Monday, December 28, 2009

He says ... One more time: Don’t drink and drive

He says ...
I hope everyone had afestive Christmas and plenty of good family time. We are getting good reports from the merchants and restaurants around Bluffton. It may be aproduct of modest expectations, but it seems that business around the holiday was apleasant surprise. Of course, there is still another occasion for celebration coming up which should also generate afinal year-end boost for business.

Consequently, I would like to simplify and amplify my Christmas party message and “regift” it for the New Year.

That message is this: DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE!

My friends Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner and Bluffton Police Chief Dave McAlister have assured me that every available asset will be on the road during the New Year celebration. If you are impaired, please don’t drive —not even for afew blocks. Have adesignated driver or call acab. Even if you manage not to wreck, you will attract law enforcement attention because they are extremely vigilant and you will notice they don’t care even atiny bit about your excuses.
You will go to jail. Celebrate, but be aresponsible adult about it.

Speaking of responsible adults, I want to extend aspecial thanks to a couple of good friends of mine whose support for our local charities not only makes them responsible adults, but extremely generous adults. Their gifts made the holiday more festive for quite afew Bluffton folks. They prefer to remain anonymous but somewhere in the cosmos, ledger entries are being made.

Now for some year-end housekeeping:

We are moving our local legislative offices back to the Commerce Building in the Calhoun Street Promenade. It is the first building on the left as you turn into the Promenade from May River Road, in Suite 202. Iapologize to any of you who might have tried to call and not gotten through. We were in the middle of the move. While Iwas reluctant to be down for any length of time, Ifigured the holidays would be the best time to be unavailable, even if for avery short time. While the phones are still not 100 percent, e-mail is up (schsdistrict118@aol.com). If you couldn’t get through last week, please give it another try. We are here to serve you.
The South Carolina Constitution mandates the new session begin the second Tuesday of January. This year, that means we officially kickoff on Jan. 12. In anticipation, our newly energized Coastal Caucus is preparing an aggressive agenda including clean water initiatives, tourism and jobs promotion, and the enhancement of the Waddell Center here in Bluffton. In addition, your Beaufort County Delegation, along with our Beaufort County Council, Board of Education and municipal partners, are bustin’ to get at it. This is going to be agreat year for Bluffton, Beaufort County and District 118.

Finally, our dedicated legislative office manager Cathy and Iwant to thank you for all the nice notes and cards we received during the holiday season. The count was nearly 500 cards and letters, which is pretty impressive. What really impressed us, though, was the kindness and generosity of the messages. We work pretty hard to justify your confidence and will certainly continue to do so. Nonetheless, Iamtouched that so many of you appreciate what we do, and were kind enough to write and say so.

It means alot.

Monday, December 21, 2009

From the soapbox: Don't drink and drive over the holidays

Bluffton Today

Mary and I want to wish you a merry Christmas, or happy Hanukkah, or whatever you might be celebrating this time of year.

Please give a thought to the more solemn aspects of your celebration and try not to get too carried away with the parties and the holly jolly. You are not only my constituents; a huge number of you are personal friends. We don’t want this holiday season to include avoidable family tragedy. In that spirit, please indulge me a moment on the soapbox.

When you party, have a designated driver. Failing that, make sure you have the number of a local cab company with you, log it into your cell phone, or pin it to your shirt. If you are impaired, call a cab. It’s so easy and so prudent to avoid what may be a life-altering event caused by a split second of inattention.

Forgive me if I sound like a scolding parent. If you must know, I am the father of a child with a driver’s license and as such, am always in a certain state of traffic-related anxiety.

I know that preparing for the holidays is a lot more fun that writing emails to your representative, so I want to express my gratitude and amazement at the incredible number of letters and emails we got in response to my column on government red tape. You not only had complaints about what you have endured, many of you included good suggestions for making things better and more efficient. Friends, your words and ideas are going with me to Columbia, and we are going to make a difference. Thank you.

I also want to thank the Democratic Club for their hospitality and kind reception of my remarks last week. I gave a brief overview of the upcoming legislative session and what they can expect from their legislative delegation in the coming year. They may have learned a little from me, but I learned a lot from them. Good ideas on good governance are always appreciated regardless of party affiliation.

Awhile back, I told you about Clemson student Rachel Bedowsky and how she had interned with the SC Dept. of Employment Security, and how she impressed all with her ability and dedication. I have been told that Rachel has taken another highly coveted internship in the private sector with a prestigious company, where her work ethic and drive continues to impress. Rachel’s successes speak volumes about solid family support, a good educational foundation, and the importance of personal initiative.

Finally, this may be the year when we break the shutout with regard to the state funding formulas of our public schools. Not only is the delegation gearing up for a battle on this, County Council Chairman Weston Newton and School Board Chairman Fred Washington have outlined their own aggressive strategies to finally achieve funding equity for our schools. We are prepared to utilize the courts; we will look at a charter school strategy, and even consider creating a unified school district to bring a fair share of your tax dollars back to support our local schools. Watch this space for play by play.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Red tape tied you up?

Bluffton Today

Two weeks ago in my column devoted to extolling the success we are enjoying with creating new jobs in Old Town Bluffton, I made a mistake. I inadvertently omitted the Choo Choo Barbeque from my recitation of great places to eat we now have in the neighborhood. These folks work hard and put out a good product and I apologize for the oversight.

In this same column, I introduced an idea that will play large in the next session of the General Assembly as we reconvene after the first of the year. That idea is to create a mechanism or a process to cut through the red tape that oftentimes seems to be binding, and in some cases choking, our entrepreneurial creativity.

The current thinking is we need a blue-ribbon commission to come up with ways to balance the regulatory obligations of the state with the need for a reasonably simple and coherent pathway for the small businessman to start and run a company. Much of the complexity at the local level is prompted by state regulation. If we can come up with ways to balance and streamline these processes, I know we can unlock job creation in the private sector.

I plan to work with Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee, as well as Judiciary, to define the scope of what is possible in this endeavor. My sense is that once we start to simplify our regulatory and administrative processes, we will find that our state manpower needs will shrink somewhat and the private sector will expand.

As is often the case, I need your help. If there are any of you who have experienced instances where red tape has wasted your time or impeded the progress or profitability of your business, I want to hear about it. If you have been caught between two levels of government that have seemingly overlapping jurisdictions in the same matter, tell me about it. If you have run into a state constructed roadblock instead of a helpful person directing traffic, I want you to send me a short, concise narrative, preferably via email, explaining the particulars.

What I want to do is take your stories and use them as testimony as our red tape reduction initiative makes its way through the committee system. As always, the end point of this process, as far as I am concerned, is jobs. Part of making government smaller, more efficient, and less intrusive, is to constantly pare away the unnecessary or redundant functions. It is a difficult and frustrating exercise, but now is the time for us to begin. Let me hear your stories.

Last week, our contact count went from average, around 350, to more than 600. Many of those contacts were kind words and stories from veterans who appreciated the comparison between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events of 9-11-01. One of the things about living more than a few years is that we are able to make the connections between the past and the momentary present.

For many of us, 9-11 was the end of our sense of security and invulnerability. In contrast, these older vets could see it in a larger and more complete context. They don’t call them the “greatest generation” for nothing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Car insurance is mandatory but health care is not

Bluffton Today

It looked like we got a little of what Miss Babbie always used to keep the rain off her Bluffton Village Festival. For whatever reason, the rain magically stopped just in time for the Bluffton Christmas Parade last Saturday. The parade route was lined with thousands of Bluffton folks and wannabe Bluffton folks, and the event, as always, more than met expectations.

There was, however, something of a mystery in that my pal Steve Tilton and some of our Rotary compatriots were organized into a clean-up crew following the politicians in the parade lineup. I seem to remember them behind the horses in years past. What could that be about?

Much of last week I was at the annual meeting of a group of medical insurance providers trying to get some visibility on the future of healthcare and health insurance. They shared with me some interesting facts about the breakdown of who is insured and who is uninsured in our state, and what that might imply should we end up with a government mandate for health insurance. I was able to share with them some of your stories of frustration in dealing with both private and government insurers. As with many service providers, the issue of effective communication is a constant challenge for the insurance industry.

According to the insurance group analysis, around 20 percent of South Carolinians are without health insurance. Interestingly, we have mandatory car insurance but 15-20 percent of South Carolinians are uninsured. This will be a conundrum regardless of what comes out of Washington next year.

As a member of Ways and Means, I am very interested in how the new legislation is going to affect our state Medicaid obligation. Right now it looks like the feds will contribute to the funding mandate. However, the funding likely will sunset while the obligation continues. Consequently, we do not have good visibility on our healthcare budget beyond 2 or 3 years, at best.

The cigarette tax is the obvious revenue stream to help fund Medicaid and related items, but many of my colleagues want to backfill the budget with these dollars. 90 percent of Beaufort County voters want a cigarette tax, but only for healthcare support. The politics of this is tricky, but with leadership support, we must get it done and properly allocated. I am already on it.

I want to send a special Christmas hello to Bluffton High School graduate Jennifer Hays. Jennifer is from Prichardville and recently completed Marine Corps basic training and is headed to Camp Lejeune. If you see Jennifer, let her know how proud we are of her. She is one of the bright stars of our local youth.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. December 7, 1941 was the 9-11 of our parents and grandparents. All the horror and anguish we felt watching the towers fall is what they felt hearing the radio accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Two hideous acts bind us across the generations and speak to the evolution of the threats we as a nation face. To Jennifer Hayes and all those who volunteer to face down and vanquish those perils, we owe more than we can ever hope to repay.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bluffton's eatery scene should be a statewide model for success

Bluffton Today

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I know our clan sure did. It is surely a blessing to have a national celebration dedicated to giving thanks. We are almost compelled by the nature of the holiday to conduct a personal inventory of those things that give our lives meaning and worth. For Mary and I, most of our thanksgiving is about family and friends, and despite our rough patches, the scale is always weighted toward the plus side.

The Humane Society benefit oyster roast put on by my pals Russell and Shannon of Captain Woody’s was an out of the park home run. These fellows know how to create a fun event, whether it is for a great cause like the Humane Society or simply you and a couple of friends having lunch outside at the Promenade, enjoying a warm winter Bluffton day.

You may have noticed that Captain Woody’s is only one of a whole raft of great places to eat in Old Town Bluffton. Cork’s Wine Bar is expanding and Ted Huffman’s Bluffton Barbeque is finally open and doing a great business, as is the May River Grill, next to Stock farm Antiques on May River Road. Pepper’s Porch, Squat and Gobble, and Sippin’ Cow are all doing well and filling their particular niche. Mi Tierra, Downtown Deli, and the new Bluffton CafĂ©, along Mellichamp just to the north of the Promenade are all prospering. To this we now add the new Cottage Bakery and Tea Room on Calhoun Street at the Carson Cottages.

These successful businesses are the result of all the effort put into preserving and protecting the historic assets of Bluffton, encouraging and supporting the vibrant art and gallery presence in the old town, as well as keeping the historic district a pleasant and interesting place to live. We have reached a point where all the parts of this economic machine are working in concert with one another. The result is a flood of visitors from Savannah, Beaufort, and Hilton Head, not to mention those folks from beyond the Lowcountry eager to see what all the buzz is about. These visitors are enjoying their time with us, and contributing to the general prosperity of the Old Town district.

To me, this is a model of how business can benefit from the activity of government. The municipal and county governments have created reasonable zoning, an enforceable code, environmental protection and law enforcement, while the state helps with road improvement and general connectivity. All this so the private sector can exercise entrepreneurial creativity to produce jobs and a mutual reinforcing structure of prosperity.

It works in Bluffton because we got the balance between the private and public roles pretty much right.

There is enough regulation so that private investment is secure but not so much that it is bound up in excessive red tape and gratuitous regulatory complexity. To be sure, there are still examples of infuriating delays and redundant and excessive paperwork in starting and operating businesses in Bluffton. However, on the whole, it works.

We had a leadership meeting last week in Charleston at which this topic was front and center. How can we get the balance between public and private necessities as finely tuned as we have in Old Town Bluffton? How can we cut the red tape that seems to stifle our economic productivity? If you have short concise, stories that bear on this issue, email them to me. I am assembling a presentation to support the need for a blue-ribbon study group. You can help.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Red tape will never be good for my constituents

Bluffton Today

I am gratified when I get feedback from this column. There is a lot of thought and effort that goes into this 600 or so words every Monday. Whether the feedback is in agreement or not, I take it seriously and respond when appropriate.

My fellow columnist Carl Lehmann from Sun City read my column of 9 November and essentially devoted two of his columns to explaining my wrong-headedness on a matter touched upon in my effort.

For the matter in question, I wrote three paragraphs recalling my speech before the property owners group at Island West, a pleasant golf community somewhat east of Sun City off Highway 278. The property owners were concerned and upset about the possibility of being annexed into the Town of Bluffton because they were an unincorporated “donut hole” surrounded by the town.

I explained that my work on annexation reform was concerned mainly with developers using annexation as a means of jurisdiction shopping and shouldn’t concern them.
They were also in some anxiety about a senate bill being carried over that was not only going to add to their already considerable maintenance costs, but also add a paperwork burden that seemed gratuitous at best, and silly at worst. Again, my response was not to worry, the senate bill would not pass the house. I stand by that statement.
Mr. Lehmann’s columns of 12 and 19 Nov. took me to task for apparent insensitivity to the needs of the residents of Sun City, a suggestion with which I can’t agree. To his credit, Mr.

Lehmann had done his homework and most of the information he used was correct, although his implication that he and his neighbors were close to insurrection over abusive Pulte policies seemed overwrought. In truth, I agree that some Pulte policy could be made more transparent and user-friendly. However, I don’t believe the senate bill, as written, would do much to ameliorate the ills articulated in Mr. Lehmann’s columns. The bill, if law, would certainly add to the Sun City POA’s costs (his estimate is $75,000/year). It would also add a number of paperwork obligations that, in my view, would not add to the value of the Sun City property.

Most importantly, Mr. Lehmann seems to assume that his neighbors are not the savvy bunch that I know they are. The average Sun City resident is at least 55 (mature), well educated and prosperous enough to be able to afford to live in an upscale community. They or their lawyer presumably read and signed the contracts that defined their relations with Del Webb or Pulte. They didn’t catch the turnip truck from Ohio to get to Beaufort County. To me, the uncertain potential benefit to this bill, as written, is not worth the dollar cost, nor do those possible benefits justify the gratuitous intervention of the state in a private matter.

Mr. Lehmann is a knowledgeable, serious man for whom I have great respect. He deserved a serious response to his argument. While he and I agree on much, on this we disagree.

If I seemed to have gone farther in my rebuttal than required, it is because I am currently working on legislation that would cut red tape instead of create more, as I think the bill in question would surely do. More on that later.

Once again, Bluffton Township Fire District is cooking Boston Butts by pre-order. They are to benefit Ray Nettles, a brave ten-year-old boy diagnosed with leukemia. Call Crystal @ 757-1948

Monday, November 16, 2009

Legislators need your help watching our eroding shorelines

Bluffton Today

Veteran’s Day is always a big deal in Beaufort County and this year was no exception. Not only do we have a large military population, we have a great number of military retirees and veterans, both retired and working. Both the weather and the sad events at Fort Hood cast something of a pall over the public commemorations this year, but our feelings of gratitude and respect for the sacrifice and service of our veterans was just as heartfelt as during any parade or flyover.

In keeping with this, I got a call recently from a new friend, Russ Spicer, who happens to live out at Hampton Hall in Bluffton. Russ had a very moving story about a friend of his who was wounded during military service.

Russ and several other veterans are organizing an extensive program that will key into the Wounded Warrior Project that provides services for wounded military service members and caregivers. They are planning a golf tournament and other events to help get this effort off the ground. If you are interested in being a part of this good work, give me a call and I will put you in touch with Russ, or you can call him directly. Russ has promised to keep us informed on the scheduling of events and possible opportunities for volunteers to participate.

One of the issues we are going to be working on as we reconvene after the first of the year has to do with shoreline change along our coastal areas. My friend and colleague, Representative Shannon Erickson is particularly engaged in this area as her district encompasses Hunting Island State Park and a number of barrier island communities that are struggling with how to deal with our dynamic coastline.

There is a blue-ribbon panel, which has been studying this problem for over two years. They have published a final draft report which includes recommendations on how we should deal with not only erosion along our rivers and beaches, but also how we should handle the dredging requirements of the various channels and marinas along the coast.

With the tragedy of Hunting Island State Park rapidly eroding and the memory of the dredging debacle on the south end of Hilton Head Island still fresh in our memory, we need as many eyes on this draft report as possible. I am going to give you a pathway from the DHEC site to the report. Please look over the document and let me know what you think needs to be added or subtracted or whether you think the advisory committee got it pretty much right. My thinking is that it is a pretty solid piece of work, but we need to hear from you.

Go to: www.scdhec.gov and click on “environment”. Scroll down and click on “Coastal/Ocean” and then look on the upper right side of the page under “DHEC/OCRM Headlines” for Draft Final Report of the Shoreline Change Advisory Committee.

Representative Erickson will probably be the point of the spear on this effort, but the more we can hear from you, the more likely we can craft productive changes to the current regime, and the more likely we avoid unintended consequences. We know that the sea levels are rising and our already dynamic shorelines are subject to increasing pressures from the ocean and landward from development. We have to be proactive to conserve our natural resources, as well as preserve the tremendous economic benefit we derive from our geography.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Should legislators impeach governor?

Bluffton Today

I had a great meeting with an interesting group of folks over at Island West last week. The affair was put together by my friends Bob and Phyllis Bidwell, who are residents and among the community leaders in that pleasant neighborhood. I had a good time, and as usual, I learned at least as much as I was able to impart.

One of the issues of interest to those in attendance had to do with the particulars of annexation, especially as it applies to “donut holes”.

Donut holes in this context are neighborhoods, which are in the unincorporated areas but are surrounded, at least partially, by a municipality.

There is concern that Island West may be compelled to annex into Bluffton against the wishes of the majority of residents. Under current law, that would be extremely unlikely. My efforts at annexation reform have not been aimed so much at resolving jurisdictional discontinuities, as with the common practice among some developers of “zoning shopping”. Residential communities have greater safeguards against unwelcome annexation than commercial properties. With commercial, if they are contiguous to a municipality, they are subject to annexation with no vote, and precious little due process. While there are two sides to that story, my sympathies are certainly with a process that involves the “consent of the governed”.

Another area of concern that we talked about was a senate bill that is being carried over that would impose certain obligations on neighborhoods or subdivisions that I feel are onerous and inappropriate. Property owners associations (POAs) have a great deal of legal authority and are a de facto unit of government. They allow for a great deal of self-determination within the community and generally do a pretty good job of responding to the needs of the residents. If folks are unhappy, they can support a change in leadership, or run for a seat themselves. Once again, we have a version of government that operates with “the consent of the governed”. The senate bill will not pass the house.

The recent municipal election in Bluffton didn’t attract much attention. It also didn’t have a degree of turnout that should make one proud. I was, however, proud of how all the candidates kept the campaigns to a high level and disagreed on matters of policy and implementation, and not trivia.

Back in the late spring and early summer, I absorbed a fair bit of abuse for not jumping on the impeachment bandwagon when the governor’s personal life became a public story. After the Boeing announcement last week, a got a few calls and a few email apologies from friends who belatedly made the connection between the Boeing deal and my seeming to let the governor off the hook.

Those of us in the leadership of the House and Senate, who were also involved in the negotiations, could not publicly advocate the impeachment of the governor while he was a key player in that process. At least a thousand good jobs were directly on the line in the Lowcountry. The number of ancillary jobs may be twice or three times that many.

When the General Assembly reconvenes after the first of the year, the impeachment issue will be on the early agenda. What do you think needs to happen? Let me hear from you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jobless help is coming

Bluffton Today

We had plenty of calls last week on the extension of unemployment benefits using the federal stimulus money. I’m happy to report that as of this writing, the technical measure to place our state in compliance with the federal criteria for receiving those dollars is likely headed to the governor by the end of the week, if not sooner. For those of you who called and said you had run out of benefits, you are going to be restored and your unemployment check will be made retroactive to your last pay period.

There is a seriousness of purpose here in Columbia with regard to the joblessness situation throughout our state. The status quo is unacceptable and we should use every tool available to support our idled workers while they find jobs. However, while we aid the unemployed, we should also redouble our efforts to attract good jobs to our state so that we are not dependent on seasonal or potentially transient industries.

In our area, I am working with Kim Statler and her colleagues at the Lowcountry Economic Alliance to fulfill our remaining 2009 agenda items and roll those that are incomplete over to the 2010 session. Among those projects is an initiative to reform our state’s economic development criteria so it is based on the average regional wage rather than per capita income.

While Beaufort County is #1 in per capita income, we are below Jasper County at #22 in average weekly wage. Although we certainly benefit from our contingent of wealthy retirees, we shouldn’t be penalized in our efforts to utilize the state’s economic development apparatus. Interestingly, this is also part of the EFA (Education Finance Act) formula that greatly restricts state support to our public schools.

I am also working to amend the South Carolina Incentive Qualifications for headquarters relocation so that incentives are available as long as a minimum of 10% of corporate payroll is dedicated to headquarters employees who earn twice the state average per capita income. This will open the door and put out the welcome mat to a much larger number of companies who have expressed an interest in relocating here but need a little boost in our direction. While I am certainly interested in attracting the large, 600+ employee companies to Beaufort County, it makes for a more stable economy if we can also attract 30 companies that employ 20 or more workers, especially when times are hard.

Finally, I want to share something that has tremendous potential upside for the Lowcountry. That is, the Boeing Corp has decided to expand in the Charleston area and we in Beaufort County are in line to host some of the ancillary companies that feed parts and supplies to the assembly operation. As chairman of the Economic Development Sub-committee of Ways and Means, I attended a recent marathon meeting that went into the early morning hours. Agreements were struck. The upshot is that when the Boeing project materializes, we will see a significant influx of good-paying, mostly technical jobs into Beaufort County.

Enjoy our gorgeous fall weather and let’s start thinking about the Thanksgiving holiday. I think it’s appropriate that we have a holiday dedicated specifically to gratitude.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Emotions, not politics, too often rule in Columbia

October 26, 2009

Tomorrow I will be headed back to Columbia for the special session of the General Assembly. It is necessary that we tweak some of the criteria for the Employment Security Commission to continue the unemployment benefits for some 7,000 South Carolinians for another 20 weeks.

I consulted with the speaker on this issue last week and we agreed that regardless of whatever complexities might arise from a special session, it was imperative that we do what was necessary to extend those unemployment benefits. Too many families were in jeopardy of losing more than had already been lost because of the current recession.

Law making has been correctly compared with sausage making because you might not want to know too much about the particulars of either. However, I want you to have a fair understanding of how the legislature might have adjourned this spring with such a crucial detail left hanging. It also may give you some idea why your legislator is reluctant to become enmeshed in the personal spats that sometimes erupt between public figures. It invariably leads to distraction from our mission, which is to protect the interests of the citizens of our state.

Technically, the director of the Employment Security Commission should have made certain that the legislature was aware of the necessity of the criteria change for the federally sponsored unemployment benefit extension. Unfortunately, the director, Ted Halley, was in something of a battle with the governor and his allies over things that the governor required of the ESC. The governor was also in a battle with the federal government over acceptance of stimulus money, some of which would go to ESC. As the session progressed, more and more of my colleagues were taking side on multiple issues, some ideological and some simply personal.

When eventually there was a bill, submitted by Rep. Kenny Bingham (R-Lexington), that would have fixed the employment benefit problem, it failed to pass because the bill also gave the governor more power over the ESC, and members were already so divided over the various feuds, plus the fact that there was some confusion over whether the bill would commit the house to continuing the increased employment insurance support after the stimulus expired.

There you have it. There is much more, but the bottom line is we have to go back tomorrow and finish our work. Much of my success in the legislature has to do with the fact that I don’t let my emotions drive my policy agenda. My core political belief is that good jobs support strong families. I can also get along with folks with whom I might have fundamental disagreements, and I can get things done with those same folks because, for me, the work is more important than the credit. Unfortunately, when we let these distractions become emotional issues, the work doesn’t get done.

Some good news: As of 1 July 2009, Beaufort County is the home of world famous Kazoobie Kazoos. According to President and COO, Steven Murray, the company has hired a number of employees and occupies 6500 square feet of production and warehouse space on John Galt Road in Beaufort.

I am confident that other companies are going to locate or expand in Beaufort County for the same reasons as Kazoobie. Next week, I will detail some specific things I will be working on to find those companies and attract more good jobs to our area.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The property reassessment process is anything but easy here

Bluffton Today

We have gotten a fair number of calls and emails on the reassessment notices that have recently arrived in the mailboxes of Beaufort County property owners.

While we are always happy to offer information and assistance to constituents, this is primarily a county matter.

Reassessment is mandated by the South Carolina Code of Laws. It calls for a reappraisal and adjustment of valuation of all real property in each county every five years.

Ideally, it should reflect changes in the current market value of each property to insure fairness in the taxation process.

If we lived in an area where property values were fairly stable, the reassessment process would be easy, and there would not be that many surprises when we open that letter from the county. Unfortunately, parts of Beaufort County have seen some very wild swings in valuation in the last few years. This adds a measure of complexity to the process.

Adding somewhat to an already complex situation is Property Tax Reform Act 388. This law was a response to the escalating valuations, especially during the real estate bubble, where some folks saw their assessments double or triple over a five-year reassessment period.

Act 388, among other things, limits the increase in the valuation of a property to 15% of the last reassessment, unless the property has been improved, transferred or sold.

As you might imagine, this has led to some big discrepancies in the taxation on similar houses in the same neighborhood. It also has served as something of a brake on home sales, especially concerning to my friends in the real estate business.

While Act 388 is up for review in the next session, and will most likely be extensively worked over, for today your reassessment is capped at 15% if you meet the criteria. If not, you may want to get in touch with the county assessor’s office for a more detailed explanation, including how you may appeal your reassessment.

For general information, the best place to start is the county website, www.bcgov.net.

You can also get up with County Assessor Ed Hughes at P.O. Box 1508, Beaufort, SC 29901-1508. His phone is: 470-2522 and fax is 470-2512. The Bluffton office is located at 4819 Bluffton Parkway, in the Myrtle Park Building, room 220. The phone there is 757-1500, extension 236, and the fax is 757-1046. The Hilton Head office is located at 539 William Hilton Parkway, room 106. The phone there is 341-8411, and the fax is 341-2811.

Yesterday was the big kick-off for the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival. There was a great boat parade and a gospel sing, with everyone having a fantastic time.

The event runs every day through next Sunday. For all the information, go to: www.blufftonartsandseafoodfestival.com. For example, today there is a “lunch and learn” event at the Waddell Mariculture Center in Greater Bluffton. My pal, Al Stokes, will lead a tour of the world-class facility at 10 this morning, which will be followed by a Bluffton Oyster Company seafood buffet (also world-class) on the grounds overlooking the Colleton River at Victoria Bluff. Call 815-6278 for a reservation.

Every day there is something equally cool and interesting going on, culminating Saturday and Sunday with the art fair on and around beautiful Calhoun St.

Friends, this is the real deal. It is Bluffton’s week to share its culture, its gorgeous natural landscape, and its inimitable quirky spirit. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Comments on healthcare help guide legislation

Bluffton Today

It has been “all hands on deck” this last week at your legislative office. We received more than 750 calls and emails during this period, an extremely high number for a non-session week. Once again, I asked for your help and you responded.

As for my request for information or a contact person on small businesses looking to relocate, your help has resulted in a load of “actionable intelligence.” Those leads have been passed along to the appropriate agents and contacts are already being made. My thinking on this jobs challenge is that we need to turn over every rock to find the businesses that are the right fit for Beaufort County and District 118. We are utilizing the entire bandwidth of possibilities from calling good locally generated leads, to supporting the good work of Kim Statler and the Lowcountry Economic Network, as well as leveraging my position as chairman of the Economic Development Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee to insure positive attention from the South Carolina Dept. of Commerce. On a meta level, my efforts on the Jasper Port are essentially about jobs, even if those jobs that may be years down the road.

The real call generator, however, was my request for you to send your ideas and suggestions on how we can improve efficiency and lower costs in our current healthcare delivery system. I wanted to hear your stories and benefit from your experiences, and we heard from you loud and clear.

However, there were so many of you that called, we were unable to get a good record of your ideas. I need for you to either email me or write me a letter or note detailing your preferences. Here’s why this is important:

My participation at the Alliance of Health Plans annual healthcare conference will not be passive. I’m not just going to show up, get a badge, and quietly listen to all the new and innovative things the health insurance folks have come up with. I want to arrive prepared to address areas of your concern when it comes to what our health insurance dollars purchase. I want to represent your ideas for reducing or eliminating as much of the waste and seemingly intentional aggravation that we often suffer at the hands of some insurers. For this to happen, we need to be able to organize your information into meaningful statistics, charts and graphs and be able to present it not only to the sponsors of the meeting, but other attendees as well. If we cannot help the health insurance industry do a better, more cost-efficient job of allocating the massive number of dollars they collect from us, I fear that the current reform efforts under way at the federal level will ultimately undermine the viability of the private health insurance industry. The surest way to protect the system is to help the managers understand that questionable business practices and an unsustainable pricing structure do not produce good value for either customers or shareholders.

The streetscaping in Old Town Bluffton is drawing to a close with only a few areas left to finish up. Things are looking great and should be squared away in time for the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival, which is coming up the 18th to the 25th of October.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's time to think small on recovering from the recession

Bluffton Today

As usual, we got good calls last week, especially in response to my invitation for small businesses possibly looking for opportunity in the best part of the Lowcountry. If you are involved with a company, even in a small way, and have a contact person who might begin the exploratory process that could ultimately lead the firm to relocate, or even create an annex here, I need to hear from you.

Before our last legislative session, you heard from me an outline of why it was critical for your representative to find a seat on the Ways and Means Committee. You also learned that my sub-committee assignment was as chairman of the group tasked with locating and securing new and expanding businesses for our state.

My motivation in seeking these positions was so that I might bring a focus to my highest legislative priority, which is job creation. The recent economic downturn has added increased urgency to my mission. Chronically high unemployment has diminished our state in every way possible. It affects our tax structure, our social welfare obligations, and even our ability to reform in areas that require profound reworking.

In my view, if we can answer the challenge of creating the business climate that is conducive for economic expansion, we can put our folks to work. In fact, if each small business in South Carolina hired just one more worker, we would have zero unemployment. One of my strategies for addressing this challenge is to tailor economic incentives to bring small businesses to our area and our state.

From where I sit, we have an extensive toolbox with which to help potential partners to see the benefit of joining us. Whether it is attractive and affordable space in the Bluffton Tech Park, or flexible taxation, or the ability to access specialized worker training, we can get it done.

When everyone in our state that needs a job, has a job, I think we can begin to systematically work on other areas of need that cannot even be addressed as we lurch from crisis to crisis.

Speaking of crises, I plan on being a participant at the Alliance of Health Plans annual healthcare conference in December. I need to hear from you on this, as well. What are your ideas on how we can adjust the system to increase efficiency and lower costs? One of my reasons for attending this conference is to see if what I’m hearing from you bears any meaningful relationship to the presentations I will hear at the meeting. In any case, this will be something I will be reporting to you about.

It would be extremely helpful if I could go to the conference with good, solid, workable input from you as individuals, as business owners, or as retirees looking to protect and supplement your current healthcare provisions.

Finally, I had a wonderful visit with the fourth grade class at St. Gregory. It was a pleasure to speak with bright young people with inquisitive minds who also seem to understand that discipline and respect for teachers are prerequisites for a first rate education.

I also got to chat with my friend, Dr. Terry O’Neal, a renaissance man who teaches classic languages. Also impressive was the number of volunteers helping out in every classroom. The value of parental involvement with education cannot be overstated.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another legislative good intention backfires on the Lowcountry

Bluffton Today

This past week was filled with productive meetings and a lot of highway miles.

There was a leadership meeting in Columbia, which was the classic good news/bad news scenario. It looks like we won’t have to cut the budget almost five percent, as we thought. The bad news is we are looking at a cut of around two percent. Either way, I’m making the rounds of my colleagues (again) trying to get support for a comprehensive overhaul of the tax system. It seems that I have engaged that thankless task more than a few times already in my political career. Maybe this time…

I met with the Hilton Head Homebuilders Association for the purpose of giving them an update on pending legislation. We also had a good discussion on some of the fallout from Act 388, which as you remember was a law that replaced a part of school supporting property tax with a penny sales tax, as well as imposed a cap on increases in certain property taxes.

We have been in the process of trying to sort out some of the unintended consequences of Act 388. My friend Steve Tilton was right on the mark when he commented that recent events have only served to exaggerate the inequities we in the Lowcountry endure relative to state funding of education.

Believe me, we get it. There are currently three mutually supporting strategies in play to address the problem.

I am working the House version; Senator Davis is working the Senate, and Beaufort County Council, under the leadership of Chairman Weston Newton, is producing a local plan. You will hear more on this as we roll out early next session.

I also had a chance to meet with the Sun City Republican Club for an eye opening question and answer period. It’s always a productive experience for me to sit with this group of well informed, engaged folks. They come from all over the country and have a variety of life experiences and political wisdom. As always, I am grateful to Rachel Buie, Sherri Zedd and Lou Herzog for putting the meeting together.

Jobs were the only item on the agenda when I met with my friends Tom Zinn and Matt Green with regard to the Tech Park. We are in the process of revising our recruitment strategies for participation in the Tech Park. While we have had success in attracting potential tenants among the intermediate and larger companies, and are currently in negotiations with some outstanding firms, we have decided to also focus on the small shops or post garage startups, as well.

We are developing a system to identify and contact these companies with an eye toward offering tailored incentives to get them down here. The prospect of the next Apple or Adobe Systems getting started in 600 square feet of the Tech Park in Bluffton is certainly exciting.

This is an attractive part of the country. We have great climate and a superb quality of life. We have two local institutions of higher learning ready and able to train specialty workers. We even have more fiber-optic cable already in the ground than any other city in the state. If you work for that exceptional company that just might benefit from a move to the best part of the Sunbelt, give me a call or shoot me an email and I will get the ball rolling.

Monday, September 21, 2009

S.C. 46 work nearly complete; DOT digs in on Bruin Road

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all of you who called or emailed this week regarding my comments last week on the cultural aspects of our beautiful piece of the Lowcountry.

The idea that a rich and interesting culture is good for business is not original with me but it is something that I have managed to leverage from time to time. I think the fact that even with serious downpours last Friday, the Art in the Windows and the Old Town Art Walk were successful says a lot about what people value and want to support. This value is what accounts for many of the new businesses opening in Bluffton.

Another thing that helps to define our community is the value we place on our natural resources. Every time the Friends of the Rivers has a river cleanup, there are always crowds of folks there to lend a hand. Every time I ask you to show up at a meeting to help our state regulators understand our community’s insistence upon meaningful oversight of development, you are there in overwhelming numbers. Your commitment to this cause is my commitment as well.

As your representative, I express that commitment to conservation and preservation of our natural heritage within the General Assembly on every possible occasion. In fact, I was in Columbia this week to accept the “Legislator of the Year” award from the Conservation Voters of South Carolina at their annual Green Tie Luncheon. This is an award I accepted on your behalf.

For those outside the town limits of Bluffton, and especially my friends out in Sun City, I want you to know the bulk of the roadwork in Old Town is coming to an end. They have been working 24/7 to finish the section of May River Road in the Historic District. While it is not absolutely complete, it is pretty close.

There have been a few issues regarding the streetscape that I have been able to work out by providing good offices between my pal, Buck Limehouse, Secretary of SCDOT, and the Town of Bluffton. I recently spoke with Mayor Lisa Sulka, Assistant Town Manager Marc Orlando, and newly installed Manager Anthony Barrett about Bruin Road and how the town and DOT might work together to get beyond some troublesome technical matters. It was a good meeting and it also helped to keep the lines of communication working between the different levels of government.

Lastly, many of the calls this week had to do with Congressman Joe Wilson. The feeling is obviously running high on this topic. So high, in fact, that much of the commentary was about how people were feeling, and not so much about what they were thinking. I’m going to hold my thoughts on this matter for a while until things cool off and perhaps a bit of perspective can reenter the conversation. I will say this: Congressman Wilson has a staffer in his Beaufort office that is the wizard of visa and passport issues. Chris Steele has been able to work administrative magic (the hardest kind) on a number of cases I have referred. Her number in Beaufort is 521-2530.

Don’t forget the Bluffton Jazz and Blues Festival on Saturday, 3 Oct. Also, the Historic Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival is 18-25 Oct. All will be big fun: More info later.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Save the May River Theatre Co.;buy some tickets to the show

Bluffton Today

It has been a productive “off season” from the legislative session. I have made some very promising contacts with businesses looking at Greater Bluffton and southern Beaufort County as places to expand or relocate businesses, or possibly establish a new corporate headquarters.

One of the things that always impresses these business folks is the interesting cultural aspect of Bluffton, especially the arts and artists that we support in our area.

Sometimes, they need to leave the rust belt or the high real estate costs of the big city, but they are reluctant to move key employees to a place without a certain level of cultural amenity. A tour of the arts district of Old Town Bluffton is a huge selling point for potential new business neighbors.

A particularly impressive part of the art community is the May River Theater. Now in their 8th season, artistic director Jodie DuPuis and business manager Ed DuPuis have created a charming and successful amateur theater company. Housed in the Ulmer Auditorium of Bluffton Town Hall, the May River Theater is an institution of which we can all be justifiably proud.

Unfortunately, the recession has not spared this worthy outfit, and they find themselves behind in their financial projections for the year. Consequently, they are holding a classy fundraiser at Cork’s Wine Bar on Sunday, 27 September, from 4 ­ 7 p.m. Entertainment will be by “The Great Pretenders” with support from the talented May River Theater performers.

Tickets are $50 each and will be available at the door or by calling 837-7798. I hope you will join me for this fun event.

There is another arts event this weekend right here in Old Town Bluffton. Called “Art in the Windows” and spearheaded by the talented and hyperkinetic Diane Dean, this event will feature displays of two and three dimensional art in the windows of the businesses around the Promenade, as well as an art walk including the usual venues in the Arts District. There will be artists working on the streets, as well as an after-school chalk art contest for the kids. Suzette Surkamer, former executive director of the SC Arts Commission, will deliver the keynote address.

The art will be in the windows all week but the fun officially kicks off early Friday and will include a wine tasting, music all over town, a treasure hunt with prizes, and the art walk will continue until at least 8 or 9. Bring your kids and have some quality family fun time-- right here at home.

Speaking of fun, I had breakfast with the ROMEO s out at Sun City last Wed. The ROMEO s (Retired Old Men Eating Out) are a great bunch of fellows and I want to thank Ernie and the crew for their good work. There was good conversation and an ample ration of laughter to go along with the astute questions and sound opinions from guys that have been around.

Don’t forget about the jobs fairs at the Beaufort campus of Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) on 3 October. I have been working hard with Senator Davis and Representative Erickson, along with the good folks from Employment Security Commission, to assure that this is a productive event.

There were a few calls wanting to know why we didn’t have the fair at the Bluffton campus. It’s a fair question and the answer is: We flipped a coin.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Should Sanford be impeached?

Bluffton Today

This column will cover aspects of both my favorite and least favorite matters. First, I’d like to discuss some job-related topics (favorite) and end with a recitation of what was decided at the caucus meetings last week in Myrtle Beach relating to our governor (least favorite).

A couple of week’s ago, I told you about Reclamation by Design, a business in Bluffton that is doing interesting projects in the area. In my enthusiasm, I neglected to mention that Jim Johnson, a Bluffton resident, is the CEO of the business and one of their creative spark plugs. This is doubly regrettable in that Jim is a good friend and a fellow for whom I have great admiration and respect. It seems that even Bluffton Today’s runner-up “Best Politician” is not immune to error.

Greg Gilbert is head of the Beaufort office of the SC Vocational Rehabilitation Department. Greg’s office was recently rated number one in direct placement in the state. They are having an open house 21 October in recognition of National Disability Employment Month. They get rehab done efficiently and get folks back in the job market. Their number is 843-522-1010. This is a state program that works.

Sen. Tom Davis, Rep. Shannon Erickson and your representative have put together a job fair at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort on the 3rd of October. Under the auspices of the SC Employment Security Commission, this job fair will be a good opportunity for those needing to connect or reconnect with what is currently available. You will be surprised at the new possibilities.

So many of you have asked about the Republican caucus meetings last week, particularly about the future of our current governor. Here is my take:

Regarding the governor, we had a wide-ranging and open discussion. As a group, we are angry, disgusted, and disappointed with the governor and the choices he has left us. Significantly, no one rose to defend Mark Sanford or his actions or his explanations. On the contrary, my colleague Rep. Greg Dellaney gave a speech, perhaps an oration, which seemed to move the group toward active consensus.

Rep. Dellaney explained that if the governor had been a military officer and had gone AWOL for a week, he would likely be in Leavenworth by now. If he had been your employee and disappeared for a week, he would be unemployed. Yet the governor wishes to be excused-- to be made the exception to rules that would surely apply to you and me. The logic of Rep. Dellaney’s words was compelling and persuasive.

The caucus agreed to send a letter to the governor asking him to resign. If he refuses, the next conversation will be about impeachment. As a practical matter, impeachment is a political neutron bomb. It will unleash a level of distracting and toxic politics the likes of which we have rarely seen. The succession, whether by resignation or impeachment, is also freighted with peril.
However, if the governor is about brinksmanship, he will be disappointed. I have heard from you loud and clear on this. As your representative, I promise to do your will. Having said that, I also know that we have so much work to do to get our unemployed back to work, our children decently educated, our environment properly protected, and all the other things that will languish while we are distracted by impeachment and its aftershocks.

Given the above, you and I need to have a calm, rational dialogue. The stakes are high and the impact will be long lasting. Give it some prayerful thought and let me hear you.

Monday, August 31, 2009

It's not a joke: Good jobs are coming back

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all the many of you who supported me and my family with your kind wishes and prayers during the passing of my father. While his death was not unexpected, the finality of losing a parent is something of a shock.

I was also somewhat unprepared for the tremendous outpouring of sympathy and condolence from not only our Lowcountry and Columbia friends, but from around the state, as well. Together, we were privileged to celebrate the life of a good man who loved his wife, took care of his family, fought hard for his country, and always did his best to make his place in the world better than he found it. We are grateful and will not forget.

Today at 10 a.m., the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation will meet in Beaufort. My friend, Weston Newton, chairman of County Council, has graciously invited us to make use of council chambers for our meeting. At the present time, we are scheduled to hear from my friend Joe Harden, chairman of the South Carolina Highway Commission, as well as Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and Acting Bluffton Town Manager Mark Orlando.

Much of last week, I was in Myrtle Beach for not only the Republican Caucus meeting but the Coastal Caucus as well. We have a special session coming up in October and there are quite a number of matters that need sorting out. Unfortunately, I was the only member of the delegation that could attend for the full event. I was, however, in touch with Rep. Shannon Erickson, the other effective member of our House delegation.

A few weeks ago, I made some bold statements in this column about our part of the Lowcountry leading the state out of recession. I referenced the new businesses opening in the Old Town as examples of an improved economic environment that was likely to be a bellwether for the region and the state.

The statements did not pass without notice or comment, mostly skeptical, from several of you who emailed to question my motives and my sanity. I’m happy to report that two weeks after my predictions, the feds essentially confirmed my speculations at the national level. Now, we have new numbers from the state employment security folks reporting a significant improvement in state and local employment. It’s not a great number, but it is a better number.

Also, just within the last few days, the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce reports that occupancy figures around the county are improving, as are a whole host of metrics they follow.

People are finding those good jobs. Entrepreneurs are creating jobs. They may not be dream jobs in every case, but they may be two jobs removed from that dream job. Right now, Rea Construction, from Beaufort, has more than twenty people resurfacing the roads out in Moss Creek. A paycheck is so much better on so many levels than an unemployment check.

Friends, when I go to these meetings or conferences, the one thing at the top of my mind is jobs. How can I make my state, or my county, or my district, so attractive to good companies, they will just have to locate here? This, of course, involves sensible tax policy, fair and understandable regulation, good schools, and a clean and healthy environment among the many things that are important to the type of businesses we want to attract.

Good jobs make for strong families. My dad taught me that. He didn’t simply tell me, he showed me. He lived it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Waste not, want not' should be encouraged

Bluffton Today

I want everyone to know that Monday, August 31, will be the legislative meeting for the delegation. The meeting will be in Beaufort County and if you wish to be on the agenda, please call the legislative office and let Ashley know your contribution or requirement. I expect this will be a long and productive meeting and I look forward to hearing directly from you on the issues we are either working on or should be working on.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking before the Green Building Association of Beaufort County. These are a great bunch of folks who are generally leading the building industry into what will be a more appropriate model of prosperity in a resource challenged economic environment. Super efficient insulation and systems combined with new ways of using materials are revolutionizing how we build and power our homes and businesses.

The meeting was held at Corks in the Promenade and was hosted by Pat and Ron Strimpfel, long-time Blufftonians and owners of an innovative company called Preservation by Design. Headquartered in Bluffton, Preservation by Design does some pretty interesting things, not the least of which is taking down old factories and warehouses and using the recycled materials in structures they design/build. You have seen their work in the Garden Gate building on Highway 46 near the 4-way stop.

They recently completed Captain Woody’s Restaurant and are nearing completion of Ted Huffman’s Barbeque Shack. Not only are these some extraordinary buildings, they are made largely from materials that would have probably been hauled to the landfill.

Essentially, they have taken what might have been “waste” that would have been expensive to haul away, and turned it into valuable and distinctive materials that have added value to the new structures into which they were deployed.

One of the things that I really like about this business model is that it is something we in Bluffton have already been doing for generations. Repurposing buildings and reusing materials is just the way things were always done. Matt Taylor’s architecture studio was originally a department store. Jacob Preston’s pottery business is housed in what was once a church. The two art cooperatives on Calhoun Street are in structures that were once government housing on Hilton Head Island during WW2. The list goes on.

By extension, this business model also illustrates one of the bedrock principles of pragmatic conservatism: Value, in all its forms, should be preserved, conserved, and, when appropriate, adapted. This applies equally to the durable wisdom embedded in our constitutional framework and to the 12 by 12 timbers in the old hunting lodge at Palmetto Bluff. It applies to the conservation ethos expressed as “waste not, want not” as it does to the implanted heart that now beats in the chest of our friend George Moody.

With this in mind, I have proposed, and will introduce as legislation, a tax credit to apply to the use of certain reclaimed and reused building materials. While government is not appropriately in the business of choosing winners and losers in the marketplace, it is appropriate for government to reward those business practices that generally reflect positively on societal as well as bottom-line values. This is a proposal that is a win for consumers, for business, as well as posterity.

I will report the particulars as they evolve.

Monday, August 17, 2009

'Green and clean' and good business go together

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all of you who emailed or called with words of support on the clerk of court matter. I am especially grateful to the lawyering community for their overwhelming approval of my handling of this unfortunate situation. Last week’s column, in my view, answered all the concerns that might reasonably be held. Apparently, the more serious and sober among us agreed with the wisdom of the plan and the need for its expeditious execution.

As you read this, I am in Winston-Salem, NC, at the Southern Legislative Conference. I came up Sunday and will likely be here until Tuesday. As much as I dislike giving up a Sandbar Sunday with my family and Bluffton friends, this conference is such a great opportunity to meet with business concerns that might be considering an expansion or relocation, I just can’t miss it. You may be tired of hearing me go on and on about the necessity of attracting quality companies to our area. Companies that offer good jobs to support Bluffton families. You might, however, feel differently if you needed one of those jobs, or one of your children had to move away in search of one of those jobs.

In a somewhat related vein, I recently got a congratulatory letter from an outfit called BIPEC. BIPEC is the South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee. These are folks that push for legislation that they perceive as friendly to business and industry. BIPEC has a complicated calculus for determining if a particular legislator is “business friendly” or not. They do this by comparing a district’s expectation score with a metric involving a particular legislator’s voting record. I said it was complicated, didn’t I? Well, the upshot of the deal is that your legislator more than doubled their expectation score, apparently an unprecedented event.

I was, of course, grateful for the recognition, especially since I had also been named “Legislator of the Year” by the South Carolina Conservation Voters, as reported to you in a previous column. Can one person be acknowledged by a business and industry group, as well as by one of the state’s premier environmental groups? What does this mean?

What I think it means is this: In order for our state to advance, we must all realize that good business is “green and clean” business. A conservation ethos already is part of the DNA of all forward-looking companies and corporations. It is a way of tracking and managing the true costs of doing business that separate the success stories of the future from the cautionary tales of the past.

It is also recognition of the fact that for too long, we have been told that we have to choose between jobs and a clean and healthy place to live and work. In the old days, an industry might ignore the true cost of doing business by simply dumping waste into a river that carried it out of sight. There were costs, but they were not borne by that industry. No more. The new model of good business is to take that “waste” and convert it into a valuable product that adds to the bottom line.

Next week, I will tell you about an innovative company in Bluffton that is doing just that. You will also hear how your representative is trying to incentivize other companies to create similar business models.

Monday, August 10, 2009

'My job was to make the call and I made it'

Bluffton Today

The ruckus over the replacement of the clerk of court was a big story last week. There was a lot of commentary that seemed to simply rise from the steamy summer plough mud. Even the usually astute editorial board of Bluffton Today managed to wander off into the weeds on this one. Here’s the real story:

One of the well-documented features of Beaufort County is the fact that we are blessed with outstanding law enforcement, as well as an exceptional judicial system. “Sheriff of the Year” PJ Tanner and Solicitor Duffie Stone are both experienced public servants who enjoy excellent reputations for efficiency and fairness. The court has recently completed implementation of a new high-tech case management system that prompted Chief Justice Jean Toal to personally commend the Beaufort County Clerk of Court for her role in the project.

Unfortunately, that same Clerk of Court resigned abruptly last week with the commencement of an investigation into financial impropriety in the Clerk’s office.

Our shock and disappointment was short lived as the urgency of finding an interim replacement became more apparent. While Probate Judge Frank Simon, by law, took over the job temporarily, he made it clear to me that he would do what was required but the extra assignment would burden his office.

As both Senator Davis and I were out of town, I asked Rep. Shannon Erickson to be the point person on the preliminary search. She was to consult with the Sheriff and the Solicitor to begin a list of possible candidates. Prudence dictated that current members of the Clerk’s office not be considered as the investigation was ongoing and staff might be placed in a compromising position if called as witnesses.

As these things sometimes work out, the list turned out to be short, because the Sheriff and Solicitor, as well as a good selection of lawyers, all suggested the same candidate. My conversations with Rep. Erickson, Sheriff Tanner, Solicitor Stone, and later on, Senator Davis convinced me that we had our recommendation for the governor. Rep. Erickson and I then attempted to bring the rest of the delegation up to speed. Summer is vacation time and our efforts initially resulted in a lot of phone tag. I subsequently returned all the calls I received from delegation members, and all but one of those with whom I spoke were in agreement with the original finding.

An apparent source of confusion was that some folks thought this was a delegation decision-- it was not. My charge, as delegation chairman, was to seek the best and most authoritative advice, and make a recommendation to the governor based on my findings. Any members of the delegation, or members of the public, for that matter, were free to also recommend anyone they liked. My attempts to include the rest of the delegation were more about courtesy, and less about a required consensus.

Last Friday, the governor endorsed my decision and acted upon our recommendation. Our local court was made whole in a prudent and timely fashion.

Most of the time, my job is to listen to you and represent the collective wisdom of the good folks of Beaufort County. In this case, my charge was to seek the particular wisdom of seasoned public servants to replace a vital cog in the machinery of justice in our community. The task was time sensitive, as Judge Simon had helped me understand. My job was to make the call and I made it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lead by example, not rhetoric

Bluffton Today

The Conservation Voters of South Carolina is a bipartisan advocacy organization that seeks to make old-fashioned conservation values a priority for elected officials in our state.

They help us, as elected officials, to understand the necessary connection between environmental issues and the overall productivity of our state’s economy. More importantly, they provide a mechanism of accountability that fosters coherence between our political statements and our votes on key issues.

This year, your representative has been named one of the Legislators of the Year by Conservation Voters of South Carolina. We will be recognized at the Green Tie Luncheon at the Grand Hall of Historic 701 Whaley in Columbia on September 16th. Essentially what this means is that what you read in this column about the connection between jobs and a green and clean environment is also the way I vote in the House of Representatives.

It also means that what I hear from you about what you want for your county and your state is reflected in how I represent you. What you hear from me in Bluffton is what I vote for in Columbia.

The fact that I am a developer, and have been for over 20 years, makes this honor somewhat extraordinary. In the ideal world, developers should be the “greenest” folks in the country. As we see in Beaufort County, that is not always the case-- witness the runoff problems in Bluffton’s incomparable May River.

By contrast, in my latest project, the Calhoun Street Promenade, we far exceeded the Best Management Practices (BMPs) for stormwater by engineering a system to keep all our runoff on the property, as well as treating water flowing from the county recreation property to our north. In fact, one of the proposed solutions to the May River debacle is to require a version of what we did voluntarily six years ago. Friends, that is leading by example, not by rhetoric.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bob Dixson’s Political Science class at Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) at the New River Campus. I hope they were half as impressed with me as I was with them. They were astute, informed, and were not shy about asking hard questions. If these young folks are examples of the kind of voters we are about to have, I promise you we will get a better, more effective class of elected officials in short order. Some of Professor Dixson’s students may well be those elected officials.

With the retirement of my friend Ann McNutt from TCL, they did an exhaustive, nationwide search for a new president. That new leader is Tom Leitzel, who, by all accounts, is doing an excellent job. David Carter is the vice-president for the New River Campus. He is not only engaging and personable, he runs a tight ship. Together, these fellows have managed to weather a challenging budget environment while still accomplishing their crucial mission.

You hear me talk about jobs all the time, and how important jobs are, and how we must have good jobs to have a stable and prosperous community. The mission of TCL is to prepare motivated students for those good jobs, whatever they might be. My conversations at TCL were all the more impressive because they see their mission as not simply job training, but preparation for careers and productive citizenship.

TCL, and all of Beaufort County education, has a friend in the House of Representatives.

Monday, July 27, 2009

'Green and Clean equals quality of life and jobs'

Bluffton Today

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that the Inn at Palmetto Bluff has been named the number one resort in the USA and Canada by Travel and Leisure Magazine. The Inn was also rated number fourteen in the world by the magazine’s readers’ survey.

There was a segment on the “Today” show featuring visitors boating, kayaking, biking and playing golf. It was well-earned recognition for the excellent planning of the overall Palmetto Bluff community, and especially the many, many folks who staff the Village and the Inn and work hard every day to show visitors the best of service in an incomparable setting.

The very things that draw people from around the country and across the globe to the Inn at Palmetto Bluff are the very things that we experience as the Bluffton quality of life. Those things are, of course, the green Lowcountry landscape and the clean water of the May River. Without “green and clean” there would likely be no Palmetto Bluff community and certainly no world-class hotel. Bluffton would be a different and less prosperous and interesting place without our natural amenities. There would also be many fewer good jobs, fewer successful businesses, and fewer visitors.

Friends, when I heard the good news about the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, it reminded me of one of my core political beliefs: Green and Clean Equals Quality of Life and Jobs. It is simple, direct and true.

Speaking of businesses and jobs, Old Town Bluffton appears to be leading the area out of the recession. Despite having one of our main roads completely torn up for months, Old Town is growing jobs as forward thinking business people are opening new restaurants, shops, galleries, and service outlets.

The Carson Cottages on Calhoun Street are completely committed with more building on the way. Magnolia Village across the street from Palmetto State Bank has completed a doubling of their space with many of the new units already spoken for. In my neighborhood, the Calhoun Street Promenade has just opened Captain Woody’s, a long awaited addition to the fine complement of eateries in the Old Town. They will soon be joined by Ted Huffman’s Barbeque Shack-- complete with a handmade smoker from Hilton Head metal artist Kevin Lawless. There is also the Promenade Hair Design shop to make you look good, as well as Patricia’s Alterations to make your clothes look better. Your house will also benefit from a visit to Designer Accents, a creative take on recycling cool stuff.

Needless to say, Old Town Bluffton is generating a lot of what the economic development people call “body heat”. In fact, from walking around town and chatting with merchants, it seems that business across the board is looking up. With the stock market showing a little life, people seem increasingly optimistic. There are even a few new houses being built.

Across the state, the economic forecasters I have spoken with are not quite so optimistic. The beginnings of recovery may have begun here, but let’s not lose sight of the above-mentioned political equation.

Next week, Conservation Voters of South Carolina (CVSC) is having a green tie luncheon to honor legislators who “get it”. If you or your company wants to participate, give us a call at the office for details. You might recognize one of the honorees.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Port progress will soon involve all

Bluffton Today

Last week, I shared that I was a member of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, and as such, would have certain responsibilities relative to the Jasper Port. There were a number of you, judging by your calls, who were confused as to whether the commission was a South Carolina entity or something we cooked up with Georgia.

Here is the deal:
The Savannah River Maritime Commission was established by a joint resolution of the South Carolina General Assembly in April 2007. It was charged with the responsibility of representing the interests of South Carolina in matters relating to the Savannah River, our border with Georgia.

These include, but are not limited to, navigability, dredging, wastewater, and sludge disposal.

Membership is composed of three members from the senate, three members from the house, the governor, the chairs of DHEC, DNR, and the SC Ports Authority, the last three being ex officio. In addition, the Attorney General has a local representative from Jasper County. Currently, the chairman is the capable Dean Moss, head of the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority.

Originally, we were to meet twice a year, but the reality is that we may meet as often as quarterly, or even every other month. There are simply a raft of outstanding issues.

Our last meeting was at the new Jasper County Government Building and ably hosted by Dr. George Hood, chairman of Jasper County Council. It is plain that Jasper County and Beaufort County are both primary stakeholder in this process. We will share the benefits of the port, just as we will endure any potential negatives flowing from this project. We also share a commitment to anticipate and eliminate those potential negatives.

At the last meeting, we received a briefing on the permitting and feasibility studies required of the Jasper Ocean Terminal. Additionally, we took up the matter of the role our commission should have in reviewing the draft of the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project.

Obviously, this review is one of the most critical features of our mandate. There are a number of profoundly serious issues under consideration relative to this deepening project. Among these issues are potential damage to the Upper Florida Aquifer, saltwater intrusion into upstream natural features, as well as the possibility that our drinking water access points along the Savannah River might be compromised.

Making this matter somewhat delicate is the fact that if the deepening project is rejected or significantly modified, the commercial prospects for the Jasper Ocean Terminal are magnified immensely. In my view, the science needs to guide this process, not short-term political or economic advantage.

These issues are all of such importance that it would be unthinkable for us to go forward without hearing from you on this. At some point, the draft of the EIS will be made available to the public, we will then conduct a hearing, and there will be at least 45-60 days of comment period.

I promise that this will not be one of those obscure, pro forma events that seem to get overlooked be everyone except those with an economic interest. You will hear from me (and ideally all media) exactly when, where, why, and what it all means. Your questions and your wisdom will be a part of the outcome of this review. We cannot afford to get this one wrong.

Next week, there is good news for Bluffton and new business for Old Town.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kudos to leaders in our arts community and port creation

Bluffton Today

Before we get on to the promised port news, I’d like to say a few things about my favorite topic, that is, of course, job creation and economic development in Beaufort County and particularly in Bluffton. This time we’ll add an artistic twist to my regular commentary.

The art community in the Lowcountry is especially well represented in Old Town Bluffton. As a consequence, much of the business activity in our neighborhood is either directly or indirectly related to the arts. The Sippin Cow and May River Grill are packed daily with visitors here to see art, antiques, and our gorgeous natural landscape.

The schools in our area have done their part in not only fostering an appreciation for the arts in our local graduates, but also serve as an incubator for new artists. Randalyn Clabaugh and Tim Holsinger, the chairs of the art departments of Hilton Head and Bluffton High, respectively, continue to do a great job of launching the creative careers of talented young folks.

Many years before there was, however, a new Bluffton High, with its great facilities, there was art teacher Betty Hopson and her less than well equipped classroom in what is now Calhoun Station, in the municipal building that was formerly part of McCracken High School. Long since retired, Ms. Hopson’s tireless efforts prepared the ground for much of what has transpired in the Old Town.

Now, one of Betty Hopson’s star students, her daughter Rebecca (Hopson) Perrenoud, is returning to Bluffton and opening Rebecca Perrenoud Design in the Calhoun Street Promenade. The new business will specialize in faux finishes as well as murals and custom paint effects. With this excellent new addition to the Bluffton art community, the primary driver of our local economy just picked up a little more steam.

Now for the promised port business. The best news lately is the hiring of Jim Newsome as the new CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority. Jim replaces Bernie Groseclose in the job and will begin work officially on the first of September.

My friend and Bluffton neighbor Doug Robertson was a key member of the Ports Authority Board that provided the leadership and the business savvy in, first of all, coming up with over a hundred qualified applicants for this job. Doug also was involved in the lengthy interview process that culminated in what is being hailed as an excellent hire.

For those of us who know Doug, the fact that he assumed leadership of this crucial task as one of his first assignments upon accepting the board appointment is no surprise. His career with several Fortune 500 companies provides numerous examples of Doug Robertson stepping up when critical needs demanded his very polished skill set. We are fortunate to have him representing Bluffton and South Carolina in a position where job creation in the transportation sector is a primary metric of success.

I am a member of the Savannah River Maritime Commission, and as such, will be working closely with Doug and the rest of the South Carolina Ports Authority on the new Jasper Port. There are a number of potentially thorny issues to be hashed out regarding the configuration of the new port relative to the existing Savannah port, especially as it involves the proposed deepening of the channel to accommodate the larger ships that will want to call after the widening of the Panama Canal.

Next week, I will try to explain some of this controversy, as well as give you a little more on what the Maritime Commission does and who is involved.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Governor sadly reaping the whirlwind

Bluffton Today

I hope you all had a suitably festive and patriotic Independence Day. In that spirit, I want to thank you for the calls and emails this last week. The system set in motion on the 4th of July, 1776, works when you contact your representative and let me know what is on your mind and how you think the government should function.

I thank you, and the founding fathers thank you as well. You continue to make their vision of representative democracy the light of the world.

We set a record for constituent contacts last week, breaking the previous mark by a wide margin. Most of the conversation had to do with the Sanford melodrama. I also had a chance to speak with many of you at the Farmer’s Market last Thursday, and the governor was the main topic.

You and I, as usual, are pretty much in synch on this sad situation. Regardless of our political inclinations, we all seem to think the governor continues to violate the Primary Rule of Holes, that is: when you are in a hole, you need to stop digging.

I spoke with Governor Sanford last week. Honestly, I’m concerned that the relentless international condemnation and ridicule has begun to affect his perspective and equilibrium. I don’t say that to be unkind at all. I have enormous respect and admiration for the governor and particularly for the office he holds. I hope he can get some time to sort out his circumstances.

Right now, to use the biblical terms he has come to favor—Mark Sanford is reaping the whirlwind.

For those of us whose answer to this annoying distraction is to go fishing, there is a new wrinkle to the pastime. You now need a license to fish in salt water, regardless of whether it is from a boat or from a dock or even from the bank. As you know, I’m not a big fan of new taxes. However, this new license is as close to a user fee as we can get. Also, the fee schedule of $10 for in-state and $35 for out-of-state is pretty nominal, with the proceeds going to keep the fishery in good shape with better management and enhanced enforcement of conservation laws.

One of the beneficiaries of this new funding is the Waddell Mariculture Center out on Sawmill Creek Road here in Greater Bluffton. Al Stokes and his crew have absorbed more than their share of budget cuts recently while still managing to carry on with their mission. They have sought and found a creative mix of private monies and grants from individuals and groups that understand the absolutely essential role that the Waddell Mariculture Center plays in keeping our game fish populations healthy. You will hear much more in the very near future about this great facility and how they do a tremendous job of keeping the Lowcountry an ecological treasure, as well as fantastic place to fish.

Next week, barring more melodrama, I want to talk about the new port and how it’s progressing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Simply put: I am disappointed

Bluffton Today

Like many of you, I am saddened and disappointed by the recent revelations concerning Governor Mark Sanford. My personal inclination is to let this matter evolve on its own without further comment. However, considering the volume of interest and concern expressed in the many calls and emails I have received on this, it seems that I need to devote this one, and only one, column to this dispiriting matter.

In my view, we need to bisect our treatment of last week’s disclosure. There is the personal side, which is one of undiluted sadness, and then there is the political/professional side, which is another thing altogether.

From my personal point of view, this whole international soap opera is very close to excruciating for me. With the exception of the woman from Argentina, nearly every one of the characters involved is a personal friend of mine. I like and admire both the governor and the first lady. Their family reminds me of my family, which was a gaggle of rambunctious boys with two loving parents. I also know most of the staff people in the governor’s office who are now under the glare of constant media. Even the security team that lost their charge for nearly a week are folks that I think highly of and chat with from time to time. While I feel bad for them all, it is Jenny and the boys that have my most heartfelt sympathy. They didn’t deserve any of this.

The political/professional side of this mess is not nearly so problematic for me. Simply put: I am disappointed. The bad behavior of the governor has created an unfortunate distraction for those of us who take seriously our commitments to deliver our state to higher ground above the current flood of economic distress. I wanted to write a column this week on what a great job Doug Robertson is doing on the Ports Authority Board. Instead, you get to hear me rant about the fallout from our governor’s big adventure.

Eventually, the General Assembly will have to sort through all the nagging questions that flow from this incident. Was public money misspent? How do three agencies tasked with protecting the chief executive manage to lose him for almost a week? Was staff complicit in the “disappearance”? How did the tracking device on the state vehicle driven by the governor become disabled?

I would prefer to use our legislative time figuring out how to educate our children, or protect our waterways, or how to create a proper tax structure that won’t collapse under financial strain, than sort out the particulars of the governor’s mid-life crisis.

Many of your calls and emails asked whether Gov Sanford should resign, be impeached, or allowed to stay and try to redeem himself. My answer is this: Your representative will not join any effort to impeach or force the governor to resign. My sense is that the succession is potentially so troublesome, we would be better off with the governor for the next eighteen months.

What may occur is the international soap opera may very well continue to grow until the Sanford family will have no chance at peace or reconciliation until the governor leaves the stage. Summer is a slow time for news and this affair has been a gold mine for the 24-hour news outlets. When you overlay the left-right battle between Fox and MSNBC, we have a story that will have long legs. All the while, our state is viewed internationally in the light of shame and ridicule.

In short: the governor can stay, but the story needs to go.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Governer earned his veto overrides

Bluffton Today

The one-day wrap to the session was over by close of business on Tuesday. Most of the outstanding business had to do with dealing with the governor’s vetoes and finalizing the creation of a tax reform study group that will look seriously at how we raise money to do the people’s business in the future. (Yes, Karen, we are looking at the Fair Tax.)

All 10 of the vetoes were overridden. There were two pieces of legislation that became law after the overrides that, for the life of me, I cannot understand why they warranted a veto. One was the Buy South Carolina legislation, and the other was the Payday Lending Bill.

The Buy South Carolina legislation was simply a bill to give a preference to in-state suppliers when the state makes purchases. In my view, this was first and foremost, a jobs bill. Even if there was a price difference, which is often negligible, between the in-state and out-of-state product, the fact that local products mean local jobs makes the difference meaningless. This was clear to virtually every member of the General Assembly, but somehow escaped the governor. It was not an agonizing decision to override this veto.

You have heard me more than a few times talk about how jobs and economic development will trump, in my book, ideological purity any day, any time. There is a general consensus in the legislature that the governor’s veto in matters such as this has to do with a particular brand of libertarianism, and a constituency largely beyond the borders of our state. This may or may not be accurate-- I can’t say. I do know that my constituency is you, my neighbors and friends in District 118, with a view to the greater good and prosperity of our state. I represent you and I am responsible to you and for you.

The second veto that I think was particularly ill considered was of the Payday Lending Bill. This bill had been in the pipeline for literally years. Opinion in the legislature was all over the map, from outright banning the industry to allowing them to essentially self-regulate. The biggest issue was what constitutes fair regulation of an industry that many believe takes advantage of people who can least afford it, and who are most vulnerable to the temptation of “easy credit”.

We struggled with this for several sessions, hearing from all the stakeholders and hearing story after story of people getting over their heads into unmanageable debt. We pretty much wrestled it to the ground and came up with a bill that was reluctantly agreed to by both industry and consumer advocates. It was ultimately passed by the House 102-6 and in the Senate by 41-4.
The legislation puts into place significant safeguards to protect consumers and also creates a database to make sure that particularly improvident borrowers are not “flipping” loans, that is taking out new loans to help retire old ones. Depending upon where you stand, this legislation is either an interim step toward ultimately banning the industry, much like we did with video gambling, or a reasonable step toward regulating a problematic but necessary business which provides emergency liquidity to persons unable to access capital from traditional sources.

The governor vetoed the bill on libertarian grounds: people need to be free to make their own mistakes and live with the consequences. Libertarianism makes for good sound bites but oftentimes ends up looking like the law of the jungle in practice. The vote to override was not even close.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Developers can't see into the future, either

Bluffton Today

Before we begin, I’d like to make a comment on the recent revelations concerning the Sea Turtle Center and Crescent Resources. As a businessman and developer, I respect the courage and creativity that have gone into both these enterprises.

Lori Kaylor, developer of the Sea Turtle Complex, is a friend whom I hold in high regard. She is also a smart woman who put together a great project out on the Buckwalter Parkway that has provided a number of small entrepreneurs a venue for putting their ideas to the commercial test. In my view, she has been treated badly by the press for failing to anticipate what the smartest minds in both the public and private sectors also failed to predict, that is the collapse of the real estate market.

Similarly, Crescent Resources, the developer of two of the flagship properties in the Lowcountry, Palmetto Bluff and Oldfield, is being forced by circumstances not of its making, into arrangements that seemed vanishingly improbable just a few months ago.

It seems that sometimes folks whose ideas and business practices are above reproach are diminished by macroeconomic forces put into play by entities for whom nothing is unthinkable-- who view reasonable regulation as something to be gamed and finessed-- to the detriment of those who play by the rules.

While the General Assembly can’t do too much about credit default swaps or the more arcane derivatives that pushed the economy off the cliff, we can do something about the more banal forms of bad business practice. Such was the case with the big banks that issue credit cards and unfortunately seek to maximize profit by playing games with interest rates and terms and conditions of use.

Most of you know that I was one of the originators of the credit card legislation in South Carolina, which was later adopted by the federal government. The reason for this was that I heard from so many of you about what you were enduring at the hand of the credit card issuers. The stories were many, and each one made me madder than the last. As I started to work on the legislation, we were confronted with a barrage of hardball lobbying from the banking industry. This is the same banking industry that played a key role in the above-mentioned “macroeconomic forces” that are contributing to the local dislocations about which we are reading.

Let me be clear on this: this is not about your local bankers, the folks that you might see having lunch at the Sippin Cow or May River Grill. Small and moderate size banks managed to maintain good, fiscally sound, conservative business practices when their larger competitors were exploring the brave new world of hyper-leverage. The smaller guys also didn’t even quiver when the giants were near collapse. They also didn’t need to break out the small print to extract undeserved dollars from you with questionable business practices.

Friends, this whole mess was quite a revelation for me. It will also influence the decisions about where my personal business is conducted.

I will be out of the office for most of this week, so we may be a little delayed in answering calls and emails.

Next week, I will have something to say about legislative vetoes and the balance of power in the South Carolina General Assembly. In the meantime, try to keep cool, wear sunscreen, and act in a manner that respects our May River.