A strong mayor and an administrator are a winning combination, according to the mayors of three Upstate cities.
Union hasn't had an administrator since 2004 when voters changed the city's form of government from the council or “weak” mayor system to a “strong mayor” system. After the change was made, council fired administrator Charles Potts and gave his duties and salary to 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.
Council voted in July to hire an administrator after being advised by Chip Boyles, field services manager for the S.C. Municipal Association, that it had the authority to do so while retaining the strong mayor system. Seneca, Easley and Fountain Inn were named by Boyles as municipalities with a strong mayor and a professional, full-time administrator
Mayor Daniel W. Alexander said that in 1999 Seneca hired Gregory Dietterick away from Georgetown to serve as its utility director. Within two years, however, the Seneca Town Council voted to make Dietterick the town's first administrator. Alexander said he and council took the step because the growth Seneca was experiencing required the kind of day-to-day administration that only a full-time administrator could provide.
“We could see the growth that was coming and it was very important that we have someone who could be here every day,” he said. “In 1992, we had a budget of $12 million and this year we have a budget of approximately $35 million. We had grown so much that we needed a full-time administrator to make sure the city operates like it should. This is not a job for a part-time mayor.”
For his services, Dietterick is paid just over $125,000 a year.
Under Seneca's strong mayor system, the mayor delegates authority to the administrator to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city including working with department heads and chairing staff meetings. Alexander said he and Dietterick talk on a daily basis and that if any major decisions are to be made Dietterick runs it past him first. Personnel matters are usually handled by the two together. Major projects requiring council approval are first discussed by Alexander and Dietterick before a recommendation is presented to council.
“It's worked out good,” Alexander said. “We're very fortunate to have him.”
Mayor Larry Bagwell said the combination of a strong mayor and an administrator has served Easley quite well for the last 12 years, providing a system of checks and balances. Bagwell said the key to this success is the understanding that the administrator is a non-political position, an employee who serves at the pleasure of the mayor and city council. While the administrator runs the day-to-day operations of the city, he does so within the boundaries set by council in the annual $15 million budget; political issues must be brought before council.
Easley's first administrator, Charles Hesel, was hired 12 years ago shortly before voters rejected a proposal that the government be changed from strong to weak mayor. Bagwell said the decision to hire Hesel before the referendum and retain him afterwards was in recognition of the fact that the mayor's office is a part-time position. It was felt that given the city's growth, a full-time administrator was needed.
Hesel, who worked as an administrator for the City of Clemson prior to being hired by Easley, retired two years ago and was succeeded by Fox Simons. Bagwell said Simons previously worked in the finance department of the City of Greenville and that council felt that given his background in finance, he would be a good fit for administrator.
“It really has worked out well,” he said. “We were pleased with Mr. Hesel and we're pleased with Mr. Simons.”
Mayor Gary Long applauded Union City Council's decision to hire an administrator while retaining the strong mayor system. Long said the combination is an effective one that will benefit Union as it has Fountain Inn.
“I think it is a good idea that they keep the strong mayor,” he said. “You can cut through some of the red tape with the authority of a strong mayor (but) you can't possibly cover everything the administrator has to do.
“He or she should have a lot of authority delegated by council,” he said. “Every employee answers to the administrator - even senior staff such as the police chief and the fire chief ’- but the mayor has the power to hire and fire.”
Long pointed out that even though Fountain Inn is under the strong mayor system his position is essentially a part-time one for which he receives an annual salary of $7,000.
“The administrator's salary is ten times that,” he said. “He does all the work.”
Though Fountain Inn has had an administrator for over 10 years, it was initially a part-time position. Long said that the town's growth and the size of its budget ($12 million) required a trained, full-time administrator to properly oversee its day-to-day operations.
Fountain Inn's last part-time administrator was the first one Long worked with as mayor. Shortly after taking office, Long hired the city's first full-time administrator, former Miss South Carolina Wendy Willis who he said had a great background in marketing and proved to be a hard worker who kept a tight rein on the budget.
The city's current administrator is former councilman Eddie Case who was hired nearly two years ago. Long said Case's 20 years on council and his experience as a successful businessman has made him an excellent administrator.
“He knows the system and knows the people in Columbia,” Long said. “You need somebody who has had experience and is willing to work long and hard. This is a full-time job; it is not a place to retire to.”