Gov. Haley endorses Mayor Benjamin's push for strong mayor - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Gov. Haley endorses Mayor Benjamin's push for strong mayor

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This postcard was mailed to Columbia voters Friday. (Source: Courtesy) This postcard was mailed to Columbia voters Friday. (Source: Courtesy)
This postcard was mailed to Columbia voters Friday. (Source: Courtesy) This postcard was mailed to Columbia voters Friday. (Source: Courtesy)
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Governor Nikki Haley has come out in support of Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin's initiative to change the way the City of Columbia governs, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey told WIS late Friday.

"After talking to Mayor Benjamin, Governor Haley was happy to lend her support - the governor has long believed in restructuring government to produce accountability and efficiency for the people it serves - not just in state government, but at every level of government," Godfrey said.

Voters will decide if they want a new strong mayor form of government during a special election Dec. 3.  

If voters approve the change, the mayor would have the right to exercise administrative authority and would still be a voting member of the city council.  

Right now, Columbia, along with a majority of municipalities in the state governs with a council-mayor form in which the mayor has no power when it comes to the hiring and firing of city employees.

"While I respect Nikki Haley as our governor, I wholeheartedly disagree with her on this position," said former Columbia City Councilor Daniel Rickenmann. "The fact of the matter is she is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the City of Columbia nor has she ever served in a municipal office."

Rickenmann, who is also part of a group who opposes the strong mayor change, Communities United for a Great Columbia, said he doesn't expect the endorsement to carry much weight.

"I don't expect her endorsement to sway many opinions these last few days of the campaign, and this is just another example of our opponents having someone from outside our city tell Columbians how they should be governed," Rickenmann said. "I find it curiously odd that Governor Haley declined to get involved during Richland County's election fiasco last year because it was a 'local issue,' but now she feels compelled to weigh in on this issue."

However proponents of a strong mayor change said a Haley endorsement lines up with a "broad bipartisan coalition."  

"Governor Haley and Mayor Benjamin spoke at a recent Midlands economic development announcement and discussed the need for accountability in local government and the strong mayor referendum," said Adam Fogle, a spokesman for Columbia Citizens for Better Government. "The Governor offered her support and we're glad to have it as part of our broad, bipartisan coalition along with other leaders like former SC Governor Jim Hodges, former SC Attorney General Henry McMaster, Civil Rights Leader James Felder and neighborhood leaders Durham Carter and Martha Fowler."

"This is exactly the kind of reform Governor Haley has fought for at the state level and a rare opportunity for our city," Fogle added.

Lillian McBride with the Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Office said Friday a total of 396 absentee votes have been received for the special election.  

Columbia voters have until 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2 to vote absentee in-person at the Richland County Election Office located at 2020 Hampton Street.

The polls will open at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3.

For more about the special election, go to www.columbiasc.net/elections.

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