Candidates declare early in Hilton Head's Ward 6 2012 council election

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Candidates declare early in Hilton Head's Ward 6 2012 council election

By Tom BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, November 7, 2011   |  598 Words  |  

Let the race begin.

Former mayoral candidate Jim Collett announced Thursday he plans to run for Hilton Head Island's Ward 6 Town Council seat.

Collett said he felt his hand was forced after John McCann, former town Parks and Recreation Commission chairman and Port Royal Plantation resident, announced his candidacy a week ago.

Although the election is not until Nov. 6, 2012 -- coinciding with the presidential election -- McCann said he announced early "to give Ward 6 residents a chance to express their concerns and hear (my) approaches to addressing them."

"I know it is way premature, but my opponent is out starting to get people to commit to him who would rather support me if they knew I was running," Collett said.

Incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Ken Heitzke said he still has not decided whether he will seek re-election.

"I learned from my military career that you don't make a major decision until you have to," Heitzke said. "More power to them for declaring early if they've got the dollars and wherewithal to run a campaign for that long. I think it's too early. I think most people feel that way. You don't know who all the candidates will be. Why make a decision now?"

Filing to run for the seat won't begin until July 31 and lasts until Aug. 15.

Heitzke, a 16-year island resident, has represented Ward 6 on Town Council since 1997. The ward includes Port Royal Plantation, Palmetto Hall, parts of Hilton Head Plantation and the Baygall and Mitchelville areas. He is the second-longest serving member on Town Council.

Collett collected 16.6 percent of the vote and finished third in a field of seven vying to replace Tom Peeples as mayor in the November 2010 general election.

Collett is chairman of a task force pushing for improved cellphone and Internet service on the island. He worked in real estate and network-planning for Bell Atlantic for 25 years before it became Verizon. He also chaired the town's Board of Zoning Appeals for five years.

"Running for Town Council is simply an extension of my commitment to the future of this place," Collett said.

McCann started on Wall Street as a clerk and retired in 2003 as chairman and CEO of Bridge Trading, a Reuters company.

He said it is vital that Hilton Head "rebuild and reinvigorate" itself while conserving its natural beauty. He thinks the scope and size of town government should be reduced, supports construction of a new village center and wants to encourage more transparency and participation in town decisions.

"I don't feel I'm starting from behind at all," McCann said of competing against Collett, who already is familiar to island voters. "I think (the campaign) will be received well. Now is the opportune time to talk to voters, before they're bombarded with a national election in the fall."

Last fall's mayoral race re-awakened interest in island politics. A bumper crop of candidates spawned more than a dozen forums and high voter turnout that spilled over into a crowded special election to fill the Ward 3 Town Council seat vacated by Mayor Drew Laughlin.

"I think the whole island is waking up to the importance of the issues facing the town. And, fortunately, a lot of people are stepping up saying they want to be part of the solution," Collett said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.