A mayor’s decision to override two council members’ votes during the town’s August council meeting has been met with a challenge by at least one council member.

The dispute started over an ordinance that would change the way council members are elected in the Orangeburg County Town of Norway.

During an Aug. 1 meeting, Norway Mayor Tracie Clemons presented second reading of an ordinance setting up a referendum in November so voters can decide whether to move from single-member council districts to electing members at-large, with all voters being able to vote for all council seats.

The town still has an open seat in District 4 after the filing deadline passed with no one seeking the seat. The special election is Sept. 13.

Clemons noted during the meeting that the town was at its third election and still had not filled the District 4 seat, stating that was proof that the single-member voting district method the town has used since the 1980s is no longer working.

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Norway Town Council had given first reading approval to the ordinance setting up the referendum question during a July 11 meeting. The town was moving to consider final second reading of the ordinance during the Aug. 1 meeting before District 3 Councilman Gregg Covington made a motion to amend the ordinance and not have the referendum, which would have been put on the ballot Sept. 13.

District 1 Councilwoman Almanda Holiday seconded the motion, with District 2 Councilman Kelvin Crosby abstaining from the vote.

Clemons then said that she was going to override the votes of Covington and Holiday “as the mayor and CEO” and for “the betterment of the town.”

“As the mayor and CEO and looking at the totality and overall operation of the town, I have the right to override that vote,” Clemons said during the Aug. 1 meeting, subsequently pushing the vote through and declaring the ordinance final.

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Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections Director Aurora Smalls later said, “There’s no change on the referendum. So it’ll still be on the ballot. … I don’t really have anything to do with whatever. I’ll do whatever the town sends me. So if they don’t send me any changes, then that don’t have anything to really do with me. They submitted the question to us.”

Covington later said he took the issue of the mayor overriding two council votes to the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

“Well, yeah, we’re looking into how that was handled on that second reading. Actually, it was two opposed and one abstained, then the mayor just overrode it and said she had the authority to run it through. We didn’t think that that was the proper way to do that, and it’s being looked into,” said Covington, who declined to specify who the “we” is.

Norway has a strong-mayor, weak-council form of municipal government, where the mayor is the chief administrative officer of the town, responsible to the council for the administration of all city affairs placed in their charge.

The mayor’s powers include, but are not limited to, directing and supervising the administration of all departments, officers and agencies of the municipality and presiding at council meeting and voting as other council members. The duties, however, do not include vetoing council votes.

MASC Field Manager Ashley Kellahan, who later said that the organization had been in contact with Covington, said in an email, “Regardless of the form of government, mayors do not have veto power under South Carolina state law. The mayor has the authority to act and vote as a member of council, not just in the case of a tie vote. All decisions are determined by a majority vote of a quorum of council unless state or local law requires a higher number of votes, which is rare.”

“The Mayor’s vote can break a tie if it, along with the votes of other council members, results in the number of votes necessary for passage of the motion being considered. A mayor after casting his or her vote, cannot override the result of a vote,” she said.

Kellahan continued, “I believe Mayor Clemons is going to address it at their next meeting.”

Covington said the matter would indeed be brought up at the council’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12.

Mayor: ‘I override your vote’; Clemons pushes through Norway ballot question

“It wasn’t a tie. That’s the whole point I was trying to make, and in the meeting, I made the statement. I said, ‘You didn’t break a tie.’ She said that she was an executive and that she had the authority to override us. I’m going, ‘No, this is a democracy.’ Why did we vote? If you’re going to override us, why’d we even vote?” the councilman said.

Covington continued, “Hopefully we’ll get it worked out. … I wasn’t there for the first reading. I don’t know what happened there. I didn’t get any knowledge or background on that first reading, but I was there for the second. That’s when I did what I did because too many people that had heard a little bit about it said no, they didn’t want that,” Covington said, referring to the town’s potential move from single-member council districts to electing members at-large.

“A lot of people in town really feel like that’s not necessary to do a voting at large. Actually that was formed many years so there would always be representation of at least two Black members that lived in the Black community … and that was a guarantee that there would be equal representation,” he said.

The councilman continued, “In my opinion, until the town gets a lot more whites living in the Black area and Blacks living in the white area, then it needs to stay like it is because it gives a fair representation.”

“I want what’s right for everybody. … If you went at-large, you could have four members, and they could be neighbors – two out of one household and two out of another one. What about the other three districts? They don’t have any say-so, they don’t have a representative at all on it,” Covington said.

“So that’s why we oppose it at this time. It just seems like it’s just not the thing for Norway at this time,” he said.

Clemons said in a text message that she had no comment for this story.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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