Baer should serve out his County Council term

info@islandpacket.comJune 26, 2013 

Steve Baer has focused on county spending since he was first elected to Beaufort County Council in 2006, so it was somewhat fitting that he announced his resignation Monday after ending up on the losing side of a bruising budget battle.

It's also not surprising that he's quitting at the end of July instead of finishing his four-year term at the end of 2014.

Just two weeks after winning re-election to his second term on County Council in November 2010, he announced he was running for Hilton Head Island's Ward 3 Town Council seat, soon to be vacant after Drew Laughlin's election as mayor.

It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now that Baer is abandoning his commitment to the Hilton Head voters who elected him to County Council.

Baer knew what he was in for when he chose to run for re-election. If he didn't have it in him to serve a full four years, he should not have run.

He isn't the first elected official around here to throw in the towel, frustrated by not being able to persuade other members to his or her position. Several school board members over the years have called it quits for that reason. But they were wrong, too.

Setting aside the issue of his commitment to voters, Baer's impending resignation is disappointing because the council -- and the taxpayers of Beaufort County -- are better served when there is vigorous debate over how, when and why the public's money is spent. Baer did not go along to get along. He stood up for what he believed in. He demanded information, transparency and accountability from his fellow council members and from county employees.

Baer focused his attention on Hilton Head Island Airport operations, and we have clearer financial reporting as a result. He raised good questions when the county was asked to buy the Beaufort Commerce Park and when it was asked to help the Heritage golf tournament after it lost its title sponsor.

His frustration was apparent Monday when he quit. His proposal to add 10 hours a week to the schedules of the Bluffton, Hilton Head, Beaufort and St. Helena Island libraries failed. He also questioned the decision to spend $850,000 to buy a piece of equipment to entice a company to open a manufacturing facility in the Beaufort Commerce Park.

In defending his decision to resign his council seat, he said he had worked seven days a week for 6-1/2 years on county business. We don't doubt that. His detailed memos, charts and graphs generated on county issues demonstrated his commitment to understanding those issues and his desire to help others understand them, too.

He cited several last-minute changes to the budget Monday, right before the final vote. He said it was hard to know which items were included in the final budget and which weren't.

"Of late, I have become increasingly frustrated with a system that has become less analytic and less transparent," Baer said. "I believe there is not much more I can help the council accomplish."

But he doesn't give enough credit to the role he has played on the council. His questions, his demands for greater detail require county administrators and his fellow council members to step up their game, to defend their positions with numbers and not just platitudes. The taxpayers are better served as a result.

And he shouldn't dismiss the cost of a special election to replace him, expected to cost between $24,000 and $36,000. The election could include party primaries, party runoffs, as well as the general election.

More importantly, he told his constituents in 2010 he wanted to serve another four years. He ran unopposed and got the second term he said he wanted. He should honor that commitment.

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