Mayor takes councilman off committee while charges are pending

Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Ferguson has been replaced on the town's Public Safety Committee -- with his consent -- after he and his wife were charged Jan. 10 with criminal domestic violence.

Mayor Drew Laughlin, who made the move, called it a "re-assignment" and declined to comment further Wednesday.

A memo to council members, the town manager, town clerk and staff Feb. 3 did not elaborate, either.

The memo stated Ferguson was asked to be the town's representative on the Lowcountry Council of Governments, filling a vacancy created by John Safay, who lost his council seat in an unsuccessful mayoral bid in the November election.

It added that Ferguson would be replaced temporarily on the Public Safety Committee by alternate George Williams Jr., the Ward 5 councilman.Alternates attend committee meetings and vote if regular members are absent or a vacancy occurs.

Laughlin said Lee Edwards will be appointed to the committee after he is sworn in and Williams will again become an alternate.

Edwards won a five-way race in Tuesday's special election for the Ward 3 seat Laughlin vacated when he was elected mayor.

By town code, the mayor appoints members to council's standing committees.

Williams said Ferguson's replacement stemmed from "ongoing legal issues from his arrest" but declined to elaborate, referring questions to Laughlin.

Ferguson declined to comment, referring all questions to his attorney, William G. Jenkins Jr., who said he was unaware Ferguson had been replaced.

Ferguson stated several times the night of his arrest he was a Hilton Head councilman and would make sure the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office contract to patrol Hilton Head Island was not renewed, according to the incident report.

Committee Chairman Bill Harkins said Ferguson stepped down from the committee voluntarily.

"I think that demonstrated prudence on his part," Harkins said.

The committee reviews current issues and makes recommendations to Town Council regarding services such as fire, rescue, law enforcement and any item which would affect the safety of island residents and visitors.Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said he did not ask that Ferguson be reassigned."We hear comments all the time from a variety of people, and most of the time you have to overlook what is said in the heat of the moment," he said.

Ferguson vowed he would not resign his council seat and that he and his wife "will be vindicated," a day after his son called 911 and told authorities his father was wielding a shotgun and threatening his mother.

The S.C. Attorney General's Office accepted a Jan. 18 request from 14th Circuit Court Solicitor Duffie Stone to prosecute Ferguson's case because he is a town councilman. Council votes on part of the Solicitor's Office budget, Stone said, and it is routine for the state to accept prosecution on cases involving charges against a public official.

"We have the case and are reviewing it. We'll make a prosecutorial decision and proceed as warranted," said Attorney General's Office spokesman Mark Plowden.