So the mayor and some Charleston City Council members say Tim Mallard is out of control.

They say he is threatening and abusive to staff -- he yells, pitches fits, often disrupts meetings.

Councilman Mallard says he is merely pugnacious and irritatingly direct, frustrated that he can't get any answers out of city staff.

You know, he quit chewing on cigars at meetings -- what more do they want?

The whole thing reads like a case of "You say potato, Dan Quayle says potatoe."

As a result of this failure to communicate, Councilman Aubry Alexander earlier this week suggested some "rules of decorum" for council. Said ordinance calls for offending council members to be removed from meetings and even charged with a misdemeanor. A rule like that in D.C. and we could lock up the other half of Congress.

You know what this means -- other than we really need to watch that new city council TV show?

City Hall meetings have turned into town hall meetings.

Civil discourse?

Alexander is a nice, quiet, serious guy -- not one prone to pick fights. He says he decided to start this whole decorum thing after watching a few too many outbursts. He says it reminds him of what his grandmother used to say about people getting more with honey than vinegar.

"Some people feel like vinegar is the way to go," Alexander says.

That would be Tim.

"I always thought I was a pretty pleasant person," Mallard says. But he says he can't get pertinent information about the budget, drainage or various city projects. He is considering filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents. He says the city's staff ignores requests and argues with him. And he says it's because they are all loyal to Mayor Joe Riley.

"You know the mayor has been mayor longer than Pericles ran Athens," he says.

Now the mayor says that's not true (the part about Mallard being denied information; he actually has been mayor longer than Pericles ran Athens). Riley says, "It's not them, it's him."

"He's been more abusive by far to staff than any person I've seen," Riley says. "It's unfortunate the city had to address this. But it's important that the process encourages civil discourse."

The thing is, this may be about as civil as discourse gets these days.

Yer outta there

Since all this surfaced, the decorum rules have been called unconstitutional and, on Richard Todd's WTMA show, Mallard suggested the city was about as open as Nazi Germany.

Throw in a few raised voices and you do, in fact, have a town hall meeting here.

Maybe the council just needs an umpire, someone to eject the occasional council member, maybe even hand out 15-game suspensions. Because if it's not Mallard, it soon will be someone else.

Right or wrong, Mallard's bare-knuckle approach -- disconcerting by Charleston standards, to be sure -- reflects the mood of some people these days. Mallard says that he has apologized to those offended by his manner, but "I'm just being the councilman my folks asked me to be."

And if he's not, they'll let him know.