Hilton Head mayoral race: A look at three council contenders

Next month's general election will produce a new mayor for the Town of Hilton Head Island for the first time in 15 years.

And that is about the only thing that can be said with certainty.

Beyond that, much is left to be decided about the composition of Town Council, of which the mayor is a member.

Three current council members are vying to replace Mayor Tom Peeples, who will not seek reelection. Two would keep their council seats if they lose. However, mayoral candidate John Safay's council term expires. That means Ward 4 will have a new council member.

More changes on council would occur if one of the other two council members -- Ward 1 Councilman Bill Ferguson or Ward 3 Councilman Drew Laughlin -- wins the mayor's race. A special election would be held for the vacant council seat.

Loretta Warden, longtime island political observer and member of the town's Planning Commission, said any of the candidates -- fresh-faced or not -- has a shot at the nonpartisan office.

"I'm sure voters will value the previous service on Town Council of any candidate, but that's not to suggest people who don't have Town Council experience can't make a contribution," Warden said. "Being familiar with the town, its economy and the issues it faces is a critical need for all of the candidates."

Other mayoral candidates are Jim Collett, former chairman of the town Board of Zoning Appeals; Tom Crews, architect and town Planning Commission member; Ed McCullough, former host of a WHHI, a local independent TV station; and Dave Myers, part owner of Kigre Inc.

"I think (Town Council experience) is one arrow in the quiver of a prospective candidate. I wouldn't say it is the single-most important one," said David Ames, former chairman of the Mayor's Task Force for the Island's Future. "One way of looking at this election is, we really are turning the page in the book to a new chapter, and a fresh approach is what we need. But that's not to say someone on Town Council can't bring that new approach."

Ward 6 Councilman Ken Heitzke, though, said a new council member without experience in town government will have catching up to do and more difficulty shoring up council votes to enact their policies.

"I'm not saying they can't get up on the learning curve, but the rest of the people are pretty familiar with how the town operates," Heitzke said. "It takes four votes to pass anything. It will be difficult for candidates not familiar with the system of government and the personalities and leanings of other Town Council members to get at least three other people to go along with their ideas. It's not impossible, but it will be difficult. I wish them luck."

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