Hilton Head voters face choices in Wards 1, 3 and 6

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Hilton Head voters face choices in Wards 1, 3 and 6

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, October 20, 2012   |  894 Words  |  

Hilton Head Island voters may have a feeling of deja vu when heading to the polls Nov. 6.

Many will see familiar names on the ballot, ones they saw two years ago in a crowded mayoral race. Others will decide if the man they elected 21 months ago in a special election should stay.

And just as those races brought to the forefront concerns over economic decline on Hilton Head, candidates again are focusing on how town officials can nurse a flagging economy back to health. The campaign issues continue be centered on making the island's economy less dependent upon tourism and renovating dated commercial areas.

WARD 1

Incumbent Bill Ferguson, 64, council's longest-serving member and lone minority, has been a controversial figure. Despite that, he rarely has faced opposition and now has two challengers -- native islanders Marc Grant, 41, and Charles Houston, 71.

Ferguson says he should be elected to another four-year term because now is not the time for inexperience on Town Council.He has represented Ward 1 since 1993. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2010, receiving about 5 percent of the vote. He faced his last challenger in 2003.

The ward includes the Chaplin community and neighborhoods centered around Squire Pope, Gumtree, Spanish Wells and Marshland roads, as well as Mathews Drive.

Due to redistricting, a former Ward 1 section along Marshland Road is now in Ward 4. A section north of Spanish Wells Road is now in Ward 3. Ward 1 picks up the area around the Hilton Head Island Airport between Beach City and Dillon roads from Ward 6, and it lost an area northeast of Gumtree Road to Ward 2.

Grant, a former teacher and school administrator in Beaufort and Jasper counties, took over the family business, Grant's Mini Market on Hilton Head, in 2008.

He said a top priority, if elected, will be changing restrictions to make it easier to subdivide and develop heirs property. He also would continue efforts to ease land-use regulations and zoning ordinances that restrict commercial development.

Houston, a lawyer who was disbarred for ethical violations in 1994 and reprimanded in 2009 by the S.C. Supreme Court, said he will work with the local chamber of commerce and businesses to attract more tourists to Ward 1, providing economic support for the area.

Both challengers would encourage more financial support from the town to preserve Mitchelville, a 150-year-old site on Hilton Head believed to be America's first planned community for freed slaves. Doing so, they say, would create a premier Civil War attraction that would bring in more tourism revenue and investments.

WARD 3

Incumbent Lee Edwards, 45, wants more time to help Hilton Head update its zoning and land-use rules to encourage an economic revival.

Ward 3 includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Shipyard and Point Comfort. It no longer includes Indigo Run, which moved to Ward 4.

Edwards, president and CEO of The Greenery, also supports a committee that council has asked to plan the formation of an economic-development group to attract new businesses to the island.

He faces three challengers.

Political newcomer Andrew Jablonecki II, 28, supports a proposal to ask the legislature for permission to increase a tax on short-term lodging and use the revenue for marketing to attract more visitors. Edwards said he, too, supports the idea and would like to see groups compete for those dollars, which typically go to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

Jeff Myers, 50, argues the town manager has done little to stem economic decline on the island, and says the council should replace him.

Ryan McAvoy, 33, a Hilton Head Guest Services employee, said he would focus on improving the island economy by reducing crime.

WARD 6

John McCann made his living on Wall Street and is making his first run for public office.

Jim Collett Jr. came in third in a crowded field in the town's last mayoral election and has since spearheaded a campaign to improve wireless service.

Mayor Pro Tem Ken Heitzke, who has served Ward 6 since 1997, is not seeking re-election.

The ward includes Port Royal, Palmetto Hall, a section of Hilton Head Plantation, and Baygall and Mitchelville areas. It picks up a section around Folly Field Road that was in Ward 4.

Collett, 65, says that if elected, he will continue to push for better cellular communications to draw conventions, new businesses and entrepreneurs who can, through technology, bring their work with them to Hilton Head. He would also focus on upgrading areas like Northridge Plaza, Shelter Cove and Coligny.

Collett also favors a new nonprofit organization supported by town staff and accountable to Town Council to attract new business and broaden the economy.

McCann, 71, who retired in 2003 as chairman and CEO of Bridge Trading, said a joint effort between the town, Bluffton, and Beaufort and Jasper counties is needed to attract business.

He believes the town needs to do more to get retired business people and banks involved in developing an economic-development policy for the island. He would also push for expanded health services and educational programs to draw new groups of homebuyers.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.