayor's office is retained after the government is reformed, the duties of that office are often social and ceremonial.

Proponents of transparent, popular-based government like this alternative style because council members are more accessible and more influential. More representatives of local government means more access for ordinary people.

Commissions and boards are often used as tools to involve the public and attain people's input, thus keeping council on top of local events. Examples would be a playground commission, a board of inspectors for a fire department, or a board of commissioners for a police department, all consisting of citizens appointed by council.

Obviously, few of the notable mentions interested in seeking the mayor's office here in Charleston would be interested in a $10,000-per-year job to greet tourists at the visitor center or lead a Christmas parade.

But there is much to be said about taking away the concentration of power from one person and spreading out to the community. That would be participatory government, in which all citizens have a chance to contribute. Council members' salaries would of course increase as their duties and responsibilities would increase as well.

The central role of manager would be filled by a degreed, seasoned professional with expertise in running a governmental body. His pay would reflect the responsibility and authority of the job.

Of course, politics can never be completely removed from any governmental process. It is the very nature of the beast. But a change would go far in minimizing such interference.

Today, W. Kurt Taylor handles the office of Charleston County manager in an efficient and very professional way. We need only spend time with him to hear the merits of such governance.

So let's take some time and energy and get this discussion started. Such change requires a public referendum.

It may be that the majority does not want to change the mayor-council format. Or, the majority may vote for the alternative.

That being the case, some will surely drop out of running for city-wide office of any kind, but others may see an opportunity under the council-manager system to serve Charleston for the first time.

Moving ahead to the election without debating this issue first is to assume there is no choice - and there is.

Danny Crooks

Harbor Oaks Drive

Charleston