Steve Riley, Town Manager of the Town of Hilton Head Island, and Scott Marshall, Deputy Town Manager of the Town of Bluffton provided perspectives on their respective towns and fielded questions on a range of issues from League members and guests at our March 9 meeting.
According to Marshall, the Town of Bluffton has grown 1000 percent since its incorporation in 1852 as a summer coastal retreat to its present vibrant community. As a result of the annexation of a number of large pieces of property since 2000, what was once a one-square mile town is now a town of 17,000 people residing on the fifth largest municipal land mass in South Carolina. Because residents of unincorporated areas must petition to be annexed into the Town, there are "donut holes" and outlying communities of about 23,000 additional people who benefit from Town services but do not reside in the Town and, therefore, cannot vote for Town officials. Bluffton has received many accolades--including "one of the top cities for retirement" per Forbes Magazine and recognition of its Wharf Street Redevelopment Project as an outstanding example of revitalization.
Marshall cited many of the Town's current initiatives to protect and enhance the Town and its natural assets, including protection of the May River, expansion of Oyster Factory Park, and the creation of pathways, enhanced streetscapes, and additional parking. The Town is also planning to redevelop and enhance the Town Hall, which has a long history in the community but is not adequate to house Town operations.
The Town welcomes more "citizen leaders" to sit on its twenty boards and commissions and help realize the Town's vision of "appreciating the past, focusing on today, and planning together for a greater future."
Hilton Head Town Manager Steve Riley posed the question "Where do we go from here?" According to Riley, although the Hilton Head Island is a great place to live, it can always be better. Its current comprehensive plan consists of 187 good ideas but has no focus. Riley identified what he views as the Town's five core values-- beauty, enrichment, amenities, cosmopolitan, and hardy (BEACH)-- and what needs to be done to advance them.
Beauty--The beach is Hilton Head's core asset, which the Town needs to preserve through renourishment. Hilton Head is the only local government that does so with its own funding source. It also needs to complete the provision of sewer service to all and help those who can't afford to connect.
Enrichment--Hilton Head has an abundance of arts, culture, history, volunteers, churches, NPO's, and ethnic groups that enrich the Town. Riley feels the Arts Center should be recognized as the asset it is and that the Town should work to eliminate its debt. The impact of the arts is not just on tourists but residents and future residents. He also feels the USC-B hospitality campus will benefit the Town as well as students.
Amenities--These include parks, pathways, the Heritage, Concours d'Elegance, ecotourism, and children's activities. The Coligny area needs to be more than a parking lot but the "downtown" of Hilton Head.
Cosmopolitan--Hilton Head is not an isolated island but part of a newly designated metropolitan area that includes Bluffton, Beaufort, Port Royal, and Hardeeville and that will encompass Savannah in the future. Town elected officials need to think regionally, rather than competing with other municipalities. The Town's biggest traffic problem is getting people on and off the Island, not from circle to circle. The Town needs to reassert regional leadership and begin discussion of widening I-95, a project which will take 20 years but which no one, including DOT, is talking about.
Hardy--The Town needs to be out in front on things that make the Island resilient--e.g. infrastructure, energy conservation, and flood reduction. The South end now has the lowest rents on the Island. What happens to old buildings when tenants move north? No plan exists to address aging condominiums and to consider possible options such as workforce housing and open space.
During the question and answer session, Marshall and Riley fielded questions pertaining to the Chamber of Commerce contract vis a vis freedom of information, the Jasper Port, USC-B/traffic, and the fall referendum for capital projects. Likely Hilton Head capital projects include the Pinckney Island intersection, paving of dirt roads, arts center concept, and planning to replace the bridge to the mainland. Bluffton projects include improvements to Dr. Mellichamp Drive area and Oyster Factory Park.
What are the most pressing issues facing our country and our local communities on which the national League and our local League are uniquely equipped to make an impact? About thirty LWVHHI/BA members convened to tackle these questions at our February 10 program planning meeting. With a presidential election nearing and threats to our democracy looming as the result of the Supreme Court's Citizens United and Voting Rights Act decisions, our League unanimously concurred with the LWVUS's recommendation that Making Democracy Work should be the focus of national activity in 2016-2018.
We agreed that our local League's priorities for action in 2016-2017 should be 1) to help make democracy work by informing and engaging the electorate and by protecting voter and voting rights, and 2) to protect our natural resources. Based on grassroots input received at the meeting, a draft action plan will be presented to the board for its review. A final proposed plan will be submitted to the membership for a vote at the annual meeting in May.
Our national, state, and +-increasingly--local elections are awash in money. As part of a national League study on the effect of money in politics, over 35 League members participated in a lively discussion of what constitutes corruption, what restraints--if any--should be imposed on the use of money as an exercise of free speech, and what needs to be done to reform campaign financing.
Thanks to moderator Caroline McVitty, recorder Janet Law, and researchers and presenters MaryAnn Bromley, Alice Gianni, and Nancy Williams, League members were able to navigate this complex topic and to arrive at consensus on most of thirty-four questions.
Our League's input will be forwarded to the League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS), which will use it and that of other local Leagues in updating its policy on campaign finance.
The League of Women Voters of the United States President Elisabeth MacNamara delivered a spirited, and inspirational talk entitled "Celebrating Our Past, Embracing the Future" at our holiday luncheon.
According to MacNamara, 2010 was a year that marked the beginning of a "crisis for our democracy" as legislatures around the country passed laws "designed to suppress the vote of identifiable groups of eligible voters. Since 2011, the trend has continued and expanded. From early laws imposing restrictive voter photo ID requirements, proponents of limiting access to the polls moved to proof of citizenship requirements, cutbacks in early voting periods, repeal of same day registration, and attacks on the jewel in the crown of the civil rights era, the Voting Rights Act...In this crisis the League of Women Voters has taken a strong lead in protecting and powering the vote."
The League has been successful in rebuffing recent challenges by providing expertise and financial resources to the states in the thick of the battles and by taking new approaches to engaging voters. The League is registering voters in underserved communities--at high schools, community colleges and naturalization ceremonies--and utilizing on-line resources to provide urgently needed voter information.
Although this is a time of challenge, MacNamara also sees opportunities to engage a multitude of new people in our work. She likened our need to bring in not just more members, but also supporters, to those of League founder Carrie Chapman Catt who considered others in the suffragette movement as part of the League's "reserves." Unlike Catt's League, the League of the 21st century has the ability to engage new supporters with the click of a button. MacNamara called upon us to embrace the future with a "new mental attitude... just as we have done in our celebrated past...to ensure that the League of Women Voters is a force for change now and forever."
At our November 18 meeting, thirty members participated in a spirited discussion of consensus questions related to the LWVUS's national study on the structures of democracy. With the helpful research of four League members, Caroline McVitty moderated debate of the pro's and con's of fifteen questions pertaining to foundational criteria for any proposed amendment to the United States Constitution and the process of amending the Constitution.
To set a context for the discussion, Nancy Williams shared an LWVUS PowerPoint presentation entitled "An Update on Money in Politics," which provided an historical overview of the League of Women Voters' and the Supreme Court's roles in campaign finance regulation, the League's current campaign finance policy, and the rationale for updating the policy. In the wake of the 2010 Citizens United and the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decisions that, according to dissenting Judge Breyer, "eviscerated" rulings going back to 1907, there have been plans to reverse these decisions through state legislation and--possibly--by Congressional action or a states-called Constitutional Convention to add a 28th amendment to our Constitution.
On October 14, County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville shared his assessment of the state of our county by discussing a wide range of issues, including water quality, roads, the county's operating and capital budgets, debt, and economic development.
Water quality is a quality of life issue for the Lowcountry. Since the 1920's and 30's, exogenous species, sewage, and development have done damage to our county's water supply that the Council is trying to correct. Major efforts have included the creation of a storm water treatment department, the imposing of municipal and county storm water fees, and various retrofitting projects under the jurisdiction of a federal program applying to populations over 150,000.
Roads are another area of concern. According to Sommerville, we've been "behind the curve" as our roads become more and more congested. Beaufort County has 535 miles of state roads, most serving small neighborhoods, that the state is challenged to maintain. As a result, Beaufort County has spent about a half billion dollars on state projects (e.g. widening of Routes 278 and 170; the Broad River Bridge). So essentially, we're maintaining state roads, with some state contribution. The county is likely to need to maintain more because the state is eager to "devolve" to the county those roads not eligible for federal matching funds. In turn, the county will press for state funds to assist in maintenance. Overall, he Council is faced with a conundrum: increase taxes in order to get ahead of the curve--which most taxpayers don't like--or wait until the state of disrepair is critical, which leads to citizen complaints.
Chairman Sommerville feels the County Council has managed its operating expenses well and saved taxpayers' money. Displaying a chart showing Beaufort County's budget growth since 2008, Sommerville demonstrated that the county has been spending about $100 million per year from 2008 to 2015. Since these numbers are not adjusted for inflation, Council has saved about $30 million annually and has not indiscriminately cut programs and staff. When it comes to capital expenditures, the county has many future needs: replacing the Hilton Head bridges (a 10-year project); re-engineering the failed intersection at McGarvey's Corner; HVAC and roof replacements; building upgrades; a new detention center. Therefore, the Council will looking at a possible referendum to borrow funds for capital needs. Alternatively, it could impose a capital sales tax, or citizens could support a local option sales tax.
Sommerville prefers the latter since tourists would pay about 30-40 percent. One additional dollar in taxation would generate an additional $30 million per year--70% of which would go to property tax abatement. Nine million dollars would be distributed among the county and municipalities. And the County could leverage/"bond against" its share.
Beaufort County currently has $850 in outstanding debt. The lion's share is school debt. $135 million is for the preservation of rural and critical lands.
In regard to economic development, Sommerville candidly admitted that nothing the county has done has been successful and that there is "no magic bullet."
Mr. Sommerville responded to questions about educational funding, the flyover, the comprehensive plan, Administrator Kubic's retirement plans, location and number of county office buildings, Council's relationship with the school board, and fiscal autonomy for the school board, which he personally favors.
When asked what the biggest challenges for the county were in the next 25 years, Sommerville replied, "Roads and water quality and infrastructure."
As part of the information gathering process for the LWVSC study on healthcare in South Carolina, LWVHHI/BA put together a panel of area health providers to discuss their services and needs. Nancy Finch, RN, PhD, served as moderator. She is a senior hospital administrator at the Medical University of SC and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the College of Nursing at MUSC. Nancy is also a League member in Charleston. Assisting her was David Ball, RN, a State League Board member and the coordinator of the healthcare study. Panel participants were: Alison Burke, an attorney and the healthcare specialist for the local League, who shared her perspective on the needs of disabled patients in the healthcare system. Florry Gibbes is a Medical SpeechLanguage Pathologist who currently works for Amedisys Home Health. Omega SmallsFrancis is the area director of the Hilton head Office of the Coastal Empire Community Medical Health Center, a division of the SC Department of Mental Health, Tom Neal, RN, is the Chief Operating Officer at the Hilton Head Hospital. Ronald Smith, MD, a retired anesthesiologist, is currently the Medical Director of Bluffton -Jasper Volunteers in Medicine.
Each panel member described how he or she manages to serve clients even with limited resources. One of their many concerns was the difficulty clients have in keeping appointments or getting to the facility for care. Transportation is a major problem. Although the services have a sliding scale of fees, many clients cannot afford even a minimal cost. Many also cannot pay for referral care or medications. (Kroger and Publix offer some medications at no charge with a prescription. Walmart offers some medications at a low cost.) Thus their illnesses often become worse. Some clients have insurance, but it often does not cover the costs of many needed procedures. A large number of individuals aged 19 to 64 do not have medical insurance. Some 170,000 people in SC do not qualify for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. All of the agencies do their best to provide care to everyone who needs it. Communication with related organizations is often difficult because of different systems used by each and because of regulations protecting privacy rights. The Medical Health Center initiated innovative ways to better serve its clients, especially those who are in the workforce. The agency is open early and late, and it uses staff members who speak a second language to remind clients of appointments and to follow -up on missed appointments.
More should be done to help people with mental health issues--the local hospital does not offer psychiatric services. Health benefits should not be cut off for disabled individuals when they join the workforce. Providing information about health services and healthful living to nonEnglish speakers, the deaf, blind, and illiterate is a challenge. Pediatric services in the local area are limited. The Hilton Head Hospital does not offer them because the population is too small to make it cost effective. VIM does not give services to individuals under 18 because children have access to government health programs. Undocumented individuals often do not use even free health services because they fear being reported to immigration authorities. The consensus among the panelists was that healthcare is a human right, and the state should uphold that right by providing at least a minimal level of services. Keeping people healthy saves money in the long run because they can work and thus pay taxes and use fewer government-funded services.
At the invitation of the Bluffton Library, a panel of past and current League leaders, moderated by librarian Armistead Reasoner, shared their recollections of our League's activities in its twenty-nine-year history. Pat Tousignant, President from 1994 to 1997, recalled the efforts of founders Virginia Sweet and Bea Chait to organize a provisional League in the early 1980's as the Town of Hilton Head Island was coming into being. She also shared a copy of a letter she had written as President to every U.S. Senator when our League adopted a policy supporting universal healthcare in 1994. In reviewing our archives, Pat recalled that the regional issue of water and a local issue of standards of decency were among the issues addressed by the League in its early days. In response to a proposed town referendum regulating "adult" businesses, our League held a forum to discuss the referendum questions, which today seem quite quaint.
Sally McGarry, President from 2001-2005, emphasized that the core mission of the League of Women Voters is to encourage active and informed participation in government by providing a variety of voter services, including candidate forums and voter registration. She also highlighted the issues that occupied our League from 1997 to 2005. Among them--in addition to healthcare-- were sewers, the Hilton Head airport, shoreline issues and natural resource protection, community development and housing, education tax increment financing, and voting machines. Many of these issues continue to occupy our League.
Former President Karen Wessel (2011-2013) said she had become acquainted with the League because of her interest in education and her efforts to pass the first school bond referendum in 1994. She found a welcoming home in the League, which has studied and taken positions on universal kindergarten, early childhood education, teacher evaluation and retention, teaching standards, charter schools, and state and local funding of education. During Karen's tenure as president, the Bluffton League of Women Voters merged with the Hilton Head League in 2010 to form the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area, thereby expanding our membership and influence.
President Fran Holt shared some of her hopes for our future, which included continuing to press for state ethics reform, maintaining a strong observer corps in Hilton Head and Bluffton, and becoming more technologically savvy. She invited guests to join us in making democracy work.
An overflow crowd at the Bluffton Library greeted SC Attorney General Alan Wilson and 14th District Solicitor Duffie Stone, who educated us about human trafficking at our April meeting.
Human trafficking is a $30 billion a year international industry. It is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world after drugs and arms trafficking and doesn't discriminate by age, gender, race, geography, or socio-economic status. The United States is the number one destination for trafficked human beings.
Human trafficking, which amounts to modern-day slavery and takes the forms of sex and labor trafficking, is alive and well in South Carolina according to Wilson. Demand is everywhere; however, South Carolina does not and cannot track numbers. Victims are not necessarily kidnapped but are often coerced into prostitution, menial labor, and other activities with threats of exposure or personal harm.
When Wilson heard Teresa Flores, the author of The Slave across the Street, tell her story about how she was trafficked in the mid-1980's at age 15 in a middle-class neighborhood in Michigan, he was compelled to advance legislation to go after traffickers. In 2010, South Carolina enacted a human trafficking law which laid out the statutory framework to do so and created a Human Trafficking Task Force to develop a comprehensive state plan and to coordinate efforts to attack the problem.
South Carolina ranks as one of the best states in the nation in addressing this issue. Recently a loophole in this act was closed when jurisdictional issues were circumvented by empowering the Attorney General to empanel grand juries to subpoena suspected human traffickers.
Attorney General Wilson also addressed the issue of domestic violence and was later joined by Solicitor Stone and State Representative Shannon Erickson (District 124), who have experience and/or expertise in dealing with this issue. For too long, domestic violence has been viewed as a private, not a public, issue. Among the challenges in reversing this view is educating magistrates, police officers, victims, family members, and other people in general to understand that violence is not normal and that violence perpetuates violence.
Rep. Erickson has headed a task force aimed at reforming existing legislation and providing prosecutors with more tools to pursue and penalize abusers. She urged our support of the Domestic Reform Act (H.3433), which not only contains enhanced penalties but also social pieces designed to educate people and mitigate the causes of domestic abuse. As Attorney General Wilson pointed out, human trafficking and domestic violence are not partisan issues but public safety issues that both Democrats and Republicans can support.
Did you know that new members of the US Congress are advised to spend four hours per day making telephone calls to prospective donors? This is just one indication of how money shapes politics and policy-making in our country, according to Dave Kartunen, WSAV anchor and political reporter, who led a discussion after the screening of the documentary Pricele$$ at our March 11 meeting.
Released in 2010 and prepared during the 2008 election cycle, Pricele$$ exposes the insidious influence of money in politics by examining how it shapes the development of policy in two illustrative areas: agriculture and energy. By interviewing elected officials from both Democratic and Republican parties, the filmmakers revealed the connections among support for lobbyists' bills, PAC donations, and subsequent favors from politicians.
Money in the system guarantees that nothing will change. Farmers, for example, are subsidized to do the wrong thing, and officials who ask hard questions receive less money from powerful industry groups. According to Kartunen, we are outsourcing the writing of legislation to lobbyists and outsourcing the education of elected officials to outside groups who provide the lens through which officials are "educated."
The film concluded with the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that ruled that money is free speech and that granted corporations the same rights as individuals. Following this decision, outside spending in 2012 top Senate races increased by a multiple of twelve from 2006 levels. Since then, the playing field has become even more unequal. The Court's 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision held that it is unconstitutional to impose aggregate limits, thereby enabling donors to give an infinite amount to as many candidates in as many elections as possible.
The means to rid the system of the corrosive effect of money, according to the film and Kartunen, is the public financing of all elections. The prospect, however, is not good. Even as legislators say they loathe raising money, they have had little appetite for campaign finance reform. A non-partisan group such as the League of Women Voters has an important role to play in effecting change that ensures that our elected officials serve the people who elected them, not special, moneyed interests.
(This special meeting was presented in partnership with the Beaufort County Public Library, Bluffton Branch and with the support of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, who provided the film and screening rights. Thanks to all who participated.)
Do you know who Jay Lucas is? Jerry Stewart? Curtis Loftis?* These were some of the influential South Carolinians our League members tried to identify as part of an ice-breaker at the outset of our February 11 program planning meeting. Following some social time, about thirty of our League members participated in a lively review of current LWVSC policy positions and made recommendations for priorities in 2015-2017. We reviewed current policies on criminal and juvenile justice, education, natural resources, state and local government, state and local taxation, transportation, and child welfare. We voted to recommend retention of all policies with some amendments. We did not propose any new studies to be undertaken at the state level. In addition, we recommended three action priorities for the next two years: 1) voter access and the election process, 2) education, and 3) tax reform. Ethics reforms was referenced but not included because we were optimistic (perhaps wrongly) that reform was in the wings. We also agreed that LWVSC should monitor proposals for off-shore drilling. Our recommendations will be sent to our state board, which will identify policy and action agenda items for discussion and votes at the state convention in April.
Mike Seymour, President of the Heritage Institute and a member of our League, gave us a great presentation on Climate Change. What he said was scary but not totally without hope. He made it clear that the argument over the existence of global warming is over. Global warming is a reality. We are at a crossroads where we must find a different way of looking at ourselves and think globally as an earth family, not just a human family.
Consequences of global warming include the increased incidence of extreme weather such as Hurricane Sandy in the New York area in 2012, droughts causing less water supply and more fires, flooding, ice flows, the spread of infectious disease and detrimental effects on agriculture. A video of Leonardo DiCaprio talking at the United Nations (available on Youtube) underscored the seriousness of the problems and the urgency of doing what is necessary for the sake of human rights and survival.
Changes in how individuals live their lives will make a difference, but it is really change at the industrial level that is most essential. Currently, newly proposed regulations interpreting the Clean Air Act are under review. There are extensive comments on the proposals that are delaying implementation, but the final approved regulations should make a real difference. Those opposed are concerned about the economics and costs, but Mr. Seymour feels those concerns are exaggerated and can be addressed. One encouraging fact is that an accord recently reached by China and the U.S. Both nations have agreed to specific targets and deadlines for reducing greenhouse gases.
The meeting was well attended, and it was obvious from the questions and contributions made by members of the audience that there was a real interest in this important subject. To pursue this interest, Mr. Seymour recommended that we consult the following references provided by Compassionate Beaufort Communities (www.cbcsc.org:
Climate Reality Project: http://climaterealityproject.org/
A major international advocate for spreading the conversation about climate change.
Reality Drop: http://realitydrop.org/
Fights myths about climate
Cows Save the Planet: http://www.judithschwartz.com
Read this book and talk about its premise with friends.
Find out who you know who has anything to do with farming and talk to them about these regenerative agriculture ideas.
Rodale Institute: http://rodaleinstitute.org
Find and read their report on how to reverse climate change by farming organically.
Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org/ All about climate change. There is also a link to a sea level rise simulator.
EPA site for carbon reduction: http://www2.epa.gov/carbonpollutionstandards.
Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants up to 30% by 2030 vs. 2005.
League of Conservation Voters: http://www.lcv.org/act Follow up on their campaign to support the EPA CO2 reduction as well as other actions (see Act tab, Current actions).
Think Energy SC: http://thinkenergysc.com/
Become familiar with the clean energy movement and issues in South Carolina and write letters to your congresspeople regarding pending or possible future legislation (Policy tab).
Reduce your CO2 Footprint
Nature Conservancy Carbon Footprint and carbon offset: http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm
Do the CO2 footprint calculations for your household and budget for the carbon offset payment.
Arcadia Energy: http://www.arcadiapower.com/
Sign up to convert from SCEG or any other provider and sign on to get your energy needs from Arcadia which supplies 100% green energy from wind and solar for $.15/kwh about +.01. 02 vs. SCE&G.
Although ethics reform failed, Speaker Harrell was indicted, and other indictments will be forthcoming, Lynn is optimistic about the prospects for movement in the next legislative session. While Harrell was speaker, his only interest was in retaining power, according to Teague. His successor, Jay Lucas, on the other hand, is very bright, honest, well respected by members of both parties, knowledgeable about the problems facing our state, and determined to get things done. He has already appointed an ethics reform committee, three ethics sub-committees, and a transportation task force. He has distributed power among his colleagues, creating an open atmosphere that was previously lacking.
Lynn spends three days a week meeting with legislators, attending committee meetings, and preparing and delivering testimony when the General Assembly is in session. While providing a day-to-day presence for the League, Lynn has earned a reputation for the League's providing good information. The League occupies a unique lobbying niche in that it takes the lead on government integrity/accountability and voting rights issues. It collaborates with other organizations with expertise on other issues of mutual interest, such as women's reproductive rights, healthcare, and the environment. Lynn provided a synopsis of what to expect in 2015 in five areas of legislative interest--ethics, education, Medicaid expansion, reproductive health, and transportation. In the ethics arena, Lynn is confident that good bills will come forth. Weston Newton is chairing the Freedom of Information sub-committee in the House and is committed to reform. The problem lies in the Senate. Our Senator Tom Davis filibustered ethics legislation--the first since Operation Lost Trust in 1991--in the last session. This session he has signed on to the Martin bill, which is one of three good bills that would make provision for income disclosure--both public and private, disclosure of supporters, and enforcement of investigative decisions. Attorney General Alan Wilson is also supportive on ethics issues.
Education is going to be "huge," according to Lynn given the SC Supreme Court ruling that the state has failed to meet the Constitutional requirement that it provide a minimally adequate education to all its children. Both Speaker Lucas and Senator Courson are committed to public education, so she expects serious progress. Money, though, isn't the only problem in education. She feels that some districts need to be consolidated. She would like to see Act 388 repealed as it has disrupted the educational funding system. Higher education may be strapped for funds. The state only covers nine percent of the cost of state schools. The League also supports strong early childhood education.
In the area of women's reproductive health, LWVSC provides support; Planned Parenthood takes the lead. A number of anti-abortion bills have already been filed. Some prevent birth control and in-vitro fertilization. Some would require hospital admitting privileges for doctors performing (legal) abortions; others would prohibit an abortion if a fetal heart beat can be detected. In an effort to expand Medicaid participation, the League is working in concert with AARP. Lynn is vice-chair of a coalition of lobbyists whose aim is to get federal dollars back into a program designed to meet South Carolina's needs. Arkansas and Alabama have programs that funnel federal dollars to insurers that might serve as models. In the meantime rural hospitals are especially affected. One in Bamberg had to close.
In order to address South Carolina's transportation "deficit," the League is supporting an increase in the gas tax.
Overall, the League feels decisions need to be made in the best interests of the people in South Carolina and that confidence in state government must be restored. She encouraged us to call or write, not email, our elected officials, who view ten to twelve personal contacts as a groundswell of support for a position.
We thanked Lynn for her interesting and informative presentation and applauded her personal success in garnering respect and support for the League's positions.
--Nancy Williams, Vice President LWVHHI/BA
Senator Tom Davis, Representative Weston Newton and Representative-Elect Jeff Bradley identified highlights and "lowlights" of the past legislative session and their priorities for 2015 at our November 12 meeting at the Bluffton Library. Senator Davis touted as achievements the legalization of cannabidiol (CBD), a component of marijuana, for medicinal purposes with certain patients and the modification of an 1802 law banning card playing. The revised law now allows the use of cards, dice, and tiles at social gatherings. His major disappointment was the failure to pass ethics reform. He didn't support proposed egislation that failed to include income disclosures and independent oversight for violations. When questioned privately by Sally McGarry, State Issues and Advocacy Chair, Davis accepted the state League's proposed "committee" language which would require disclosure of names of donors to leadership political action committees. Representative Newton was proud of those things the General Assembly didn't do. It didn't expand Medicaid, didn't raise taxes, didn't allow schools to raise additional funds without a referendum, didn't restrict Jasper County schools without public input, and--in general--didn't live outside its means. Among the legislature's accomplishments Newton cited repeat drunken driver restraints, a state-wide texting ban, expansion of Second Amendment rights (with expanded background checks), additional funding for Waddell Mariculture Center infrastructure, equitable funding for USCB, and in-state tuition for military dependents.(More in the December issue of LIGHTHOUSE, posted elsewhere on this site.)
It was standing room only at the League-moderated mayoral candidates' forum at the Hilton Head Town Hall on October 8. Attendees filled all the seats and lined the walls as the five candidates answered questions posed by moderator Sally McGarry while Beaufort County televised the one and one-half hour forum. In the opening question candidates were asked to identify their primary reason for running for office. David Bennett, chair of the Planning Commission, is running because he feels that the current administration is making piecemeal decisions without a coherent vision for our town. Attorney Joe DuBois is running to provide an alternative to government he feels is characterized by cronyism, rather than ethical decision-making in the best interests of the town. R. "Cork" James, the former publisher of a Hilton Head on-line music magazine, is running to counter what he feels is excessive development that threatens wildlife habitat and the natural beauty of the island. Incumbent Drew Laughlin is running to continue the progress that he feels has been made in the four years of his tenure. Rochelle Williams, a personal trainer whose family goes back for generations on Hilton Head Island, is running to provide a voice for native islanders on the north end of the island whose interests, she feels, are not well represented on Town Council. While Mr. Laughlin cited his accomplishments in office--the extension of a special tax district, revisions to the LMO, and $290 million in private investment, his opponents challenged much of the redevelopment, particularly the Shelter Cove Towne Centre and the planned USCB campus on Office Park Road. The estimated 125 forum attendees left the event with a better understanding of the candidates' positions on these and other issues. Voters will go to the polls and select Hilton Head Island's mayor for the next four years on November 4. As a result of the success of this forum, the League was asked to moderate three other forums in gated communities.
(Because no candidate received 50% of the votes cast, a runoff election will be held on Tuesday, November 18. Candidates on the runoff ballot are David Bennett and Drew Laughlin. Until a mayor has been elected for the new term, video for this event may be accessed using this link to the Beaufort County Channel website player:
Our September 17 meeting doubled as a Candidate Forum featuring the three candidates who are running for the office of South Carolina Superintendent of Education. All three candidates who will be on the ballot appeared. Candidates are Ed Murray (American Party), Molly Spearman (Republican Party), and Tom Thompson(Democratic Party). The forum was moderated by Loretta Warden. Katie Miller served as Timer. Our Education Committee prepared some thought-provoking questions and questions from the audience were also asked. Our thanks to all who participated. (See photos taken by Sandy Stern in October issue of Lighthouse, posted elsewhere on this site.)
Solicitor Duffie Stone, the chief prosecuting attorney for the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit-- which includes Allendale, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties-- was the guest speaker for our May 14 annual meeting. In an engaging participatory talk, Stone educated us about the Solicitor's role and the issues and challenges of his office.
The Fourteenth Circuit includes the poorest county in the state (Allendale) and is the fourth most violent circuit in the state. Stone asked us what we thought accounted for the largest number of cases in his district. Respondents incorrectly identified drugs and domestic violence as possibilities. Although drugs are probably the root cause of 80 percent of all crime, a small number of career criminals (20 percent), who commit three to five crimes per year, are responsible for most of the crimes 80 percent) committed in our district according to Stone.
Therefore, since Stone assumed his office, he has focused on the criminal, not the crime. Rather than organizing his staff around specific crimes, which had previously been the case, he has organized them around criminals. This tactic is not unlike the practice of the 1920's and 30's when Al Capone was identified as a "public enemy" and finally apprehended for tax evasion. (For more about Solicitor Stone's remarks, please see page 5 of the summer issue of LIGHTHOUSE, posted elsewhere on this site.)
Panel: Dr. Gerry Dukes, Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service;
Zach Snipes, Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service;
Kevin Schoneman, LWVHHI/BA member and farm owner;
Teresa Wade, Founder and Executive Director of Experience Green
Despite the miserable weather and misinformation in the Lighthouse about the location of the meeting (my fault), we had a pretty good turnout and lots of participation in the discussion. Most of the time was spent on national public policy positions. We discussed many topics, but ended up making just two recommendations, the maximum permitted by LWVUS.
The first recommendation was to review the current voting rights position on the citizen's right to vote in order to address the following problem as described by the Ohio League of Women Voters: "F..most state and federal legislative district lines have been drawn in ways that exaggerate political homogeneity, resulting in nonrepresentative, skewed legislatures and unaccountable `safe seats.'" Our members agreed that there is a need for district apportionment guidelines which promote heterogeneity and avoid gerrymandering.
The second recommendation was to review the current position on health care. It was adopted in 1993 and needs to be updated. Our two recommendations, along with those made by Leagues throughout the country, will be considered at the LWVUS Convention in June. Convention delegates will make the final determination regarding the adoption of national public policy positions.
When we send our report to LWVUS, we will note that we wish we had been given the opportunity to voice our views on more than two items. There was considerable interest in many subjects, including human trafficking, bullying, the ERA, cyber attacks and natural resource issues. The second part of the meeting was devoted to reviewing our current local public policy positions. There was some discussion about Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and the Town of Hilton Head Island Land Management Ordinance (LMO), but no recommendations were made to change our positions.
Finally, we talked about the legislative agenda of LWVSC. Sally McGarry, Action/Advocacy Chair, stated that our number one priority continues to be ethics reform. For more details about that and other pending legislation, please refer to page 10 of the February 2014 Lighthouse, which is available at http://www.lwvhhi.org. Pamela Hollinger, Education Chair, told us about the state League's call to action on Senate Bill 300 and House Bill 3943, which oppose common core standards. LWVSC is asking members to work to defeat those bills. Fran Holt, VP/Program Chair
When he explained the importance of Tax Increment Financing, League President Loretta Warden suggested that we
follow up by paying particular attention to that item during local program planning at our February 12 meeting. Another way to follow up on the meeting is to go to the
town's website, http://www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov, where much information on the town's projects, including the Chaplin Linear Park, is available.
Please note that Mayor Lisa Sulka, a member of our League, will report on the State of the Town of Bluffton at our March 12 General Membership Meeting.
Dr. Jeffrey Moss, Superintendent of the Beaufort County School District, successfully covered a lot of territory in his talk on global learning at the conclusion of our well attended holiday luncheon on December 11. He referred to a recent international assessment that indicated that education in the U.S. does not compare very well to that of some other countries. He then told about his own observations made during a trip to China. The Chinese students were taught in a very structured manner complete with being seated in carefully arranged neat rows, and their achievements were very impressive in many ways, but educators there wanted to know how to stimulate creative thinking. Dr. Moss also talked about education in Finland, where there are no standardized tests, no private schools, no homework, no competitive sports, and all the teachers have master's degrees. He noted that educators are highly respected in both China and Finland.
In discussing local efforts to improve education and to help satisfy the needs of employers, Dr. Moss referred to the newly formed Commission on Economic Competitiveness, a partnership between educators and business representatives recommended by the area Chambers of Commerce. Early conclusions of the Commission are that we need to keep creativity flowing and to make sure that students learn the basics such as showing up to work on time and being able to communicate orally and in writing. With four generations in the work force, there are many challenges. Making sure kids know what is expected is essential.
Dr. Moss was enthusiastic about an initiative to have a digital device for each child in grades three through twelve. He believes this will expand learning opportunities and help lessen inequality between students. He also believes that choices encourage kids to do well by keeping them interested. The involvement of parents, businesses and the community were also cited as being very important.
During the questions and answer period, Dr.Moss said that he didn't think common core standards would change things very much. Standards here have always been pretty high. However, they should be helpful to employers in knowing what to expect and they should help to create a level playing field and to encourage critical thinking.
On a personal note, I appreciated Dr. Moss's response to my question about what he hopes will be accomplished by the General Assembly in Columbia during the coming session. He said that he would welcome fewer rules and less regulation so that he can do the job for which he was hired and for which he welcomes accountability.
Fran Holt, VP/Program Chair
Forum participants included Ed Saxon, General Manager, Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority;
Richard Cyr, General Manager, Hilton Head Public Service District;
Kelly Ferda, General Manager, South Island Public Service District;
Russell Hildebrand, General Manager, Broad Creek Public Service District;
Steve Riley, Town Manager, Town of Hilton Head Island;
James Ayers; Assistant Manager/Director of Engineering and Public Works; Town of Bluffton;
Rob McFee, Beaufort County, Division Director for Engineering and Infrastructure.
On October 9th the League of Women Voters Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area hosted a Wine, Cheese and a "Bit More" Party to celebrate the services of our elected officials.
It was a remarkable opportunity for League members and elected officials to get to know each other, and for our elected officials to know about the League and what it does.
Some 85 people, including many elected officials, gathered at Indigo Hall where the conversation was lively, the beverages refreshing and the food most satisfying. Several League members helped out at the welcome table or the beverage table. Most importantly--Leaguers present gave a face and credibility to our organization in their conversations with our elected officials.
President Loretta Warden welcomed all and described the League's role in influencing public policy decisions, highlighting some of our current public policy concerns-- Voter Access and the Election Process, Education, Ethics Reform, Home Rule and Natural Resources.
Before her toast to our elected officials, Past President Karen Wessel, thanked them and acknowledged their service--"Most elected officials devote long hours to their jobs----elected officials often serve at great sacrifice to their families and careers."
There were positive comments and encouragement for a repeat from League members, their guests and our elected officials. The event identified the League as a resource in our sometimes daunting challenge of making government work.
Thanks to Fran Holt, Chairman and her committee: Katie Miller, Sally McGarry, Julie Wittig and Connie Voight. The advance planning of this committee made this first for our League a success. Fran is very grateful to the committee, everyone who attended the event, everyone who helped and everyone who made a monetary donation.
Report on September 18 Meeting on "The People's Money" The attendance was good, and the speakers were articulate, informative and sometimes amusing.
Speakers: South Carolina State Senator Tom Davis, Beaufort County Treasurer and Beaufort County Assessor Ed Hughes.
First to speak was Beaufort County Treasurer Douglas Henderson, who was elected to his position two years ago. When he arrived on the job, there was not even a system of checks and balances. He told us that he has basically cleaned house. Operations are so much more efficient now that he has been able to reduce staff and ask for less of our money to be spent by his office.
Ed Hughes, the Beaufort County Assessor, is extremely busy now that 126,345 assessment notices have just been sent to property owners, but he took the time to speak to us and to explain the assessment process. Like Mr. Henderson, he said that he inherited a very inefficient operation, but with a lot of hard work and some additional funding, he managed to make the assessment process much more efficient and equitable. He is confident that most of the assessments are accurate, although he readily admits that 100% accuracy is not possible.
Consequently, he knows there will be more than a few appeals. He pointed out that appeal applications must be postmarked no later than December 11. To learn more about the process, please go to http://www.co.beaufort.sc.us/departments/ and then select "Assessor" under "Real Property Services." Senator Davis complimented the other two speakers on their work. He then said that he agreed with what the League believes are essential four elements of taxation--equity and efficiency--but he said a third important element is that taxes should encourage economic growth. As it is now, South Carolina taxes discourage businesses, especially smaller businesses that can't negotiate deals to reduce their taxes, from coming here.
To reform the tax system in our state, the senator believes problems caused by Act 388 must be solved. One such problem is what Davis called the "immorality" of residents not having to pay for school operations. Although he believes that the sales tax is less damaging than income or property taxes, he is against keeping most of the sales tax exemptions. He cited the tax on cars as being particularly unfair. Due to an exemption, it is the same for a car costing $10,000 and one costing $60,000!
Lots of good questions were asked by members of the
audience following the presentations by the three speakers.
Most concerned the assessment process.
In his excellent talk, Mr. Marshall made it clear his priority is to serve the voters. He discussed several bills being considered by the S.C. legislature that he thought would be harmful to voters if passed. One would have transferred the responsibilities of the State Election Commission to the office of the Secretary of State. Like Leaguers, he is not a proponent of our new voter photo identification law. He believes election reform should be comprehensive rather than piecemeal, and more funds would help improve election services.
Following our luncheon, Scott Marshall was named Director of Beaufort County Parks and Leisure. In addition to holding this new position, he will continue as Director of the Beaufort County Board of Elections and Registration until an interim director is named.
LWVSC has a small number of members who consistently represent the League as lobbyists in Columbia, testifying before Committees and sub-Committees and meeting individually with Legislators to promote our positions. They are effective because they have become well known to the Legislators. JoAnne's particular passion is Voting Rights, which she described as being "in the League's DNA." She feels the photo ID law needs to be explained more clearly to the public, and the Early Voting Bill, S. 4, which passed the Senate and went to the House, falls far short of what the League was advocating. Voting needs to be made more accessible, and this bill would make it less so. JoAnne referenced pending education bills such as S. 234 mandating full-day kindergarten, S. 53 to make the office of Superintendent of Education appointed rather than elected, cervical cancer prevention for 7th grade girls, and H. 3435 updating education regulations and environmental bills regarding solar energy and flood control. The League, she said, is a member of the Coalition for Healthy Families and the Conservation Common Agenda Coalition as vehicles for extending our reach.
Next JoAnne addressed the prime focus of the meeting + Ethics Reform. Lynn Teague, the architect of the State League's Ethics Reform Program, was to have presented this part of the program, but she had to appear at a Committee hearing in Columbia instead. JoAnne presented the power point "Money, Power and Politics" beginning with the comment that "politics are awash in money and it behooves South Carolina to get a clear set of ethics rules." The
League has launched a multi-pronged initiative to address the weaknesses in current law and promote solutions.
The League recommends:
-- Eliminating "leadership PAC's" which avoid disclosure of sources of funds
-- Requiring full disclosure of all forms of personal compensation received by officials and their immediate families so as to eliminate conflicts of interest
-- Introducing true independent investigation and enforcement of violations of ethics laws
-- Strengthening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
As of April 17th, League members have received an e-mail from LWVSC Co-President Barbara Zia urging all of us to communicate with our Legislators in Columbia, listing bill numbers and arguments. Additional information can be found on the state League website, http://www.lwvsc.org. Our League's "Guide to Elected Officials" will give contact information for your Legislators. Please join in this important advocacy effort. Sally McGarry, State Action Chair
Although Mayor Lisa Sulka was unable to attend due to illness, a presentation about the State of the Town of Bluffton was given by staff members. The presentation was followed by questions and answers and was enthusiastically received.
The discussion on the Evaluation and Retention of Effective Teachers in South Carolina public schools resulted in our reaching agreement on most of the consensus questions thanks to excellent presentations by local education committee members Loretta Warden, Flo Rosse, Kathy Quirk, Beth Fox, Ann Coffin and discussion leader Pamela Hollinger and the thoughtful input of other League members. Our report to the state League includes not only specific answers but also many comments explaining our answers. Of particular note are comments regarding the difficulty in defining "effective teacher" and "student achievement." It will be interesting to learn what position is adopted at the state League convention in April after answers from all state Leagues are reviewed.
The 2013-2015 program of our state League will also be determined at the state convention. Our League's recommendations, based on the discussion at our meeting, are to drop no positions; to retain our current positions on Criminal Justice/Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources and Transportation; and to reconsider our positions on Child Welfare, Education, State and Local Government and State and Local Taxation. Concerns regarding Child Welfare included the need for an automated child support system and the problem of human trafficking as it affects children. We agreed that the education position summary should include the words "fully funded" and that the position should reference technology, especially for adult education. The State and Local Government position should be reviewed in order to reconsider what is stated about home rule. The State and Local Taxation position should be updated in regard to the tax on food. It should also be ascertained that the position clearly allows us to work to repeal or amend Act 388.
Our League decided that action priorities for 2013-2015 should be Voter Access and the Process of Elections, Tax Reform and Education. We decided that they are all equally important. Much appreciation goes to Julie Wittig, Caroline McVitty, Pamela Hollinger, Sally McGarry, Joan Kinne-Shulman and Fred Holt for helping with the state program planning part of the meeting. Thanks too to everyone who stayed to participate. We ran out of time before discussing the final agenda item, Local Program Planning. This discussion has been rescheduled for March 7. Please see page 1 of the March Lighthouse for details.
We once again started the new year with a report on the State of the Town of Hilton Head Island. Mayor Drew Laughlin reported to us on what's happened in the past year and what is likely to happen in the future. He will also responded to questions from an enthusiastic audience.
A similar meeting will be held in Bluffton on March 13, when Mayor Lisa Sulka will speak on the State of the Town of Bluffton.
Lots of participation by the audience, coupled with excellent presentations by local League Education Committee members, resulted in an interesting and informative meeting. Beth Fox, a recently retired Beaufort County School District administrator and teacher, explained the current system of teacher evaluation, especially its application in Beaufort County. Committee Chair Pamela Hollinger moderated the discussion. She also addressed questions about the frequency of evaluations, the people doing the evaluations, evaluation tools and who should receive evaluation results. Some of that information was provided by Kathy Quirk and Flo Rosse, who were unable to attend the meeting, Ann Coffin discussed how evaluations are currently funded and who should be responsible for the funding of future evaluations. Loretta Warden spoke about how evaluations can factor into the retention of effective educators. Her conclusion was that evaluations should be about what is being done and how it can be done better.
The October issue of our LIGHTHOUSE newsletter, which is posted elsewhere on this site, contains a report on the September Bus Tour Meeting. The LIGHTHOUSE and the Calendar page of this site also contain information about future membership meetings.
On October 4 our League's board voted unanimously to support the Rural and Critical Lands Preservation Program Countywide Bond Referendum that is on the November 6 ballot. Support for the referendum was determined to be consistent with League local, state and national positions reached by study and consensus. VOTE YES and tell your friends, family and neighbors to do the same.
For more information, please contact Fran Holt at email@example.com or 837-3436.
Shall Beaufort County, South Carolina issue general obligation bonds, not to exceed $25,000,000, representing a borrowing that at no time shall exceed 1 mill in debt service repayment, for the purpose of land preservation, by purchasing open land, development rights and conservation easements in all areas of Beaufort County, in order to alleviate traffic congestion in high growth areas and to protect water quality, natural lands, wildlife areas, farmland, parkland, recreational areas, coastal areas, rivers and wetlands, provided that all expenditures shall be prioritized based upon an official criteria and ranking system established for the County, and subject to an annual independent audit and provide that an amount not to exceed twenty percent (20%) of the amount borrowed may be spent on improvements, outside the scope of general property maintenance, to those lands which have been acquired by Beaufort County, South Carolina under previous rural and critical lands programs and all such lands acquired under this current proposed borrowing?
A vote of YES means the voter is in favor of the question. i.e., that Beaufort County shall issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $25,000,000 for the purpose of funding open land preservation.
A vote of NO means the voter is not in favor of the question, i.e., Beaufort County shall not issue general obligation bonds not to exceed $25,000,000 for the purpose of funding open land preservation.