Should James Island Shorten or Lengthen the Terms of the Mayor and Councilmembers?

by Garrett Milliken

After serving for several years on the Town of James Island Planning Commission and volunteering with James Island Pride and other town committees, I made the decision in May of 2014 to run for Town Council. In late April 2014, the Town posted and published a “Notice of General Election” with specifics about the upcoming election for Mayor and four councilmembers, which would be held on July 29, 2014. This Notice of General Election (published in The Post and Courier and also posted online) stated “Term of office will expire August 2018”.

During this same time period in the spring of 2014, Town Council passed an ordinance titled “Change in Dates of Future Town Elections”, Ordinance #2014-06. This ordinance had 1st reading on April 17, 2014 and 2nd and final reading on May 15, 2014. The ordinance, which revised the date of future town elections, was incorporated into the Town of James Island Code of Ordinances and is found as follows in Section 30.39 (A):

§ 30.39 REGULAR AND SPECIAL ELECTIONS; DATE; NOTICE. (A) After the election to be held on July 29, 2014, all subsequent regular elections for the offices of Mayor and members of Council shall be held in odd-numbered years on the first Tuesday in November. (emphasis added) (B) In the event of a tie vote for any office, a run-off election shall be held two weeks following the election pursuant to S.C. Code § 5-15-125. (C) Special elections to fill vacancies shall be held pursuant to S.C. Code § 7-13-190. (D) Two public notices of a regular or special election shall be given, which shall include the location of polling places set by the Charleston Board of Elections and Voters Registration. The first notice shall be given at least 60 days prior to the election. The second notice shall be given no later than two weeks after the first notice. (Ord. 2014-06, passed 5-15-2014)

The ordinance passed by Town Council in April and May of 2014 had the effect of changing the date of the Town of James Island’s future elections to “odd-numbered years on the first Tuesday in November”.

The July 29, 2014 town election was held and the Mayor and four council members were elected (Woolsey, Milliken, Blank, Mullinax and Stokes). Because our terms of office “expire August 2018”, this presents a problem. When is the next Town election? If the next Town of James Island election is held in November of 2017, the terms of our town’s elected officials would be shortened by 9 months. If the next town
election is held in November of 2019, the terms of the town’s elected officials will be lengthened by 15 months.

Interestingly, the Town of Mount Pleasant has dealt with this issue. In 2007, Mayor Hallman and a majority of Town of Mount Pleasant councilmembers voted to extend their terms by 14 months to change the date of their town election from September of even-numbered years to November of odd-numbered years. Proponents of this idea cited low voter turnout in September elections and the fact that the Municipal Association of South Carolina was advising municipalities to establish a uniform, odd-year election date. Currently, 10 of 16 Charleston County municipalities have elections in November of odd-numbered years. Nine Charleston County municipalities will hold elections in November of 2017 including the City of Charleston and the Town of Mount Pleasant.

I am bringing a proposed ordinance to our Town meeting this Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m. This ordinance meets the requirement of the revised Town election ordinance to hold our next Town election in “odd-numbered years on the first Tuesday in November”, yet also specifies a date certain of November 7, 2017 for our town’s next election. This ordinance would clarify that the next town election will not be in November 2019, which would extend the terms of town officials for 15 months wherein the Town would continue the usual pay in salaries for all elected officials amounting to approximately $61,000.00.

The Date of the Next Town Election issue came to my attention recently with the publication and distribution of the 2017 BCD-COG Regional Directory. This Directory states that the next Town of James Island election will be held in November 2019 and that our terms expire in November 2019.

I strongly disagree with extending the terms of Town officials (or any elected public official), especially to the degree of 15 months, and I suspect that other town residents and qualified voters might feel the same way. When James Island voters went to the polls on July 29, 2014, they voted for a Mayor and four council members whose terms would expire in August 2018 (Notice of General Election for 2014 – Town of James Island).

By shortening our terms of office by 9 months, we comply with the Town’s revised “Elections; Date; Notice” ordinance, Section 30.39 (A) which changes the date of the next town election to “odd-numbered years on the first Tuesday in November”. Moreover, we would have the next Town election on the same date as the City of Charleston’s election, the Town of Mount Pleasant’s election, and seven other Charleston County municipalities.

I hope that James Island residents will weigh in on my proposal by attending the next Town Council meeting this Thursday, April 20 at 7 p.m. You must sign up if you wish to speak during Public Comment time, so it’s wise to arrive before the meeting begins. We will also host a Public Hearing and 1st reading of our 2017-2018 Proposed Annual Budget at this meeting.

Although I offered myself for service to our Town for a four-year term running from August 2014 to August 2018 and wish to serve the entire four-year term as elected, I am opposed to a 15-month extension of our terms to November 2019 as is planned at this time. S.C. Attorney General opinions issued in response to these same concerns raised by the Town of Mount Pleasant support the shortening of elected officials’ terms to accommodate a change in the date of a municipal election from an even-year to an oddyear (Ops. S.C. Atty. Gen., June 6, 2003; December 8, 2005; October 10, 2006; June 1, 2007).

I look forward to hearing from Town residents and qualified Town voters on these important issues. You may contact me at 843-406-9616 or by email at millikenforjamesisland@gmail.com. Contact information for the Mayor and other council members is at the Town’s website at http://www.jamesislandsc.us. The good news is that there is plenty of time for the Town to meet the requirements of its revised Date of Election ordinance to “odd-numbered years on the first Tuesday in November and plan accordingly for a November 2017 Town Election.

Garrett Milliken is a Council member for the Town of James Island.

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2 thoughts on “Should James Island Shorten or Lengthen the Terms of the Mayor and Councilmembers?

  1. Update: My proposed ordinance to shorten Town of James Island elected officials’ terms by 9 months, rather than lengthen them an additional 15 months, failed last night at our meeting by a vote of 1-2. Mayor Woolsey and Councilman Josh Stokes voted “no”, hence lengthening our terms. Councilman Leonard Blank and Councilman Troy Mullinax had conflicts and were unable to attend last night’s meeting. For questions and concerns, contact me at millikenforjamesisland@gmail.com

  2. Shouldn’t such a matter be decided by a public referendum, not Council. Just as it was in the beginning. Please tell me this is all according to Hoyle and beyond the appearance of impropriety. Before I start jousting windmills, it would be nice to know it is commonplace to do this. I assume we are talking about terms for future elections? And I really think the vote should have been delayed until all Council members were able to participate. And I also hope the terms for Council members is staggered to avoid the possibility the Town might find itself with 4 or more newly minted members scrambling to find copies of Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised.

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