Berkeley County voters could change form of leadership with referendum

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Berkeley County voters will have the option to change county leadership from an elected supervisor to an appointed administrator.

People who live in the county can vote on the referendum on election day, Nov. 6.

There are 46 counties in South Carolina and four counties, including Berkeley County currently, have a supervisor that is elected by the people. If this referendum is passed that would change.

A supervisor and administrator both oversee day-to-day operations in the county.

That includes managing public utilities, human relations, legal departments, infrastructure planning, engineering and more.

Berkeley County’s elected supervisor is also the chair of county council and has a four-year term.

If the referendum passes, an appointed supervisor would be hired by county council as opposed to voted into office. That means the person could also be fired by council and there are no limits on how long that person can serve.

Multiple members of the Berkeley County council support the change including Josh Whitley.

The council voted in favor of putting the referendum on the ballot.

“We need a professional administrator running the day in and day out operations, not the most popular person at the ballot box. Not someone with zero experience in government,” Whitley said. “We need someone who is educated and experienced in running a massive governmental enterprise.”

Jennifer Ort lives in Berkeley County, and says she doesn’t want to see a change.

"The supervisor is there everyday and I feel like their responsibility is to be the watchdog for you and me instead of being beholden to five members of county council who could let him go at anytime," Ort said.

There are Berkeley County residents who support the change because they believe they'll have a more qualified leader.

"I think the citizens lose their voice on who is overseeing the county on a daily basis," Ort said.

If the referendum passes the new leader would start in 2023. That will be the end of the newly elected supervisor’s term.

“No one is having their vote taken away. It’s actually empowering the people of Berkeley County with accountability that the person can be hired and fired,” Whitley said.

An elected supervisor also gets to vote in the case of a tie on a county council matter.

“We need an administrator who knows how to build roads, who knows where water and sewer needs to be for the next 20 to 30 years. Who knows how to run the machinations of government, not who knows how to run for office,” Whitley said.

The referendum has a second question that asks if the leadership is changed should another council member be added to the eight member council. This would create an odd number for the purposes of avoiding ties when council votes.

“I don’t care about being like everybody else. I care about what’s doing right for the voters.” Ort said.

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