This year could mark the last time voters in bustling Berkeley County choose the one elected leader who's in charge of all day-to-day government operations.

But first, they’ll have to decide which of two Republican candidates will carry the county through the next four years: incumbent Supervisor Bill Peagler or current Hanahan City Administrator Johnny Cribb.

Since no Democrats are running, one of these two men will be at the top.

The twist, however, is this: In November, voters will get to decide whether they want to continue being led by an elected supervisor or if they prefer to add a council member and have the county run by a hired administrator.

Berkeley’s form of government has long been a topic of conversation, becoming part of election campaigns as far back as 2006.

“There are positives and negatives to both of them,” said former county Supervisor Jim Rozier, who served from 1990 to 2006.

“I can give you a dozen reasons to have one and a dozen reasons to have the other,” he said.

The county is one of just four statewide that is governed by an elected leader. The others — Chester, Union and Williamsburg — have a combined population of less than half of Berkeley’s approximately 220,000 residents.

Under the set up, supervisors, who are elected by a countywide vote, serve as the chair of County Council. Administrators are hired by the council and do not have a vote.

Some say having an administrator takes the politics out of the position, but Rozier disagrees. 

"That puts the politics in it," he said, "because an administrator has got to keep at least half plus one of the council on their side.”

Last year, several Berkeley council members called for putting the issue in front of voters in the form of a special referendum but the proposal was postponed after some complained that voter turnout would be low.

Now the measure will be on the county’s November general election ballot, to take effect in 2022.

But the question remains about whether residents are ready to change their form of government.

“I’m not sure what the advantages are one way or the other,” said Goose Creek resident Amy Neighbors. “As a voter, I don’t mind having the top official in the county being elected and accountable to the people.”

A similar referendum in 2008 brought out 61 percent of the county’s 89,203 registered voters, but the measure was voted down by a 65-35 percent margin.

Now, the county has nearly 30,000 more voters than it had then — 119,067 registered voters — and a population that has been booming, thanks to businesses and industries like Volvo Cars, IFA and SAIC that have moved in or expanded, creating thousands of new jobs.

The population boom has caused growing pains for the county’s roads and other infrastructure.

Based on existing approvals, developers could build 81,693 additional houses in the county in coming years. That would be enough to house twice the current population.

As a result, County Council has been picky when it comes to approving new development, even rejecting some proposals based on their impacts to surrounding areas.

Peagler, 63, a lawyer who served as mayor of Moncks Corner for nine years, said he is running on his accomplishments during his one term in office. 

The county has grown by nearly 40,000 people since he was first elected supervisor in a runoff in 2014 — that’s more than four times the number of people who voted in that runoff.

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“It comes down to continuing the major improvements we made in the last 3½ years,” he said. “If you look at what we’ve done, the numbers don’t lie.”

Cribb, 45, is looking ahead, anticipating the administrator's role.

“I’m a professional administrator and manager,” he said. “I’m not a politician. I’ve worked 23 years on a one-day contract.”

Cribb said he has campaigned by going door to door, visiting nearly 2,000 homes in the county.

"Standing on people's porches, you learn a lot about Berkeley County," he said. "I feel like we need sound planning for the future, not for the next election."

Planning for the next election is one of the drawbacks of having an elected supervisor, some said.

“I believe that a candidate’s effort in running for the position should never be greater than doing the job you have been elected to do,” Cribb said.

No Berkeley County elected Democrats face primary challengers June 12. GOP races on the primary ballot anchored in Berkeley County include:

Council District 5: Incumbent Dennis Fish is not seeking re-election, but two Republicans are vying for the seat — Brandon Cox and Ralph Rohrssen.

Annette Harmon Bianchi and Leah Guerry Dupree are both running to be clerk of court, a position being vacated by Mary Brown, who served for 36 years.

Three House races each have two candidates on the ballot.

In District 15, incumbent Samuel Rivers again faces a challenge from Steven Smith, who also ran against him in 2016; in District 117, incumbent Bill Crosby is opposed by Jordan Scott Page; and in District 100, incumbent Sylleste Davis is challenged by Tom Fernandez. 

Reach Brenda Rindge at 843-937-5713. Follow her on Twitter @brindge.

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