Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin reflects on first year in office

tbarton@islandpacket.comJanuary 1, 2012 

It's been a fairly good year for Mayor Drew Laughlin. Long, but good, according to the mayor.

Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing stepped up to the tee box to save Hilton Head Island's annual PGA Tour golf tournament.

Kroger purchased the languishing The Mall at Shelter Cove and hired a developer who recently came forward with what town staff and council members have said are promising plans to redevelop the property.

Owners of two other commercial areas, Heritage and Coligny plazas, also have plans for breathing new life into their commercial centers -- with the town's help.

The town received awards for being friendly to bicyclists and the environment, streamlined its commercial permitting process and maintained its high bond ratings.

It's been a little more than 12 months since Laughlin took office, following a carefully watched, closely contested election. The Island Packet checked in with Laughlin, who is an attorney on the island, to review his first year and see how he has transitioned to his new role.

Question. What was the transition like from councilman to mayor?

Answer. A lot more demands on my time. Maybe, because it had been so long since there had been a new mayor, there were a lot of people who wanted to talk to me. I became very popular all of a sudden.

Q. What do you see as some of your major accomplishments over this past year?

A. We've really made a basic, fundamental policy change without having to go through a whole lot of angst about it. I feel good about that.

Q. Could you articulate that policy change?

A. From being at best indifferent and at worst hostile to those who want to develop things on Hilton Head Island ... to being genuinely supportive and welcoming -- saying, "Look, we want you to come and invest money in helping us upgrade our older, built environment. And if you have the same commitment we do to good quality, then we'll work with you every step of the way."

Q. Let's look back at some of your campaign promises. One was to promote a business environment of innovation and opportunity for current and future generations of islanders. What innovation or opportunity would you point to?

A. To me, it's an attitude. To have an atmosphere where folks want to do things, not to have everything so planned out that you just squashed all creativity and innovation out of everything.

Q. So what progress do you think has been made on that front?

A. I think we've made a good bit of progress as far as how decisions are made -- the use of citizen input on some of the big decisions we're doing, such as the Land Management Ordinance Rewrite Committee (and) the telecommunications task force. That's the kind of stuff we've never actually done much of before and has been useful. ... The message is we want investment in our community. We want a healthy business and commercial environment here and, if you have something that is compatible with our standards, then the town will be an active and supportive partner.

Q. We've talked about 2011. What will 2012 look like?

A. We need to complete or come close to completing the (Land Management Ordinance) rewrite process. We need to deal with the community development corporation, economic development corporation, redevelopment corporation -- whatever you want to call it -- whatever structures we need to execute the new policy of attracting business and private investment to the island.

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