If the US Justice Department gives its approval, the people of Union County will be able to vote this November on whether or not to the change the county’s form of government.
Union County Council voted unanimously last week to approve third and final reading of an ordinance authorizing a referendum on changing the county’s form of government from council-supervisor to council-adminstrator. While council has authorized the referendum, it will not be held until after the US Justice Department reviews and approves it as required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. If the Justice Department determines the referendum and the change in county government that will occur if it is approved are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act then the county will be allowed to place it on the ballot in the November general election.
The referendum asks voters if they want to retain the current council-supervisor form of government or replace it with the council-administrator system. Under the council-supervisor system, the supervisor is both an elected official and the county adminstrator, responsible for the day-to-day operation of county government. Under the council-administrator system, the supervisor’s position is replaced by a seventh member of county council who, like the supervisor, is elected at-large and chairs council meetings, but is not responsible for the day-to-day operations of county government. Instead, the day-to-day operations of county government are the responsibility of a professional administrator hired by and responsible to county council.
The change was in the system of government was proposed by businessman and Union County School Board member Manning Jeter who pointed out that only four of South Carolina’s 46 counties still have the council-supervisor system of government. Jeter said he felt the current system has failed to promote the kind of economic development the county needs to attract the kind of industries that will generate the revenues the county needs and create the kind of good paying jobs that will enable its young people to stay after they graduate from college.
In calling for the county to change its form of government, Jeter said county council should function as chief executive officer overseeing a professional administrator who would handle the day-to-day operations of county government. He said such a system would be more effective at recruiting industry and finding new sources of revenue that would enable the county to grow as it needs to.
While he proposed it, Jeter is not alone in calling for a change in the form of county government.
Carlisle Oxner, president and CEO of Arthur State Bank and a former member of the Union County Development Board, recently called for county government to be changed from council-supervisor to council-administrator. Oxner, who called for the change while being presented with the State Order of the Silver Crescent in honor of his more than 20 years of service no the development board, said that under the current system the county risks having someone elected to the office who is not qualified to do the job of managing the county government which he compared to a big business. He said someone in that position who didn’t know what they were doing could cause the county enormous trouble. To avoid that, Oxner called on the people of Union County to approve the referendum and change county government to council-administrator.