Upcoming local elections will mean more than just new faces on countywide boards. They will also usher in a shift in balance from northern to southern Beaufort County.
After redistricting based on the 2010 census, boundaries for one of the 11 County Council and school board districts, which are identical, shifted from north of the Broad River to south. Population growth in Bluffton since the 2000 census was the primary factor that resulted in six seats for southern Beaufort County.
How much those new boundaries will shift the balance of power remains to be seen.
County Council Chairman Weston Newton, who is leaving the council and is running unopposed for the newly drawn S.C. House District 120 seat, doesn't believe northern Beaufort County will get "short shrift" as some fear.
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"County resources follow trends, need and population," Newton said. "You have an area that has grown more rapidly than other areas, and activities there will likely get a higher level of attention. But I don't believe it will be to the detriment of northern parts of the county. At the end of the day, a purely parochial view is not healthy for the county."
Other council members don't anticipate much change, either.
Council votes tend to be unanimous, and though council members consult their constituents, they tend to think countywide, Councilman Stu Rodman said.
"There are odd times that we will sometimes have a close vote, but they're few and far between," Rodman said. "Mostly there's a high consensus, and I fully hope that will continue even though there's been a slight shift."
Rick Caporale said that in the six years he's been on council, he can't recall when geography motivated a decision, although feedback from constituents could sway a member. For example, he initially supported the purchase of the Beaufort Commerce Park last fall, but changed his mind after hearing from residents in his district who opposed it.
Nonetheless, most council members aren't parochial in their thinking, Caporale said. That could change based on who's on the board. For example, if someone is elected who fiercely fights for Bluffton or Hilton Head, geography could play a role.
"It's bound to make some difference, yes, but I can't think of any situations, at least on council, where decisions have been driven by geography," said Caporale, who, like Rodman, was on the school board before being elected to council.
"That may not be as true with the Board of Education."
SCHOOL BOARD CHANGES
With five incumbents not seeking reelection, board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. being drawn into a district with incumbent Michael Rivers of St. Helena Island, and eight seats up for grabs Nov. 6, change on the school board is inevitable.
Washington said he hopes political shifts don't mean a shift in the board's focus.
"If everyone has a focus on education, it shouldn't matter where they're from," Washington said. "I think that when you're elected, while a certain number of people elect you, you can't be parochial. You have to think about the full district."
Demographics and conditions have shifted, along with the population, in the past 10 years. There are more Hispanic students in southern Beaufort County, for example, and schools there are nearing capacity, while a handful of schools in northern Beaufort County are well below capacity.
Several former board members said Whale Branch Early College High School might not have been built if southern Beaufort County members had a majority when it was approved.
"If there was one more member south of Broad who looked at the whole picture, I'm sure it would have" turned out differently, said former school board vice chairman Rich Tritschler, who represented Lady's Island from 2003 to 2006 and was one of the few members from northern Beaufort County who opposed the school's construction.
Tritschler said some members voted based on what they thought their districts needed instead of what was best for the entire county.
"You could tell by the way the questions were phrased or statements were phrased that (some members) thought they deserved more than someone else," he said.
School board vice chairman George Wilson, who is not seeking reelection, said he doesn't believe the current board has that problem. When he was first elected in 2007, he said, geography was on residents' minds more than it is now. They told him they wanted the district split in half, with separate northern and southern districts. Wilson never thought that would happen, and no one is calling for it now, he said.
Caporale agreed the current board is less divided.
"I can't think of any recent or current argument that has that kind of north-south flavor that some of the old arguments used to have," he said.
68 DIFFERENT BALLOTS
Most of Beaufort County has been drawn into the 1st Congressional District represented by Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, and part of northern Beaufort County has been moved into the 6th District seat held by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.
Statehouse lines have been redrawn, too, and the shape and number for County Council and Board of Education districts have changed.
What's more, there are 68 different ballot combinations for Beaufort County voters -- about the same as the last general election.
That's a recipe for confusion to Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections. So the elections board has purchased newspaper and television advertisements urging voters to thoroughly familiarize themselves with new boundaries before going to the polls.
"There may be some surprises when they look at their ballot," Marshall said. "People may go to the polls and see districts they can't recall from the last election and might look for names they're familiar with but will not see, thinking they're voting for one candidate but are no longer in that district."
Voters can download district maps and sample ballots, check their voter registration, absentee-ballot status and polling locations at the county's website, www.bcgov.net.
Hilton Head voters can enter their addresses at the town's website, www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov, to find their wards, voting precincts, County Council and school board districts.
Precincts have not changed, but there will be different ballot combinations at some of them, Marshall said.
For example, voters in Beaufort's first precinct will be presented with one of five different ballots, depending on whether they are in the city of Beaufort, S.C. House District 121 or 124, and County Council or school board Districts 2 or 3.
Daufuskie Island voters will get one of two ballots, depending on whether they are eligible to vote for or against the creation of a special tax district to provide public ferry services.
Marshall said the precinct splits will be reviewed after the general election as part of an effort "to reduce those and reshape precincts that are most advantageous to the voter and the process." Doing so requires legislative approval and the governor's signature.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead and Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.