The upcoming election might focus on federal offices, but there are also 12 Beaufort County seats that will appear on Town of Hilton Head Island ballots Nov. 3.
Candidates who are running against opponents were asked by The Hilton Head Sun staff to answer each of three questions in 100 words:
1. Why have you chosen to run?
2. What is unique in your background experience or education that would persuade voters to choose you?
3. What is the single most important issue that should be dealt with by the office for which you are running?
Candidates’ answers are presented here, in order by rank of office, and in alphabetical order by last name.
It should be noted that five candidates are running for their offices unopposed: Weston Newton, Dist. 120, State House of Representatives; Angela D. Middleton, District 6 School Board; Christina Gwozdz, District 9 School Board; Ingrid Boatright, District 11 School Board; and David W. Ott, County Coroner.
South Carolina State Senate District 46, Beaufort-Jasper
1. I decided to run based upon wanting to see our state move forward. Move forward in areas of education reform, proactive environmental protection, and equality. We are at a critical juncture in our state’s history, and we need new voices. Our district is changing, and we need to change with it. If we keep accepting the same corporate-funded, career politicians to represent our district, they will continue to take credit for the hard work of others and gerrymander their seats to make sure they do not lose in the future. I want this position to move the Lowcountry forward.
2. Being a South Carolina public school teacher for over 13 years has given me the opportunity to see our state continue to devalue public education. I have taught at Whale Branch Early College and May River High Schools in our district for the last nine years. I also come to our state with over four years of previous work experience in the West Virginia State Senate working for two former governors and current U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. My combination of previous work experience is perfect for our district because it will give the Lowcountry more power in Columbia.
3. The single most important issue is education, but that issue will fuel other areas of policy like economic development, business growth, and equity in our area. Within education, I believe that teacher retention and recruitment is the most important issue. I have creative solutions that just do not throw money at the problem like our career politicians. Teachers have also been saying for years that smaller class sizes, less rigorous testing regimens, and more money for mental health, school counseling, and nurses will be solutions to some of our most pressing issues.
1. I want to build on recent success in having Beaufort and Jasper counties treated fairly in the state budget. A few examples: of the $360 million available this year for spending on roads and bridges statewide, $176 million will go to Beaufort and Jasper counties, and I-95 from the Georgia/South Carolina state line to the Walterboro exit will be widened and repaved, and Highways 170 and 278 will also be resurfaced; overall state funding for Beaufort County’s K-12 public schools has increased by 45%; per-pupil funding for USC Beaufort has gone from 37% of the state average to 78%, and next year it will be 100%.
2. I have the skill and knowledge of the issues to actually get things done. In recognition of the legislation that I have written, I’ve received awards from a broad range of public advocacy groups, including the South Carolina Club for Growth and the South Carolina Association of Taxpayers (for fiscal conservatism), the Conservation Voters of South Carolina and Sierra Club South Carolina (for protecting the environment), and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the South Carolina Public Health Association (for increasing access to healthcare).
3. Ensuring that Beaufort and Jasper counties’ residents continue to receive an equitable return on the tax dollars they send to Columbia. As noted above, we’ve had tremendous success in achieving that equity, but we can’t rest on our laurels, for the next decade is brimming with opportunities for us: building a new ocean terminal in Jasper County; preserving cultural resources like Mitchelville, Santa Elena and the Reconstruction Era National Park; ensuring institutions like the Waddell Mariculture Center achieve their full economic potential; proactively preserving our fragile ecosystem; and so much more!
South Carolina House of Representatives, District 123, Hilton Head Island, Daufuskie
1. I’ve been involved in volunteer projects and programs aimed at advancing Beaufort County schools and improving local education opportunities for both children and young adults since the early 1990s. When an opening came available in 2014 to represent District 123 at the state level, I realized that serving as a state representative would be my best opportunity to influence the quality of education in our state. I have greatly enjoyed serving Hilton Head and Daufuskie, and look forward to continuing.
2. At this point, my unique value to Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie voters is my six years of experience as a legislator, and numerous contacts I have made at all levels of state and federal government, that can influence action on behalf of individual constituents and our community as a whole. The seniority of our legislative delegation representing Beaufort County makes a significant impact at the state house. I am proud to be a key member of our delegation. My 40 years of raising a family and running a business on Hilton Head have given me key insight into the needs of our area.
3. There are multiple significant issues that must be dealt with, but my highest priority as a legislator continues to be the improvement of our school system statewide. We know South Carolina provides exceptional places to live, work and raise a family. I steadfastly believe our schools should reflect that same exceptionalism if we are to attract quality jobs to upgrade our economy and overall quality of life. Significant strides have been made over the past four years in education, and with continued perseverance, I believe highest standards can be achieved. Preserving the quality of our beaches and waterways is premier as well.
1. I chose to run because our community deserves responsible, accessible leadership that represents our entire community. The gridlock currently paralyzing our federal government is seeping into our state government. We need leaders who can work across the aisle to deliver results for our district. I have spent my life bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders to craft real-life solutions and getting them enacted into law. I understand the connection between the passage of laws and the quality of people’s lives. I would like the opportunity to bring these skills to benefit the residents of Hilton Head and Daufuskie.
2. I spent my career working with diverse groups to solve problems facing everyday Americans. I was a nonprofit executive advocating for increased access to health care, elimination of gender discrimination, and resources for older adults with mental illness. When presented with a problem, my approach is to seek out those with expertise and listen to the people impacted. I am skilled at developing legislation, advocating for its enactment, and ensuring that the constituents who are concerned are well-informed and involved with the process. I’ve done that my entire life, and I will do it for the people of District 123.
3. I don’t think there is one single issue that is more important than the rest. We have many serious problems – infrastructure, education, economic recovery, health care, environmental conservation – and I believe each one of them deserves direct, thorough and immediate action. Unfortunately, many of these issues are challenged by the onset of COVID-19. It is the responsibility of our state representative to work hard on each of these issues, to consult with experts and stakeholders, and to do what’s best for the people of our district. If elected, I will bring that kind of leadership to the state house.
Hilton Head Town Council, Ward 1
1. I am running because I am very passionate about the betterment of our community. My family has lived here for over seven generations and I have lived on Hilton Head Island all my life. During my 46 years, I’ve experienced lots of changes to our island, both positive and negative. I plan to provide my input in a way that is carefully considered and sensitive to the community’s voice. I am convinced that Hilton Head Island can be a complete and unique community for all its people. Our residents, our economy, and our sensitive environment are all critical to the decisions we make in our local government.
2. I served as chairman of the Town of Hilton Head Island Planning Commission, and as a member of the town’s Vision Project Management Team, the 278 Corridor Committee, and the Gullah Geechee Task Force. As an executive of a local retail organization, I have gained insights dealing with all types of people and situations. I have coached middle and high school basketball, and understand the needs of families and working folks. I’m a founding organizer of our island’s July 4 Community Picnic. These experiences have trained me to be a capable problem solver, to listen carefully and to make solid decisions considering complex factors.
3. Our island is facing several issues that are critical to our vibrant future, including protection of our fragile environment, workforce housing, diversification of our economy, effective law enforcement, and preservation of history and culture. However, solving mobility of island traffic is probably the most urgent action that needs to be taken. Our town government must take a leadership role using its power and voice to ensure that this project meets our community’s expectations. Any changes to the Highway 278 Corridor need to be approached not just as a freeway, but also as a revitalization effort of the Stoney Community.
1. Serving in any elected position is about service to the folks you represent. Many elected officials forget that obligation to their constituents. The Town of Hilton Head Island is at a crossroads with many important decisions on the immediate horizon. The bridge project, our relationship with the Sheriff’s Office, workforce housing, and preserving the Gullah Geechee culture that allows native islanders to retain ownership of their land. The town has a growing Latino population that needs to be encouraged to participate in the town’s activities. I have the passion and skills to bring these issues to fruition.
2. I have been in the community management industry for over 35 years. My original background is in education, with my last educational post working with special needs and at-risk youngsters before making a career switch to community management. I have been appointed to the Town of Hilton Head’s Board of Zoning Appeals in 2003 and served four terms, two years as chair; appointed to the Planning Commission for the Town of Hilton Head Island in 2015, and presently serve as chair of the Planning Commission. I also served on the town’s development team for the Vision project. I hold Bachelor and Master’s degrees.
3. There is never just a single issue or project but several. The bridge project, workforce housing, and providing native islanders economic incentives to keep their property in their families, thus preserving the Gullah Geechee culture. The island has a growing Latino population that needs to be recognized and integrated into community affairs in a more cohesive fashion. I am in favor of securing an independent consultant to examine the 278 corridor-bridge alignment and advise on a building-traffic management solution that improves the flow of traffic.
Hilton Head Town Council, Ward 3
1. I have chosen to run for four reasons:
• To unite the community toward the island’s best future.
• To preserve and protect the island’s irreplaceable natural environment.
• To bolster the economy for the benefit of residents and businesses.
• And, to enhance the island’s reputation and quality of life.
2. Managing the challenges of island growth, traffic congestion and land use conflicts, and seizing on opportunities to make the island better require the kind of professional experience and educational training I have. Plus, I care deeply about preserving what makes the island special. I offer my time on town council as proof. I was educated as an architect and community planner (Princeton and Penn). I came to the island in 1973 to work with Charles Fraser as vice president of community planning, later planned and developed quality communities, such as Long Cove, initiated and participated in numerous town planning studies like R/UDAT, Bridge to the Beach, Chaplin, Stoney, and Circle to Circle, chaired the town’s Vision for the Island’s Future in 2010, and most recently, served on the Vision Project Management Team.
3. That depends on the time horizon. Immediately, I will focus on getting the Bridge/Corridor project right because so much is at stake. Workforce housing and transportation have to be addressed and concrete steps taken in the next two years because our economy and quality of life depend on getting them right, too. And, the most important issue to get right over the next four years is implementing the highest priorities of the Our Plan/Comprehensive Plan.
1. I have chosen to run because the residents of this island need a voice, and more importantly, they need to be heard. I have lived on the island for a couple of years now, and in that short amount of time, I have met so many residents who are very concerned about the future of the island. Their concerns range anywhere from traffic to workforce housing; from building being done that doesn’t follow town ordinances to our environment not being protected. They know their concerns are not considered when decisions are being made by current leadership, and they want to see a change.
2. I have been a business development manager for many years, and my greatest successes have come from my negotiating skills. It takes a unique person to bring people together to the table and work for the good of all parties involved and come to an agreement. When it comes to the town council there are a lot of parties involved from the county, to the town, to the owners, to the residents, to the business owners. That’s a lot of personalities and you have to be able to hear all sides and, in the end, satisfy all sides. That’s what I’m good at.
3. The single most important issue is future growth and how to protect the island as it happens. As we grow, many things are affected and the environment, our infrastructure, and the integrity of our island are all at stake. I don’t believe our current leadership keeps all of this in mind when they are making decisions. We need to put a pause on all new building, and focus on revitalizing vacant buildings. We need to be sure all ordinance and zoning rules are followed at all times so developers can’t destroy our environment to suit their needs.
Hilton Head Town Council, Ward 6
Kent Loper Berry
1. I ran for the special election to fill this seat in February 2019. It was a large learning experience. I wanted to see if the incumbent would be able to keep his campaign promises. What I observed is one of the least transparent mayor and councils in recent memory, and I have 30 years of being around this area. My goal is to be the one voice for all of Ward 6. There are many pieces to the ward, and many of us have had no communication from the incumbent since before the election. The ability to communicate, and even more important to be a good listener, is what would be helpful.
2. As mentioned above, I believe in communication with the registered voters after the election. I have made a campaign promise to send spring and fall correspondence in a bullet-point set up, letting people know what is happening in Ward 6 as well as the island. I am a small-business person and understand how important our service industry is to the short-term and as important long-term health of our island. I champion small businesses and the service staff they support. Getting this island heathy – mentally, physically and financially – is extremely important to me.
3. Being transparent with issues of Ward 6 as well as the island. I wish I could give you just one issue but honestly we have three or four issues that have tremendous importance.
1. I have loved Hilton Head Island and the Lowcountry since I was a teenager coming here shortly after the first bridge. I have enjoyed the benefits of living full time in “Paradise” since 2006. There are issues and problems here like in every other community. It has been my privilege to serve on the town council for the past two years, and I would like to continue to serve there to work to make this a better place for us all.
2. I have been involved in the community in one fashion or another since I moved here. First, I worked in the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Program conserving land throughout the county. Then I served on the town Board of Zoning Appeals for six years, the last three years as chair. I also served on the Southern Beaufort County Corridor Beautification Board, which guided landscaping of the medians of U.S. 278. I was elected to council after a couple of years on the Planning Commission. I think these experiences, together with my training as a lawyer, qualify me for this position.
3. It is very difficult to single out one particular issue as the most important. Clearly the decision on the final route of U.S. 278 and bridges leading to Hilton Head Island is the biggest project ever in this community, and therefore of paramount importance. We are in the process of selecting a new town manager, and this is of critical importance since that person is the chief executive officer of the town. Then there are a myriad of issues involved in planning for the future of the community which council is faced with or soon will encounter.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.