Looking back, it is like deja vu for Hilton Head Island Mayor Tom Peeples.
His political career began at a time when townspeople were debating the island's future and how best to forge its identity.
Fast forward two decades, and on the eve of Peeples' departure from public office, the same picture unfolds.
This time, Peeples is content to sit on the sideline and let a new team of town leaders call the plays, take the hard knocks and carry the political footballs.
"I realized and recognized (the need) for somebody else to be leading the show. It's time for new thoughts and new energy -- a new way to approach things," Peeples said. "As much as I would enjoy being on council and being involved, you've got to know when it's your time to go. I felt like it was the right time in my life to do something different and step back a little bit."
He will wield the gavel one last time today before stepping aside to make way for new mayor Drew Laughlin, who will be sworn in along with new and returning members of Town Council.
Peeples announced in March he would not seek re-election after serving six years on Town Council and 15 as mayor. A seven-way race to replace him ensued, with Laughlin and architect Tom Crews emerging from the Nov. 2 general election and Laughlin winning the runoff by 225 votes.
With his tenure down to its final hours, Peeples reflected on his decision to step down, his years as mayor and what comes next for the 57-year-old owner of Tom Peeples Builder.
Question. You said when you announced you wouldn't run again that you wanted to spend more time in with family in California. Have you planned your first trip out West yet? (Peeples' son lives in Napa Valley.)
Answer. Yes. We're going out in January, if it works out. Our granddaughter is being christened.
Q. What will you miss most about the job?
A. One of the perks as mayor is having free and unfettered access to the private plantations on the island. That's one thing I won't be able to enjoy anymore, is coming and going as I please. What I will miss the most is the camaraderie of the people I work with, at the staff level and on the council. ... I will also miss not being able to build an idea and seeing it to fruition. ... (As a builder,) that's in my nature. That's what I like to do. I like the idea of starting out with nothing and walking away with a finished product.
Q. What will you miss least about the job?
A. Having to respond to questions from people regardless of where you are. Someone will come up to you while at dinner and say, "I really hate to interrupt you, but ...," and they'll bring up what I consider to be fairly minor issues. And it's like, "Yeah, but you are." I won't miss that. On the other hand, I think that's a positive. People from all walks of life in this town felt very comfortable to come up and approach me about anything.
Q. Who is looking forward to your retirement more, you or your wife?
A. I know Mary Ann will be the most happy. ... She didn't really want me to run in the very beginning when I was first running for Town Council, but she dived right in there and has supported me every step of the way. Truth be known, she did not want that public limelight. She didn't care for it at all. I know she'll be the happiest.
Q. Has there been any particular recent issue -- the airport runway, dissatisfaction with the Land Management Ordinance, recommendations from your task force -- that have either made you wish you were sticking around longer or that the change of guard can't get here fast enough?
A. The airport issue is one that (exasperated) me on many occasions. I pride myself on the fact that most of my elected life, I've been a consensus-builder, and up until the very end it was difficult to get a consensus going. ... Some of the issues, like reworking the Land Management Ordinance, I would like to be involved with that, but I'm ready (to leave.)
Q. How much of your time were you spending on your business and how much time were you spending as mayor?
A. On average, I would spend a minimum of 20 hours a week on the mayor's job. The amount of time that you're actually thinking about and planning and devoting to the job of being mayor is probably more than that. ... I start my day at 4 in the morning and spend my day working and be done by 5 p.m. and end my day at 9 or 10 p.m. And I would work just about every Saturday and Sunday. I decided it was time to get out of the seven-day-a-week program. I won't be missing that.
Q. As mayor, you get to set the Town Council agenda. What's at the top of your agenda when mayor-elect Drew Laughlin is sworn in?
A. Having more leisure time and putting more time into running my business. I like to bike ride and walk the beach. I find a good long walk on the beach clears my mind better than anything else. My wife and I own an island in Jasper County where we have a get-away cabin. I'll be able to spend more time there. You can only get there by boat. I joined Rotary and look forward to getting more involved in other organizations and nonprofit boards. I'm not going to go into a hole and die somewhere, but I'm also not going to be the kind of guy that's at every town council meeting or calling Drew or (town manager) Steve (Riley) and constantly telling them, "You're not doing it right. This is what I think you ought to do." ... If there's an issue where I have a burning desire that I feel I have to comment, then I will.
Q. What do you see as your biggest accomplishment?
A. The town's Land Acquisition Program. The protection and development of Honey Horn as our museum is at the top of that list of benefits from that program.
Q. Biggest disappointment?
A. Not having been able to fund a long-term home for our law enforcement center. That was something we looked at doing for a decade.
Q. Do you ever worry about Hilton Head becoming "too old" demographically?
A. I don't think about things like that a whole lot. We've gone through difference variations. The first five years as mayor, we were actually becoming younger and now we're slipping the other way. ... We are a resort, retirement community and I still believe that's what we are going to be 50 years from now. But, that doesn't say we don't look at other economic opportunities. ... But that's what Hilton Head was developed to be. I don't think the demographics are going to change a whole lot.
Q. Do you worry about so many young people -- like your own son -- leaving to earn a living elsewhere?
A. I wish that there might be more opportunities for our young people here, I just don't think there's going to be huge change. ... We are not going to be able to be all things to all people and the reality is many of our children will have to seek work elsewhere, unless they want to be in the part of the economy we have with real estate, construction and the resort and service sector.
Q. You were running your own business and had a young family when you ran for council in 1989. What prompted you to get into politics in the first place?
A. We had a huge public meeting put on by the chamber of commerce -- a forum discussion about the future of Hilton Head. We had a "burn the bridge" element at the meeting that did not want any change or development to happen on the island. They turned out to be the loudest voice -- a vocal minority -- but that's all you ever heard from. ... As I listened to these people about what the island should be, it began to irritate me. We needed to not only think of folks who moved here and their vision, but those of us who grew up here and we needed to be counted, too. ... When the seat on council came open, I decided to give it a go. ... People from outside were coming in and telling us what we should do and what we should be as a community. Those of us who were truly local needed to have a say as to what our future should be.
Q. Why didn't you ever run for higher office?
A. I didn't see how I could run a business and be in Columbia four days a week five months out of the year. It's a shortcoming of how our legislature works. We should shorten the amount of days during the session to give the average working person the opportunity to be there. I applaud those who can do it.
Q. What was your lowest point as mayor?
A. In the last 18 months or so, in the heights of the airport issue, I was asked by a board of Realtors to speak to their membership. At that point in time, I was being accused of not moving forward with the airport because of personal gain ... that expansion would have a negative effect on property holdings they said I had down there ... and that I wanted to close down the airport because I had a deal to build condominiums on airport land. To be accused of things by people you had known for many years and no one to stand up and say, "We know this is ridiculous," that was a low point.
Q. What was your highest point?
A. Lobbying for the Cross Island Bridge to be named for Charles Fraser. I thought it was totally appropriate, and I am so happy we did that and built Compass Rose Park in his and Joe's honor.
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