Four years after the two positions were combined, Union could soon have both a strong mayor and an administrator.
Union City Council voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to hire an administrator and advertise for applicants for the position. Acting Mayor Harold Thompson said council feels that a professional administrator would provide Union with more accountability and professionalism in the day-to-day operation of city government.
This would be Union's first administrator since 2004 when voters decided to change the city's form of government from the council or “weak mayor” system to “strong mayor.” This resulted in council firing administrator Charles Potts and turning over his duties to then-Mayor Bruce Morgan.
Morgan resigned July 17 after he and building and zoning director Jeff Lawson were indicted on federal extortion charges. His resignation has led to discussions about whether the city's government should be changed again and/or if an administrator should be hired.
Chip Boyles, field services manager for the S.C. Municipal Association, reviewed for council the forms of municipal government permitted in South Carolina. He told council they had the authority to hire an administrator while retaining the strong mayor system just as other municipalities have done.
“They can hire an administrator and several of the towns in the state that do have a strong mayor form of government have a full-time professional administrator,” he said. “The cities of Seneca, Fountain Inn and Easley all have strong mayor forms of government yet they hire full-time professional administrators.”
Boyles said those cities have administrators because their elected leaders recognized the need for professionalism, training and experience in the running of a large municipal government.
“The main reason is that these are very large organizations, some with a fifty million dollar budget and those mayors and councils choose to have someone who is trained, who is working full-time, who has experience in running municipal government organizations of that size,” he said. “Of course, with elected positions there are no pre-qualifications other than to have the citizens choose that person. They (the elected officials) may not be the most qualified as far as education and experience for a budget of that size.”
When he was elected mayor in 2000, Morgan's salary was only $6,610 a year. After his re-election in 2004, the new city council voted to dismiss Potts and turn his duties - and salary - over to Morgan. This raised Morgan's salary to $103,545.
Boyles said in towns with a strong mayor and an administrator, the administrator's salary is six to 10 times that of the mayor's.
“Most of the town's that have a strong mayor but hire a full-time administrator, the mayor's salary is in the $10,000 range,” he said. “The administrator's would be anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000.”
Thompson said council will hold a workshop in August to determine the salary for the new administrator and the mayor under the new arrangement. He said the mayor's salary will be drastically reduced with the bulk of the rest of the funds allocated toward the administrator's position.
Thompson is being paid the full mayor's salary and will continue to receive it until after the new mayor is sworn in. He said it is hoped that an administrator will be in place by then.
Boyles advised council to follow the normal procedures in hiring an administrator, a process that could take up four months.
“Our recommendation is to do this in a formal manner, publish it nationally, promote it locally, you definitely want in-house people to apply if there are some that are interested and qualified,” he said. “You'll have it open for probably 30 days so people will have an adequate time to see the ads. You have to select a committee to look at the applications and review them. You'll want to make a decision for interviews.
“Whoever you choose will definitely have to give 30-45 days notice wherever they may be coming from unless they're in-house,” he said. “So you're easily looking at 90-120 days from today to when somebody could be on board and up and running.”
Morgan's resignation has led to discussions about changing the city government back to the council system.
State law requires that at least four years pass before another election is held to change the form of municipal government. The election could be authorized either by a council ordinance or a petition signed by at least 15 percent of the city's registered voters.
Thompson said the four-year period between changes in government required by law would not be up until October. He said the city is concerned that the U.S. Justice Department would not have enough time to review the city's request for the matter to be placed on the November ballot. Given the time constraints involved, Thompson said it's likely that a referendum on changing Union's government would have to be held during the next general election cycle.
Boyles said that while council could vote to change Union's system of government, he urged them not to rush into it.
“That's a council decision, it's why they were elected, but this is something where they've only been through the required four-year period before they're even eligible to change it,” he said. “I would say look at this, look at what's best for Union. Things haven't been that terrible here so some things have been working well.
“Just make sure you're picking a form of government that is for the town and not based on the people who are involved,” he said. “You want your form of government to outlast all the employees (and) the elected officials. You don't want to keep changing your form of government based on the quality of the people running for office. You want it to fit your community and important enough to move slowly.”