A board formed to bring jobs to Beaufort and Jasper counties postponed a vote to determine its new chairman Tuesday at the request of municipal leaders concerned about political tension within the group.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling told the Lowcountry Economic Alliance board that he and the mayors of Port Royal, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island, Hardeeville and Ridgeland want their governments to join the alliance, but believe people from the private sector should be appointed to represent their interests.
He asked the board to wait until those private-sector members were appointed before electing a new chairman.
"There's unanimity that we want to move forward and want to get the role of politics out of it," he said.
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While four of the six seats on the board are currently held by public sector employees, the group's policies and procedures allow for an unlimited number of private sector members to be elected to the board. Two studies done by Avalanche Consulting and McCallum Sweeney Consulting for the alliance make it clear the group needs a stronger private sector base than public.
Keyserling's statement comes after executive director Kim Statler and director of business development Jessica Bridgesdecided last week they would not renew the month-to-month contract between their firm, Lowcountry Consulting, and the alliance after May 31. Statler cited strained political relations among board members.
On Tuesday, board members denied political infighting was occurring.
"I think that the rumor of dysfunction is highly exaggerated," said board member and Jasper County administrator Andrew Fulghum. "I'm glad that the issue of the chairmanship got us rallied around growing the organization."
The board voted unanimously to postpone appointing a chairman until its next monthly meeting, the date of which has not yet been set.
Former chairman of the alliance board, Gregg Malphrus, resigned last month after his construction company moved to Florida. The board is currently composed of six members split between Jasper and Beaufort counties. Two are elected officials, two are county staff members and two are business people.
A meeting of the alliance was canceled last week after Beaufort County members decided not to attend until it determines the proper procedure for replacing Gary Kubic, the county administrator who has said he intends to resign his board seat. The cancellation left some Jasper County members upset because they intended to hear presentations and entertain business prospects at the meeting. Kubic, who attended the meeting Tuesday, has since said he intends to serve on the board until his replacement is appointed.