West Columbia mayor, councilman have shouting match

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens called a news conference Thursday afternoon to respond to an independent investigation that alleges he abuses his power. The news conference almost didn't happen.

Owens engaged in a standoff with Councilman Tem Miles, a vocal critic of the mayor, before the news conference started. Owens said he didn't want Miles there. The councilman argued city hall was a public place and he had every right to be there.

After a shouting match during which the pair exchanged insults, Miles was eventually locked out of Owens' office, before he had police unlock the door.

Owens' attorney Chip Burn disputed many of the issues raised in an eight-page audit of West Columbia government put together by Columbia attorney Robert Bolchoz.

The report claims Owens created an "atmosphere of intimidation" and held special closed door meetings about police investigations and other issues. The audit also alleges Owens threatened people's jobs if they didn't go along with his agenda. However, there is no record he ever had anyone fired.

The bickering between Owens and members of council has increased in recent weeks ahead of a September 30 vote where residents will decide whether to change West Columbia's form of goverment to a strong mayor system. Such a change would shift considerable power to Owens' office.

Owens continues to maintain the accusations against him are nothing but a witch hunt commissioned by his political enemies.

Miles contends he is looking to improve how West Columbia operates for the good of the people.