Elections

Bluffton elections: Mayoral challenger pushes for broadcast council meetings

Bluffton municipal election candidates. TOP ROW, left to right: Cynthia Bensch and Mayor Lisa Sulka for mayor; and Oliver Brown, Brendan Downey and Ted Huffman for council. BOTTOM ROW: Harry Lutz, Eleanor McKinsey-Chandler, Jim Sims, Michael Spears and Dan Wood, all for council.
Bluffton municipal election candidates. TOP ROW, left to right: Cynthia Bensch and Mayor Lisa Sulka for mayor; and Oliver Brown, Brendan Downey and Ted Huffman for council. BOTTOM ROW: Harry Lutz, Eleanor McKinsey-Chandler, Jim Sims, Michael Spears and Dan Wood, all for council. Submitted and file photos

Beaufort County and Hilton Head Island record and broadcast government meetings.

The town of Bluffton does not.

The challenger in Bluffton's mayoral race wants to change that.

"People just don't know what the issues are because they can't attend the meetings when they are scheduled," Cynthia Bensch said earlier this week. "But people would love to know about the issues so they can give their input," .

Bensch, a member of the Beaufort County Council, is incumbent mayor Lisa Sulka's only challenger in the race for Bluffton's top position in the Nov. 3 election.

Bensch said recording town council and committee meetings would "allow residents to be better informed and make the town's government more transparent."

"In 2015, I can think of no plausible reason why the town doesn't offer this service for the community," she said.

Sulka said earlier this week that she is not opposed to the idea and has had conversations with members of the council about it in the past.

But broadcasting meetings "has just not really risen to the top of the council's list of priorities," she said.

"I don't think it would be an extreme cost and I think we could do it," Sulka said. "But we just never had a consensus (from the council) about it."

She also worries recording meetings could have unintended consequences.

"There have been concerns brought up that people change their behavior when there are television cameras rolling," Sulka said.

On one hand, people may be hesitant to express themselves if they are being recorded. On the other, some might use recorded meetings as an opportunity to grandstand or ham it up in front of the camera, she said.

County broadcast manager Scott Grooms said "it wouldn't be a problem at all" if Bluffton officials decide to broadcast meetings on the county's public television channel. That's where county and Hilton Head Island government meetings are shown.

"There's no technological barrier," Grooms said. "We could plug (Bluffton's meetings) right into the network."

Hilton Head Island spent about $25,000 in 2013 on new equipment to allow meetings to be recorded and broadcast, he said.

The town pays the county another $22,500 annually to broadcast the meetings.

"We have extended the same invitation to all the municipalities in the county. They are welcome to get on board if they want to," Grooms said.

IF YOU GO

Candidates running for Bluffton mayor and town council will participate in a forum at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21. at Town Hall, 20 Bridge St.

The event will be hosted by the Greater Bluffton Republican Club. Candidates will respond to questions prepared by the club and the public.

Incumbent mayor Lisa Sulka and Beaufort County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch are vying for the town's top position.

Incumbent councilman Ted Huffman and challengers Oliver Brown, Brendan Downey, Dan Wood, Michael Spears, Eleanor McKinsey-Chandler, Jim Sims, and Harry Lutz are seeking to fill the two council seats up for grabs in the Nov. 3 election.

Follow reporter Lucas High on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Lucas.

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