The Great Recession has brought into sharp focus the changing economic landscape for Hilton Head Island, long a prosperous community that worried more about too much growth, rather than too little.
This next stage of island development needs a steady, experienced hand at the tiller. Drew Laughlin is our choice for mayor.
Leading a community such as Hilton Head, with its mix of retirees and tourism, real estate and other business interests, has always been a balancing act. Mayors with a singular agenda and a narrow constituency do not fare well. Nor do they serve the town well. Not only should the mayor draw from a broad spectrum of viewpoints in tackling town issues, he also should draw on history and proven practices. There is no need to kick to the curb community standards and principles that have served the town well for the past 27 years and will continue to serve it well in the years ahead.
Laughlin has the depth and breadth of experience inside and outside Town Hall that no other candidate has. He is decisive, informed and candid in his approach.
He has lived and practiced law on Hilton Head for 33 years. His community service includes coaching Hilton Head Dixie Youth Baseball. (Few things teach you more about this community than spending time at local ball fields, a great equalizer.) He's also served on the boards of the Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners Association and the Spanish Wells Club.
In addition to seven years on Town Council, his public service includes terms on the Corridor Review Commission (now the Design Review Board); the Planning Commission and the Hilton Head No. 1 Public Service District.
His views on key issues strike the needed balance:
On redevelopment, Laughlin says the town's zoning ordinance and development standards must facilitate rather than hinder private investment, look to form and function more than uniformity, and do so in a way consistent with Hilton Head's identity as leader in environmental preservation. Projects that result in a net improvement for the community should not fall victim to rules for rules' sake.
On the town's finances, he promises to be a watchdog and weigh the taxpayers' willingness and ability to pay against the demand for services. Importantly, he recognizes what's coming in 2012 when property values -- in the first down market in decades -- will be reassessed.
"It is reasonable to expect that real property values may be as much as 30 percent less than current values, and we will have to work with 2012 values for five years," Laughlin writes.
At the same time, he notes, the economy also is placing downward pressure on business license and real estate transfer fees, as well as accommodations and hospitality tax collections. Hard choices will have to be made.
In that vein, Laughlin puts high on his list of priorities helping to find a new title sponsor for the Heritage golf tournament, a key economic component for Hilton Head.
Laughlin's thoughtful, balanced approach to issues can be seen in Wednesday's vote to accept the Hilton Head Island Airport master plan, with its two-phase scheme for extending the runway.
"It is irresponsible for us to do nothing," he said. "And if we miss this opportunity, we might not get it again. We need to keep our options open. I'm not convinced of the benefits of going to the full 5,400 feet. I think 5,000 feet gives a decent regard to the folks (north of the runway). Five thousand feet will enhance profitability of the airlines, bringing more passengers to Hilton Head and enhance safety."
This one at-large seat on Town Council must represent the island as a whole. Laughlin has the temperament and the experience to do that.