Council-Manager Form of Government

The period of time bounded roughly by the end of the Spanish-American war and America entry into World War 1 is generally referred to as the Progressive Era. The major intellectual theme during this time was reform. Reform of many areas of society including but not limited to business, labor, agriculture and government.


During this era (in 1909) Richard S. Childs, a resident of Brooklyn, New York and a recent graduate of Yale, became interested in a commission form of government which was being successfully implemented in Galveston, Texas, and Des Moines, Iowa. This system primarily vested control of government in elected directors who divided the operating departments among themselves, administered them directly as full-time jobs, and acted jointly on policy making and on budget approval. Comparing the differences between government and business. Childs noted that to be like a corporation, the commission would have to have a manager who is responsible to the governing board and who would direct the department heads and employees. Child was impressed by the general principle adopted in January 1908 by Staunton, Virginia, where officials had hired a professional manager to direct the operating department. His only criticism of Staunton's plan was the retention of the old mayor- council form in which the manager had to satisfy not one council but a bicameral system and a mayor with veto power.


After studying these plans used in Galveston, Des Moines, and Staunton, Childs decided that a Council-Manager plan might be the best plan for many city governments. Assisted by Columbia University graduate student, H.S. Gilbertson, Childs inserted provisions for a city manager into the commission form of government. The Board of Trade from Lockport, New York, endorsed the plan and presented it to the State Legislature for consideration. Unfortunately, the plan did not gain the necessary support. However, publicity was already in motion, and the new idea was labeled the Lockport Plan. After failing to gain support in LaGrande, Oregon, and Eugene, Oregon, the plan was successfully approved by voters of Sumter, South Carolina, on June 11, 1912.


In a paper, The Small Beginnings of the Council Manager Plan, written Childs in 1963, he stated, "It was a time when the crust of custom was being cracked and the idea that the universal mayor-and- council plan was the only form of government for a city could be challenged. Change, invention, novelty were in the air, The Sumter Chamber of Commerce, A.V. Snell, secretary, had enough faith in their own judgment to agree that it made sense and enough gumption to take it seriously for Sumter in spite of its novelty."


At this time Sumter had a population of about 8,000 with a strong Chamber of Commerce. Then, as now, the Chamber was a very active, community-oriented organization. Through efforts spearheaded by the Chamber and the local newspapers the citizens became aware of the commission form of government. In fact on October 27, 1911, The Sumter Herald declared that Sumter should not be left behind in the municipal reform and urged all citizens to ask the county delegation to include Sumter in the new commission plan bill before the Legislature. The newspaper also requested that the Chamber of Commerce consider the commission plan at the Chamber's first semi-annual meeting on November 21, 1911.


Childs, further stated, "They were strong enough to conceive and draft the optional law and in it pit the manager idea about the conventional commission plan. They had the energy to get it through the legislature just for Sumter." This was accomplished through the efforts of a blue- ribbon committee which consisted of: Chamber President Dr. S. C. Baker, Mayor L.D. Jennings, City Clerk C.M. Hurst, D.W. Cuttino, L.W. Folsom, J.W. McKiever, David D. Moise, H.G. Osteen, Authur V. Snell, and A.J. Stubbs. With the support of State Senator John J. Clifton, a special provision to the commission plan was debated in the State Legislature. This allowed Sumter voters the opportunity to choose not only between their current system and the commission form of government but also whether or not a city manger, who would work for the City Council, should be approved.


On February 23, 1912, the bill was enacted into law, allowing Sumter to proceed. Sumter City Council began discussions on February 27, 1912, and a special referendum was set for June 11, 1912. The outcome of the voting was 252 to 72 in favor of adopting the commission form of government and 201 to 121 in favor of hiring a manger.


Concerning this, Childs wrote, "Then they had leadership enough to sway three out of four voters of Sumter to the manager option in the law despite its novelty. If they had known how little that young New York businessman knew about politics and municipal government, they would have had cold feet. They must have encountered plenty of fellow citizens who were aghast at taking the city into an untried pioneer adventure, The great majority of the Sumter voters at the referendum embraced innovation unafraid! And then at the election of commissioners they chose strong able characters and sent the plan off on the right foot. Somewhere in Sumter there was perception and courage and a readiness for adventure."


In 1987, the 75th Anniversary of the Council-Manager plan, there are over 2,756 Council- Manager cities in the United States, 125 in Canada, and 89 counties utilizing this form of government. Over 66 percent of all cities recognized by the International City Management Association have this style of organization , the single most- popular form of local government in communities with a population of over 10,000. From a small beginning in 1912 to A New Beginning in 1987, Sumter's progressiveness lives on.


Council Structure

From At-large to Wards


Sumter originated the first successful Council-Manager form of municipal government with four city council members and the Mayor who are elected for four year terms. Sumter County is governed by a seven-member council, who are elected for four year alternating terms.


According to early records, the at-large method of electing City Council members has existed in Sumter since 1871. Since that time there has only been one minority, Mr. Z.E. Walker, who has succeeded in being elected as a councilman. Mr. Walker served from April 10, 1883, to April 16, 1886. In the early 1980's City Council, taking into account Sumter's substantial growth (particularly in the southernmost section), felt a need to increase the number of council seats and to provide better opportunities for minorities to be elected.


On March 15, 1983, Mayor W. A. McElveen, Hr., proposed to Council members E. Frank Bostick, Stephen M. Creech, Morris D. Mazursky and Colleen H. Yates a new method of election...-the 3-3-1 plan. This plan would provide for the election of three members to Council from designated wards, three member elected at large, and one mayor elected at large. The Council agreed that a change was needed and began earnestly discussing the best course of action to take.


In 1984 when Joseph T. McElveen, Jr., and Dr. William T. Painter were elected to the City Council to fill the seats previously held by Mr. Bostic and Mrs. Yates, a decision had not yet been made. These two councilmen joined the existing council members and created the Election Method Study Committee, which consisted of a cross section of the city's population. On December 19, 1985, at its first meeting this thirty- member committee, chaired by Charles A. Gibbs was charged with making a recommendation (within thirty days) for the best method of electing council members.


City Manager Horace B. Curtis and City Attorney Jack W. Erter, Jr., worked with the United States Justice Department and legal counsel for the South Carolina Municipal Association to assure that all of the legal details were in compliance with the tenets of these organizations. William B. Farley of the City-County Planning Staff drew up various maps with alternative ward proposals. From the 1980 census block statistics, information on the numbers and percentages of minority voters for each ward was compiled. Then during public discussions concerning the proposed changes, a segment of the citizens.


After three weeks of studying maps and discussing alternatives, the committee reached agreement. On January 29, 1986, Mr. Gibbs met with Council to recommend that City Council be expanded from five to seven members and that the method of election should be a 4-2-1 plan, (four members from designated wards, two members elected at large, and one mayor elected at large).


The city attorney then compiled the pertinent documents and forward them to the Justice Department for approval. Meanwhile, a referendum was placed before the voters, and the 4-2-1 plan passed with a 617 to 131 vote. A few days after the referendum, the Justice Department notified Council that the recommendation had been rejected on the basis of the two at-large seats. Council then had two options - to ask for reconsideration of the 4-2-1 plan or to submit another plan. Discussion continued at each of Council's meetings until May 20, 1986, when a first reading was given for an ordinance approving a 6-1 plan. The ward map was left for discussion at a later date. Final reading for the ordinance was given on June 3, 1986, but the map was still an undecided issue.


A public hearing was held on June 17, 1986, to discuss which map would meet the criteria of the Justice Department and would be most feasible for the City. Ms. Adelle Adams, representing the NAACP, presented a map which was almost identical to the one drawn by the City- County Planning Department. On August 5, 1986, Council approved a map identified as "Map 8" in which three of the six wards had a predominantly black population. Staggered terms for the new Council were created.


After approval of the 6-1 plan from the Justice Department, another referendum was held, and the plan was approved by a vote of 4567 to 2125. On November 18, 1986, final reading was given for the ordinance which set the process for the election of a new and larger City Council. The general election was set for April 7, 1987.


With this significant and historical modification in the City Council structure, Sumter demonstrated its concern with progress and established for itself a new beginning.