National Politics

SC county takes step toward changing its form of government

Chester County has taken a step toward changing its form of government.

Chester County now has a Council-Supervisor form of government. If voters get a chance to decide on a new form of government, it would be a Council-Administrator setup. Unlike a supervisor, an administrator is appointed and employed by the council. The administrator is responsible for all departments in the county.

The Chester County Council this week approved the first of three votes needed to put a referendum to voters. The referendum would ask voters if they want to add one new council member and swap its supervisor for a county administrator.

The Herald reports this isn't the first time the county has sought changes to the way it's governed.

The county switched from a supervisor to a manager in 2002, but two years later switched back. In 2016, the council passed early votes looking to change to an administrator but did not finish the process.

The current supervisor, Shane Stuart, said he believes the same problems that arose during past efforts would return this time. A special election could cost $20,000 and the salary to hire a qualified administrator would be expensive, he said.

"In my opinion the voters will not support this change," he said.

A move to an administrator also could cost Stuart his position. His term runs through 2022. But it would align Chester County with much of the state. Of 46 counties, 34 have administrators.

"By a large majority, most counties use the administrator form," said John DeLoache, senior staff attorney with the South Carolina Association of Counties.

County attorney Joanie Winters told the council this week there are options for when to hold the referendum if the council passes all three votes. The question would have to be certified 90 days before a special election, or by August of next year to get it on the 2020 general election ballot. The primary vote next summer could be an option.

There are advantages to avoiding a special election.

"There is a cost involved, as opposed to the general (election) which you're paying for anyway," Winters said.

Stuart said he believes the most significant impact of the change to an administrator would be the person handling day-to-day county operations would no longer report directly to voters.

"I wish I had positives to say, but I firmly believe the county supervisor should always have to answer to the voters and citizens," Stuart said.

DeLoache said there aren't specific advantages or disadvantages to either type of government. Both can function well. For some voters, an issue may be the talent pool for the job. Because a supervisor is elected, he or she has to be a county resident whereas an administrator or manager is generally a hired employee.

"You're not limited in who council can hire as an administrator," DeLoache said. "It gives you the ability to do a national search if you have a growing county."

Chester County Council next meets Oct. 21.

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