Two remaining Hilton Head mayoral candidates highlight their experience

A debate between the two remaining candidates running for Hilton Head Island mayor focused less on the issues and more on qualifications.

Drew Laughlin, an attorney and Ward 3 Town Council member, and Tom Crews, an architect, were winnowed from a pack of seven candidates Nov. 2 to head to a runoff Nov. 16 to replace Mayor Tom Peeples, who did not seek re-election after 15 years.

The two were featured in a debate Monday at Town Hall that was sponsored and moderated by the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island. More than 90 people attended the standing-room-only event.

Laughlin and Crews agreed there are subtle differences between them regarding local issues.

Instead, Crews touted his experience as an architect to present himself as a mayor who would have a vision and plan for making Hilton Head a premier community for visitors and residents.

Laughlin said the island needs a mayor with proven leadership experience, who can build consensus on policies that will promote "a vibrant and resilient economy."

"Experience does count," he said. "We need someone who knows what it is to lead a body and lead a group, and understands it's a team effort."

Crews said it is time for new leadership on Town Council.

He said he is frustrated by the council's inaction regarding the economic decline on the island and not changing town ordinances, policies and attitudes that block commercial development.

"I have been involved in the community a long time and have some different leadership and perspective to bring to this town," Crews said. "I have passion and vision."

If elected, Crews said he would:

  • Support recycling and "green initiatives" that keep the island on the "leading edge" of environmental responsibility and sustainability.
  • Form a partnership to enhance cell phone and Internet service.
  • Establish term limits for mayor and council members. "I don't think much of professional political careers," Crews said. "We need to bring more blood and variety into town government. (That) serves the community well to make sure we have fresh ideas and don't get stuck."
  • Implement zero-based budgeting, where every department function is reviewed comprehensively and all expenditures must be approved, rather than only increases.
  • If elected, Laughlin said he would:

  • Avoid tax increases and limit the size of town government, including assessing staffing needs. "We need to deliver necessary service efficiently," he said.
  • Promote a business environment of innovation and recruit "knowledge-based" business. "We need to make economic development a policy imperative of our town that is just as important as the protection of our natural resources and natural beauty of the island," he said.
  • Improve the island's "wireless, cell-phone and technology base" to support business.
  • Actively promote Hilton Head Island and protect its natural environment.
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