Outspoken town critic Skip Hoagland has been banned from making public comments at Hilton Head Island Town Council meetings until further notice.
Mayor David Bennett announced he will bar Hoagland from speaking after Hoagland denounced Town Councilwoman Kim Likins' support for the town's recent contract with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
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Visibly frustrated with Hoagland -- who has relentlessly pushed the envelope with his public statements and often vitriolic campaign against the chamber -- Bennett took the seemingly unprecedented step of banning Hoagland.
"My understanding of our code is that only citizens of Hilton Head Island are able to approach and discuss a matter with council," Bennett said. "Mr. Hoagland, as I understand it, you are not a citizen of the island. Until such time as a majority of council overturns my decision, you will not be allowed or invited back to speak at this council."
The town's code establishing procedures for public comment specifically notes that "any citizen of the town shall be entitled to before the council." Hoagland is a resident of Windmill Harbour on Jenkins Island, which is just outside town limits.
The council typically hears comments from any person interested in addressing the council, regardless of their home address, but Hoagland has crossed a line on appropriate discourse, Bennett said.
"It is a privilege" to speak before council, he said. "In my view, he's abused that so we have to follow the rule."
The ban comes just days after a Beaufort County court granted Likins a temporary restraining order against Hoagland after he declared her unfit to serve as director of the Boys and Girls Club of Hilton Head Island in phone calls and emails to club leaders.
The order bars Hoagland from contacting members of the club's board of directors, publishing defamatory statements or intentionally harassing Likins about her employment with the club. The terms do not limit Hoagland from criticizing Likins' decisions and work as a councilwoman.
During a three-minute public statement Tuesday, Hoagland went on the offensive again.
"Council is afraid of me and my fight for transparency," he said, threatening to sue the council for its vote. "Ms. Likins, my lawyers are going to put her through the toughest deposition she has ever imagined, including her phone records."
At that moment, Bennett cut Hoagland off, requesting he not discuss pending or threatened legal claims in his comments.
"I say to all of you I cannot be silenced or stopped on this issue because I am right and you are wrong," he went on to say. "Time is running out for you to come to your senses."
"Merry Christmas and a happy, non-corrupt New Year," he concluded.
After the meeting, Hoagland said he will ask residents of the island to read his comments into the record at future council meetings to circumvent Bennett's ruling.
Hoagland also has threatened to sue Bluffton Town Council members after he was ejected from their meeting last week for making similar attacks against Mayor Lisa Sulka. None of those lawsuits have been filed.
Likins is the first official to take legal action against Hoagland this fall, but several others have rebuked Hoagland's attacks.
Sulka and Bluffton councilman Ted Huffman have condemned Hoagland.
In an opinion piece by Bennett that was published in The Island Packet this fall, the mayor implied Hoagland's tactics have proven him to be a "bully."
Likins' legal fees, which were not known Tuesday, will be covered by the town because Hoagland's harassment was incurred during the course of her duties as an elected official, town leaders said. The council passed a resolution granting the same coverage to all council members in the event they file legal action against Hoagland or in any similar situation. Likins recused herself from the vote.
- Hilton Head councilwoman granted temporary restraining order against Skip Hoagland, Dec. 11, 2015
- Chamber critic Hoagland tossed from Bluffton council meeting + audio, Dec. 9, 2015
- As chamber of commerce contract nears completion, Skip Hoagland brings supporters to Town Council, Oct. 6, 2015
- Hilton Head Mayor David Bennett calls out chamber of commerce, critics over contract controversy, Sept. 29, 2015
- Guest opinion: Hilton Head mayor asks for civility, Sept. 29, 2015