Wednesday, September 10, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

For those who may have followed this column for a while, you know my thinking about jobs and job creation. Decent jobs are the foundation of any community. Good jobs foster stable families, and stable families make for good neighborhoods. They require less policing, less social services, and also support good schools, not only with taxes, but parental participation.

In my work life, I have had a chain of bike shops, a bunch of brewpubs, and more than a few restaurants. I know the importance of making payroll, because those payroll dollars get spread around the community. They buy groceries, pay for health care, haircuts, clothes, and all those things we need. It is also a serious responsibility. There have been more times than I would like to remember, when I made payroll, but I didn’t get paid. That’s just the way it is sometimes.

Recently I have been approached by various entrepreneurs, wandering about the Old Town, looking at the retail and service mix, chatting with folks, and generally checking out our version of prosperity. They are doing their due diligence before making investments in new stores or shops or restaurants. One of these folks came to visit my office in the Promenade and wanted some hard numbers on how many people work in the development, has it increased recently and by how much. Of course, I didn’t have hard numbers, or even soft numbers, because my model is to create a space for a business, and then let them take care of the details. It did, however, pique my curiosity.

Consequently, I walked around the Promenade and took an informal survey, about as unscientific as it could be. I made sure not to count the construction workers, as they will be somewhere else next month. I only counted full-time employees, and part-timers, who may or may not want to be full timers. The results were startling to say the least. The overall number was around 275 to 300, but that was not really the surprise.

We have an amazing mix of people working in just our one part of Old Town Bluffton. We have 15-year-old part-timers, whose parents have allowed them to work on condition they keep their school work up. At the other end of the spectrum, there are folks in their much later years that either need to work for financial reasons, or want to work because they just want to remain a part of the real life of commerce. There are young people like Chris Epps, who, along with his wife, are entrepreneurs and business people on Calhoun Street, but his architecture office is in the Promenade. Chris grew up in Bluffton, and he is exactly where he wants to be.

Folks, we have a work force that almost exactly mirrors the demographics of our area. We have people of every age group, gender, race, or political persuasion. The truly amazing part of this is that it is a naturally occurring distribution. We are not responding to any quotas or mandates. Our business owners simply are looking for dependable people who can do a consistently good job at what they are hired to do. In my view, that’s the way to run an economy.

This week, we say “goodbye and thank you” to my friend Anthony Barrett, who is retiring after a very productive tenure as Bluffton Town Manager. There is no doubt that his successor, Marc Orlando, will carry on the good work. Marc is experienced, supremely competent, and well liked. We all have great expectations.

Next time, more on a potential big win for Jasper school parents and other stakeholders.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today
I hope everybody had a great Labor Day Weekend. From a business perspective, this holiday was simply over the moon. Every restaurant in the Old Town was packed, with either a line or a waiting list. The galleries report strong sales and very high levels of out-of­towners, presumably here to see for themselves what all the fuss is about with our little corner of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Much of the email and phone comment this week was on the governor’s vetoes. There was a fair amount of confusion as to what we were doing in Columbia in late August. The stories in the papers, for the most part, did not make clear why we were there and what the issues were, especially concerning the Horry County matter. OK, here’s the deal:

It seems that some of the fire coverage in Horry County is done with semi-antique equipment, which is often housed in older fire stations. Insurance companies were prepared to dramatically raise fire insurance rates in the communities served by the fire departments in question. The question before the House was whether to allow the tax increase, and thereby forestall the insurance rate increases, or deny the increase and let the insurance companies become the bad guys by raising rates. The House chose to deny the tax increase.

So many times, our various media choose to give us a bare-bones rendition of the information, rather than do the background research to provide a fuller, more accurate story. Fortunately, in our part of the state, with the delegation you have chosen, your representatives give you the straight story, regardless of what you might otherwise read. I have produced well over 600 columns and op-ed pieces since my election. My colleagues Rep. Weston Newton and Sen. Tom Davis are both busy turning out columns and informational pieces for publication every week. Beaufort County residents have ample opportunity to hear the “inside baseball” treatment of the issues of the day. This is a version of transparency that we may take for granted. I assure you that other parts of the state would love to have such a wealth of good, first-person information from their representatives.

Speaking of transparency and the possible lack thereof, my good friends Marty Sauls and Barbara Clark, both Jasper County Councilpersons, called to report an agenda item where the much maligned Jasper School Board went into executive session to discuss the building of new Taj Mahal offices for that same much maligned school board. Just to be clear, this is Jasper County, where they have special fundraising events to purchase books and pencils for the school children. While I am constrained by my vow of civility, let’s just say that such a notion runs this representative very hot. In my view, the school board is about providing for the proper education of pupils and students, not building plush offices and meeting facilities for themselves.

I want to remind you about the upcoming Alzheimer’s fundraiser in the Promenade. Tomorrow, September 4th, from 5 to 8 p.m. we will be “Paint[ing] the Promenade Purple.” This is an old fashioned pub crawl from Captain Wood’s to Cork’s, to Corner Perk, to the Infield, to Latitude Wine Bar, and Moon Mi Pizza. The charge is $20 in advance and $25 at the door. This is going to be a great time, with all the proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Next month, we are also hosting the Alzheimer’s Walk on Saturday, October 25th. Again this begins and ends at the Calhoun Street Promenade. Alzheimer’s is serious, and so are we. See you there.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

The response to my recent three-part series of columns on education issues in Jasper County was overwhelming. This last week, we had well over a hundred folks either stop by the office, call in, or email regarding the series, as well as what appears to be happening on the ground. The mix of people was very interesting in that there were a great many school parents and concerned residents. In addition, there were a good number of people who contributed stories of what worked and what didn’t work in the places where they lived before relocating to our lovely part of the Lowcountry. For me, a good idea is a good idea, even if it originated in Ohio.

I am convinced that there is now a critical mass of the electorate who are informed and engaged on this issue. Regardless of the outcome of the redistricting, there is every reason to believe that the real issues are not going to be sidetracked and replaced with the old Jasper politics. Anyone paying even a small bit of attention now understands that there is a strong linkage between the quality of public education and the economic success of the region. As my good friend, Jasper County Councilwoman Barbara Clark told me: “It’s not about what race, color, creed or the family a kid comes from, it’s simply about the kid.” For me, that about sums it up. We can play these political games, or we can get serious, and do the hard work of bringing this system into the 21st century.

The delegation does not have jurisdiction directly over the school board or the school district. We can, however, help to make certain that the electoral part of the problem is addressed. We can also, in the next session, reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) so that reasonable questions about such things as methodology, measurement of outcomes, or even where and how the dollars slated for the schools are spent, have to be answered in a timely fashion. We will also support the growing number of stakeholders, parents, and citizens who have stepped forward and demanded that quality education for our children takes priority over politics as usual. Honestly, the stakes could not be higher.

Back in downtown Bluffton, the Boiled Peanut Festival in the Promenade came off without a hitch. That is, with the possible exception of again underestimating the number of rabid boiled peanut fans who were going to turn up. Even on the hottest day of the year, they sold out of peanuts an hour before the event was over. Nonetheless, Shelly and her crew did an excellent job, with those unable to get their boiled peanut fix, made do with a couple of slices of superb Moon Mi pizza.

Finally, and somewhat on a personal note, there is going to be a benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association at the Promenade from 5 until 8 on Thursday, September 4th. It is called “Paint the Promenade Purple” and will be an old-fashioned pub crawl. Captain Woody’s, Cork’s, Corner Perk, The Infield, Latitude Wine Bar, and Moon Mi Pizza will all have purple specials, prizes and a bunch of fun surprises. The charge is $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For more information, please call 843-415-3211. Please be at least 21 and have ID to prove it.

As the baby boom generation enters retirement age, more and more of our family members will be afflicted by various forms of dementia. Many of us, including our family, are already confronting this heartbreaking situation. Come out and have a fun time with us, while we raise dollars to push back against this awful cluster of maladies.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

This is the third in a series of columns on the education difficulties currently roiling the political waters in Jasper County. Again, I thank all those who called or emailed with comments, suggestions, or additional information. This is obviously an important matter and I am pleased that it is being treated as such.

In the previous two columns, I suggested there is a lack of transparency in the way that the school board and the school district seem to conduct business. With the metrics used to judge the effectiveness of the school district continuing to falter, parents and local residents needed some answers. With confidence in their legislative delegation, the parents and concerned residents began to attend our meetings in hopes of gaining some insight into the persistent failure of the school district or the board to improve educational outcomes.

Last week in this space, there was a discussion of a plan to redraw the school board districts. The current plan was the result of a “friendly settlement” of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The redrawn map was included in a bill delivered by Sen. Clementa Pinckney to the House in the waning days of the last session. After viewing the plan, Rep. Weston Newton and I consulted with both the Attorney General and the Speaker of the House as to what might be done to get a less gerrymandered, less politicized map.

The AG declined to directly intervene but he did submit an amicus brief to the court. The “friend of the court” memorandum stated that the customary way to reapportion the districts was a legislative process unless it was determined the redraw fell short of the “one man, one vote” federal standard. Additionally, the SC Constitution calls for the legislature to provide for public education. However, if the court decides to redraw the lines, the brief urges that certain principles be respected. Among those principles are: a bias toward maintaining “recognized communities of interest” as well as upholding, where possible, political or geographical boundaries.

The Speaker indicated he would try to intervene in the suit to return the task to the legislature, but failing that, for the judicial process to include appropriate public input. This makes sense to me, as the cure for a lack of transparency should not be a redraw completely void of public participation. Obviously, this matter is still evolving. One thing that will not change is that the majority of the Jasper delegation will strongly seek the maximum public involvement in this important realignment. Personally, the whole thing just smells bad.

As to the reasons for the FBI and IRS investigations, I need to stand by and wait for the investigation reports. I have heard all manner of accusations and received information, which I’m certain will be part of any thorough investigation. However, with the feeling running so high, I believe we need to let the proper authorities sort it out. One thing I want to say is that Jasper County Council has been unfailingly helpful and cooperative during this entire affair.

There is one likely bit of fallout from all this. When the facts are on the table, everyone will see why it is so important that the public’s business be handled in public. This should give impetus for a more serious legislative look at our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In truth, I have not always agreed with the more aggressive expansion of FOIA, but this recent experience has convinced me that we need a better, more effective law.

Next week, preparation for next year’s session and more good economic news for District 118.