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.