In recently published statements, Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett said the Town Council had “agreed” on a list of priorities for 2017, though a majority of council members say nothing was finalized.
Some council members also contend that the list, which includes items such as the town’s “visioning process,” lacks one important priority — the Hurricane Matthew recovery.
Bennett said Friday the list is an overview of discussions the council had during its annual workshop earlier this month. He said the purpose of publishing the list was to encourage the public’s help in setting priorities for the the upcoming year.
No official list was created during the workshop, which occurs annually. But Bennett said Friday he believed the list was a “consensus” of the council, based on conversations during the workshop. Council member David Ames agreed when contacted Friday.
“These are the items we (Town Council) had a consensus on to move forward with,” Bennett said.
Brian Hulbert, town attorney, said it has been past practice to discuss the priorities list during the annual workshop, with formal approval from council at a later date.
Contacted Friday, council members Tom Lennox, Bill Harkins, John McCann and Marc Grant all said they assumed that would be the case with the latest list.
“My understanding was that we were going to get a draft of our priorities from the discussion, and then we were going to review those,” Lennox said. “Maybe the mayor has seen it and I haven’t. Maybe he is using that.”
Several contacted council members said the first time they saw the 2017 list was when it was published in a letter to the editor last week to The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, or in an email blast from the town earlier this week.
Some members don’t agree that the list is as comprehensive as Bennett and Ames say it is, contending, among other things, that hurricane recovery efforts should have been included.
“Disaster recovery should be first and foremost on this list,” McCann said.
Council members Lennox, Harkins and Kim Likins said the recovery should have been included.
“I don’t think any of us would disagree that recovery will go on for months to come,” Likins, the newly elected mayor pro-tem, said. “Maybe we would be remiss if we didn’t at least acknowledge that. We certainly appreciate the amount of time that staff is taking to work through that.”
Bennett said Friday he didn’t believe the recovery needed to be added to the list.
“To me, we are, of course, working on that (hurricane recovery) and will continue to work on that,” he said. “But if the council feels it is important to add it to the list, we can put it on the list.”
Lennox said, based on a review of his notes of the workshop, there were a few discussion items not on the list published by Bennett, such as consideration of the Bay Point Island annexation application.
Town Manager Steve Riley said during the workshop he believed the town’s only priorities next year should be the hurricane recovery and the town’s “visioning process.” He said the town will be tied up until at least spring with debris cleanup.
Other recovery efforts, such as filing paperwork for federal reimbursement, along with repairing parks, trails and beaches, could take more than two years, he said.
Yet the 2017 priorities list should be a road map to the future, Bennett said Friday. Ames said he wants to focus on moving forward.
“If you look at communities that have had devastation, often times this sense of pain is replaced by a new energy to make things better, and I’m optimistic that those things will happen here on Hilton Head,” Ames said.
Hilton Head’s 2017 priority list, according to Mayor David Bennett
▪ Continue the island-wide “Visioning Initiative.”
▪ Achieve further progress on the five-year sanitary sewer plan.
▪ Establish the Hilton Head Island Cultural and Arts Network executive director.
▪ Schedule upgrades to 8.5 miles of dirt roads.
▪ Identify and engage in “meaningful initiatives” to address workforce availability, including housing and transportation.
▪ Address storm sewer infrastructure gaps and necessary upgrades.
▪ Provide professional expertise to the town to address issues related to and enhance the opportunities of the heirs’ property owners.