Hilton Head council candidates debate for Ward 6 seat

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 15, 2012 

Barbara Swift holds up a sign notifying Hilton Head Island Town Council candidate Jim Collett, left, that he has a minute left to speak, while his opponent, John McCann, listens during Monday's debate for the Ward 6 seat.

JAY KARR/STAFF PHOTO

The differences were few and the similarities many -- even down to their clothes -- among the two men vying to replace Hilton Head Island Mayor Pro Tem Ken Heitke on Town Council.

Dressed in dark blazers with white dress shirts, red ties, khaki pants and loafers, John McCann and Jim Collett staked their positions, many of which they admittedly share, during a forum Monday sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area.

Both seek the Ward 6 seat in the Nov. 6 nonpartisan election. Heitzke, who has been on council since 1997, is not seeking re-election. The ward includes Port Royal and Palmetto Hall, the Baygall and Mitchelville areas, and parts of Hilton Head Plantation.

McCann, 71, and Collett, 65, both support limited expansion of the island's airport to no more than 5,000 feet, a noise barrier between the airport and nearby residents, term limits for Town Council members, a village center at Shelter Cove and revitalized shopping areas on the north end. They also say they will seek to preserve the island's beauty and natural environment and support the town's recycling efforts.

Both believe more study is needed and serious consideration given to a proposal by Mayor Drew Laughlin to ask the legislature for permission to increase a tax on overnight lodging and use the revenue for marketing to attract more visitors.

McCann would like to see groups compete for those dollars, which traditionally go to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.

Collett wants to see the town "get its money's worth" from new tax revenue for marketing, but did not specify whether he supports directing that money to an organization other than the chamber.

He favors a new nonprofit organization supported by town staff and accountable to Town Council to attract new business and broaden the economy by coordinating redevelopment projects.

McCann wants to encourage more transparency and participation in town decisions by televising council meetings and providing online access to quarterly financial reports.

"We have to be proactive about the economy of this island to keep it healthy and Hilton Head as a great place to live," Collett said.

McCann stressed more residents need to become involved in such efforts.

"Change will come, but it needs to be the right change and involve the people who live here," he said. "They can't just hear or read about it. They need to be involved in the decisions."

They differed most on their backgrounds.

McCann, 71, started on Wall Street as a clerk and retired in 2003 as chairman and CEO of Bridge Trading. He is making his first run for public office.

Collett, 65, worked in real estate and network-planning for telecommunications company Bell Atlantic for 25 years before it became Verizon. He came in third in a crowded field in the island's most recent mayoral election and has since spearheaded a campaign to improve wireless service.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related content:

John McCann

Jim Collett

Ferguson to face challenger, Heitzke will not run in Hilton Head council election: Aug. 7, 2012

Collett, McCann make it official; race is on for Hilton Head Ward 6 seat: July 31, 2012

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