Hilton Head mayoral candidates square off at forum

With three weeks until the Nov. 2 nonpartisan general election, candidates running for mayor of Hilton Head Island worked to distinguish themselves from one another other at a Tuesday night forum at Hilton Head Island High School.

The League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island, Hilton Head Monthly and the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce sponsored the forum.

About 150 attended.

For the first time in 15 years, voters will elect a new mayor to fill an open seat.

The seven candidates:

• Jim Collett is the former chairman of the town's Board of Zoning Appeals who says he brings a disciplined approach from years of working in corporate finance and real estate. He wants to save the Heritage Golf Tournament and bring a "mobile workforce" to the island by improving cell phone service.

• Tom Crews is the architect and town Planning Commission member promoting his brand of "leadership by design," with 25 years experience working with town government. He favors using new planning tools to transition the island from a "developer-based economy, to a community-based economy." He wants a "tune up" of the Land Management Ordinance to "advocate" successful development "instead of road blocking potential."

• Ward 1 Town Councilman Bill Ferguson is the 17-year veteran. He wants to reduce property taxes, pursue economic development through joint ventures and partnerships in public-private projects that "will be profitable for our island," amend the LMO and other town codes, and cut costs in the town budget.

• Ward 3 Councilman Drew Laughlin is the lawyer with a "deep, broad knowledge of the island" who calls himself a consensus builder with "proven leadership skills." He favors a complete rewrite of the town's LMO that would "put economic development on par" with the town's commitment to protecting natural resources. The LMO, he said, "stifles and discourages investment in improvement of our built environment" and has "frozen" older nonconforming properties in place.

• Ward 4 Councilman John Safay said he is tired of the bashing being done to the LMO and town proposals, namely an island wide recycling program. He says he's the "most active council person running on record of initiating ideas and getting them done." He wants to protect the Heritage Tournament, help with the dredging at Harbour Town and support limited, cost-effective expansion of the airport to improve commercial service.

• Former WHHI TV host Ed McCullough started a management company and "grew it to 44 regimes." He calls himself the entrepreneur who "developed a vision and made that vision manifest," and wants to take a business approach to town government. Economic development and promotion of Hilton Head Island are his No. 1 priorities. He, too, believes the LMO is too restrictive to businesses and wants to see changes.

• Dave Myers is the part-owner of Kigre, Inc., a laser manufacturer suing the town over the way it collects business license fees. He wants to "make it easier for small businesses to do business on the island" and opposes any expansion of the airport. The LMO, he said, is "written too strictly and too tight." He, too, called for reduced taxes and license fees.