County Council member to seek Hilton Head Council seat

The game of musical chairs for seats representing Hilton Head Island in local government continues.

  • Two weeks after running unopposed for a second, four-year term, Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer announced Thursday he plans to run for the vacancy that will be created when Drew Laughlin becomes the Town of Hilton Head Island's mayor.
  • Laughlin will give up his Ward 3 seat next month after winning a runoff for mayor Tuesday. A special election will be held March 8 to fill the remainder of Laughlin's council term, which expires in December 2012.

    Ward 3 includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Indigo Run, Point Comfort and Shipyard Plantation.

    Should Baer win the race to replace Laughlin, a special election would be held next year to fill the vacancy on the County Council.

    "I have always been a strong booster of Hilton Head. As a result, I have decided to run for the Town Council Ward 3 seat," Baer said in a statement. "We have a number of good opportunities ahead."

    Baer listed pressing issues facing the town, including the search for a title sponsor for the Heritage golf tournament, redeveloping the Mall at Shelter Cove, dredging at Harbour Town, improving tourism and retaining commercial air service at Hilton Head Island Airport.

    Baer said he loves his hometown and feels he can do as much local good serving on Town Council.

    "For example, with the mall, on County Council, I'd observe that issue from a distance. On Town Council, I can have some direct impact on it," he said.

    Baer was one of four County Council members who voted Oct. 27 against a joint resolution with the town to adopt a controversial master plan that calls for extending the county-owned airport runway from 4,300 feet to 5,400 feet in two phases.

    Baer, however, said the airport issue was not a factor in his decision to run for Town Council.

    "That's mainly a county issue," he said. "The airport is a valuable asset, and I pledge to do what's needed to keep commercial service."

    Baer said he voted against the master plan because the document contained "a dozen errors and omissions" and did not answer key questions about required runway lengths needed for various aircraft identified in the report.

    He said the difference in workload, time commitments and compensation from serving on Town Council were not factors.

    "I work full-time on County Council, and I'll work full-time on Town Council," he said.

    Baer received about $13,000 in annual compensation from the county, according to filings with the State Ethics Commission in April. Hilton Head Town Council members are paid a base salary and attendance fees that cannot exceed $10,800 per year, according to town ordinance.

    As for those who voted for him Nov. 2 on the assumption he would continue to represent them on County Council until his term expires in 2014, Baer said he would continue to serve them because most are in the ward he would represent if elected to Town Council.

    "I feel I'll be capable of serving locally just as effectively as I have in the county," he said. "This was a unique opportunity that opened up, and I pondered that long and hard. ... I feel that I'm well prepared to help our council preserve, enhance and wisely manage the paradise that attracted us here."

    On Thursday, just within hours of his announcement, Baer had already picked up an endorsement from fellow island resident and County Council member Rick Caporale.

    "It would be impossible to find a better candidate than Steve Baer," Caporale said. "I am already feeling better about the future of Hilton Head Island and the potential of Hilton Head Island Town Council to improve."