Apology a first step in making things right

Hilton Head Island Town Councilman Bill Ferguson did what he had to do when he apologized Tuesday for his outrageous behavior at the April 5 council meeting.

Ferguson called Councilman George Williams a bigot and physically accosted him at that meeting. He disrupted the meeting several times before storming out.

He also walked out of a Town Council meeting March 15, accusing other council members afterward of discriminating against him because he is black.

In his apology Tuesday, he cited health problems as the source of his behavior April 5, but he didn't elaborate.

"While not seeking to excuse my behavior, I feel it is important for me to explain that I have been battling significant health issues that have their root in my military service," he said reading from a prepared statement. "Since 1970, I have been seeking help for these conditions, and sometimes the treatment I am undergoing needs adjustment. Last Tuesday was a time when I was not well."

The other council members accepted his apology and said it was time to get back to town business.

But it won't be business as usual, and Ward 1's representation in council matters can't help but be diminished.

Mayor Drew Laughlin, at Ferguson's request, has excused him from serving on council committees until his doctors say he can resume those duties.

Laughlin had already removed Ferguson, with his consent, from the council's Public Safety Committee in January, after Ferguson was arrested and charged with criminal domestic violence. He was assigned to be the town's representative on the Lowcountry Council of Governments, replacing John Safay, who had left the council after his unsuccessful bid for mayor.

Missing council committee meetings is no small thing. Many details of town business are hammered out by the committees before issues come to the full council.

This also isn't the first time Ferguson's health has raised concerns about his service. In 2008, he missed a key vote on the future development of The Mall at Shelter Cove, which prompted a look at his attendance record. He had missed 30 council meetings, about one-third of the total, from 2005 to the April 1, 2008, meeting when the mall vote ended in a 3-3 tie.

We said then he needed to think about how effectively he represented Ward 1 when he was not there to vote or speak on issues affecting his constituents. The same holds true today.

We hope Ferguson's treatment is successful, and he can soon resume fully representing his constituents.

But he and his fellow council members also should be very mindful of how he conducts himself going forward. His promise to behave "in a manner that conforms to our code of conduct, and of which we can all be proud" is as important as his apology.

Ferguson's statement Tuesday was a first step in making amends.