Hilton Head Council disagrees about autonomy of economic development group

bheffernan@islandpacket.comApril 2, 2013 

Hilton Head Island Town Councilman George Williams, center, speaks during council's regular meeting Tuesday, flanked by town manager Steve Riley on the left and Councilman Lee Edwards to the right.


Hilton Head Island Town Council agreed Tuesday how a town-formed economic development board's members should be selected, but disagreed about how much autonomy the board should have.

Some council members disagreed about how specific the job description for the volunteer positions should be.

Marc Grant said council should be specific about the qualifications so council can be more transparent about the selections it makes.

"I like to be able to defend whatever decisions I make â€" or we make â€" to the best of my ability," Grant said.

Others, like John McCann and Mayor Drew Laughlin disagreed.

"To make it too detailed," McCann said, "you have a chance of losing the right people that don't fit neatly into a box."

Laughlin said intangibles that are unlikely to appear on a resume, such as how well a candidate works with others, should be considered.

"I am looking for a group where the whole will be greater than the parts," he said.

Under the unanimously approved selection process, applications would be reviewed by Town Council as well as Economic Development Advisory Committee Chairman Jim Gant and advisor Terry Ennis.

Council would interview finalists and make between five and nine selections. The town will accept board member applications from March 25 to April 19. The town had received 15 applications as of Tuesday morning, said town manager Steve Riley.

Town council is expected to interview the applicants in May and make its selection in early June, according to Riley.

The nonprofit economic-development organization is expected to recruit and retain businesses on the island and help close deals on development projects.

Council voted unanimously in November to create the organization, which will be governed by a council-appointed volunteer board of directors and led by a full-time, salaried executive director.

Council also disagreed about how autonomous the organization should be.

Topics of disagreement included:

  • If the board can elect or renew member seats.

  • If the board should include the town manager or a member of Town Council as non-voting members

  • If the board should be allowed to hire its own administrative staff or simply use town staff.

  • Councilman Lee Edwards advocated for autonomy for the group.

    "What I don't want to see is for this to be another part of town staff, whether that is the reality or the perception," he said.

    Grant said he favored town involvement with the group.

    "I don't want to be held accountable for some entity that is not doing what the people has requested us to do," he said.

    Councilman Bill Harkins said though it is important for council to "create the perception that we're operating at arm's length" from the board, there need to be good lines of communication between the two.

    Town staff will review council's comments, revise the bylaws accordingly and present them again at the next council meeting on April 23.

    Related content

    1. Hilton Head economic development group forming too slowly, council members say, March 21, 2013
    2. Hilton Head to create nonprofit corporation to attract, retain businesses, Feb. 21, 2013
    3. Council endorses creation of island economic-development corporation, Nov. 20, 2012

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