Sea Pines Resort is backing four candidates for one of the boards that governs Sea Pines — a move an opposing candidate contends is “inappropriate.”
Resort president Steve Birdwell sent a newsletter Tuesday to Sea Pines rental property owners urging them to vote for three of four candidates for the Community Services Associates board, which oversees administration, security and maintenance in Sea Pines. There are three open spots on the 17-member board, Amanda Sutcliffe-Jones, director of communications for CSA, said previously.
“After carefully considering all of the candidates, we have chosen four individuals we believe will represent the best interests of the community, including rental property owners,” the newsletter said.
The candidates endorsed by the resort are William Johnson, James Richardson, Stu Rodman and Richard Speer. They are not running as candidates backed by the Alliance for Sea Pines Future, a group openly opposed to a proposed, controversial referendum.
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The referendum, if approved, would have allowed the resort to add 90 rooms to the 60-room Inn & Club at Harbour Town, and invest between $70 million and $100 million in the Harbour Town area. The referendum was scheduled to be voted on this fall but was postponed in August for six to nine months.
Johnson, Richardson and Speer all supported the proposed referendum, according to online information on each candidate. In an online statement, Rodman said the referendum would lead to “significant benefits for all parties,” though he didn’t specifically endorse it.
Contacted Wednesday, Birdwell said whether the candidates support the referendum did not factor into the resort’s endorsement of them. Rather, he said, the endorsement was made based on candidate information available online and comments made during the meet-the-candidates forum held last week.
“We are very interested in the outcome of the election and the future of Sea Pines, and we felt it important to let property owners who rent property through us — basically our business partners — know who would represent the best interests of the community and property owners,” he said.
But several Alliance candidates are angered over the resort’s endorsement.
“I thought it was a tad inappropriate for a president of a commercial enterprise to suggest who property owners can vote for, given these are property owner representatives. The resort has their own representatives,” said Sharon Lowe, an Alliance-backed candidate. “On top of that, I also happen to be running for a position, so I thought it ironic I got an email telling me to vote for someone else.”
Lowe said she emailed Birdwell immediately after she received his newsletter to inform him his actions were inappropriate, and that she would consider finding a new rental agent for the house she rents out, which is currently done by the resort. Birdwell said Wednesday he had not received her email.
The Alliance-backed candidates for the CSA board include Lowe and Kerry de Vallette, both of whom opposed the proposed referendum. Alliance founder Greg Morris said Wednesday the group also supports Rodman, whom the resort has endorsed.
“The resort certainly has that right (to endorse candidates),” said Morris. “But it’s counterproductive to building ‘overwhelming support’ from property owners.”
Echoing Lowe’s comments, Dana Advocaat, who is running for the Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners board, a voluntary organization that represents property owners, said Wednesday the resort’s endorsement was “inappropriate.”
“They (the resort) have their own representatives,” she said. “They don’t have to vote for theirs. They have a right to appoint whoever they wish.”
But some believe there was nothing improper about the resort’s endorsement. Rosemary Kimball, a property owner in Sea Pines, said it didn’t bother her.
“Steve Birdwell is a resident, so of course he can give his advice,” she said. “But also they’re (the resort) a large partner of ours, and we need to get along with them and work together to make our future better. … I think we all want to do what is best for the community, and that’s stay with Riverstone (Sea Pines Resort’s owner).”
David Pardue, another property owner, said a letter will be mailed to Sea Pines property owners within the next few days endorsing the four resort-backed candidates with signatures of more than 200 property owners. He added, though, he is not affiliated with the resort, and that the letter signers are individual property owners who are not connected to the resort.
“Their (Alliance) entire agenda has been to attack the resort on everything they’ve done,” Pardue said. “It seems to me the resort has a right to endorse other candidates. …I can’t imagine anyone thinking the resort doesn’t have a right to endorse whoever they want.”
Ballots for the CSA and ASPPPO elections were scheduled to be mailed to Sea Pines property owners today and are due back on Dec. 1, Sutcliffe-Jones said previously. She did not specify when results would be announced.
ASPPPO and CSA Candidates:
Dana Advocaat, ASPPPO, candidate by nominating committee
Christopher Cliffe, ASPPPO, candidate by petition
Thomas McPhillips, ASPPPO, candidate by nominating committee
Daniel Westerbeck, ASPPPO, incumbent by nominating committee
William Johnson, ASPPPO and CSA, candidate by nominating committee
Mark Piegza, ASPPPO and CSA, candidate by nominating committee
James Richardson, ASPPPO and CSA, incumbent by nominating committee
Richard Speer, ASPPPO and CSA, incumbent by nominating committee
Stu Rodman, CSA, candidate by petition
Sharon Lowe, CSA, candidate by petition
Kerry de Vallette, CSA, candidate by petition