The debate over whether Hilton Head’s Town Council or mayor should have the power to set meeting agendas and appoint committee heads fizzled Tuesday after a proposed ordinance died when no one moved to approve it.
On Nov. 8, Town Council member and mayoral candidate John McCann proposed the ordinance, which, if approved, would have changed various sections of town code and ultimately weakened the powers of the mayor.
However, with no motion to approve the ordinance, the proposed changes will not move forward.
“I didn’t have the support to bring it to the council,” McCann said after Tuesday’s meeting. “I want to work with the mayor at making things better.”
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This came after mayor David Bennett released an email Monday night expressing his disapproval for the proposed ordinance, questioning whether allowing council members to add or remove agenda items before a meeting would be transparent and fair.
“The changes suggested by Mr. McCann would affect the office of mayor in a way unfair to our citizens,” Bennett’s email said. “As mayor, I am the only individual on Town Council elected island-wide to represent the voices of all citizens. And it makes sense to allow the views of all citizens to be heard. ... There’s plenty of good work to be done if we cut the phony bologna.”
Under the proposed ordinance, agenda items could have been set by a majority vote from boards, committees and commissions; if matters were referred to Town Council by the town manager; or if they were approved by a majority vote of council members.
Other proposed changes included allowing a majority of council members to call a special meeting, to add or remove agenda items after a meeting begins, and to designate chairs of standing committees.
Currently, the mayor has the power to set Town Council meeting agendas. In 1983, when the town was incorporated, the mayor was granted this power by Town Council. In 2008, the mayor received additional authority to appoint council members to standing committees, according to town staff attorney Brian Hulbert.
Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate for the Municipal Association of South Carolina, said under the state’s council-manager form of government, which Hilton Head subscribes to, the town manager and staff usually prepare the town council meeting agenda based on council input. In a strong-mayor form of government, the mayor is typically responsible for setting the agenda.
Slatton said, though, that in all cases, the town council decides who sets the agenda and how items are placed on the agenda, adding that who sets the agenda varies by municipality.
A similar power struggle took place in Chapin, located near Columbia, beginning in 2014 in which Town Council members and the mayor frequently were at odds with each other, partly over who would set the meeting agendas. A court later ruled that Town Council members could set the agenda and call special meetings without the mayor’s approval.