Election for Hilton Head council seat to come sooner than expected

Because Hilton Head Island's newly elected mayor immediately resigned his Ward 3 Town Council seat, the special election to fill that vacancy will happen sooner than expected.

Drew Laughlin submitted an "irrevocable resignation" Friday as prescribed by state law.

Laughlin's seat will become vacant when he is sworn in as mayor Dec. 7, but the town can now begin the process of filling the seat, as if the vacancy occurred on the day Laughlin submitted his letter. That will move up the timing of the special election, according to Beaufort County elections chief Scott Marshall.

The town can open the filing period at noon Dec. 10 instead of Dec. 24, and the election will be Feb. 15 instead of March 8. A runoff, if needed, will be March 1, Marshall said.Candidates have until noon Dec. 20 to file.Town manager Steve Riley said he talked to Laughlin about resigning early, in part so town offices could remain closed on two scheduled holidays: Dec. 24 and Dec. 31.

Had Laughlin resigned on Dec. 7, the filing period would have been Dec. 24 through Jan. 3, and the offices would have to remain open on those holiday-weekend Fridays."I wanted to resign my seat as early as possible to get the process going for the special election" so the seat is vacant for the shortest period of time, Laughlin said.

The newly elected council member will take office during the first regularly scheduled Town Council meeting after the election.Filings for special elections in nonpartisan municipal races start at noon the third Friday following the day the vacancy occurs. Filing closes 10 days later at noon. The special election is then held on the 13th Tuesday after the vacancy occurs, according to town code and state law.Ward 3 includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Indigo Run, Point Comfort and Shipyard Plantation. Parts of Precincts 2A and 10; most of Precinct 2C; and all of Precincts 8B, 9A and 9B will be eligible to vote in the special election. There were 5,285 registered voters in Ward 3 as of Monday, according to county voter records.

Three people, so far, have announced plans to run.Lee Edwards, president of a Hilton Head-based landscaping company, announced his bid Saturday to fill the remainder of Laughlin's council term, which expires December 2012.

Edwards, 43, joins Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer in the race. Baer announced his candidacy Thursday.

Shipyard Plantation resident Peter Zych, 70, said Monday he also plans to run. This would be his third attempt seeking the seat. Zych, a retired money manager, lost a close race in 1999 to then-incumbent Jim Carlin and later in 2003 to Laughlin after Carlin chose not to seek a fifth term. Zych has lived on the island full-time for the past 16 years.