Wednesday, September 25, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

The Beach Sweep/River Sweep was a huge success. As always, my friend Kim Jones of the town of Bluffton was superb. Also, there were a ton of local folks, including a hug contingent from Sun City, on hand to clean up our river. This has traditionally signaled the start of a round of fall festivals in Bluffton, several of which I’d like to tell you about.


First, however, I’d like to clear up a matter that many of you have called about, which is the free credit monitoring and identity theft protection currently provided to residents of the state by a company called Experian.


In the wake of the hacking of the Department of Revenue database last year, we hired Experian to provide immediate credit monitoring and identity theft protect. This was a no-bid emergency measure designed to allow us time to evaluate our data security and put new policies in place to prevent such disasters. In continuing the safety measure, this year we issued a Request for Proposals (RFP), as part of a regular, prudent procurement process. For their own reasons, Experian did not respond to the RFP and will not be continuing as our vendor after their current contract expires at the end of this year. They have, as some of you have found, started to market their service to individuals in our state, even though they were aware we would award a contract after the competitive bidding process was complete, probably by next week. If Experian solicits you, please politely decline, as you are still covered by the free state-paid protections. There will be no lapse in your coverage, and probably some additional benefits as well. I would like to think that this is a miscommunication between the state procurement system and Experian, and not simply a company seeking to use our misfortune as a marketing ploy. Make no mistake, we did not adequately protect your data, and we will assume the cost of cleaning up the mess. I want to reiterate that it is already paid for in the current budget, and any offer you receive from a third party is redundant and unnecessary. However this shakes out, I am still a big believer in the private sector approach, but as Ronald Reagan famously put it, we must “trust but verify.”


On a more pleasant local note, we in the Promenade are hosting “Bark in the Park” on Saturday, October 12th as a fundraiser for the Bluffton Dog Park. This fun, pet-centric event will feature games for children and their pets, pet related vendors, low-cost vaccinations for cats and dogs, as well as food, music, and a silent auction. Friends, the dog park group has experienced several serious setbacks in their good efforts. I believe this event will put them back on a positive footing. Hope to see you there.


One of the signature events in Old Town Bluffton that combines two of our best things is the Arts and Seafood Festival. It is held from Sunday, the 13th of October through the following Sunday, the 20th of October. The fun begins at 11 a.m. on the first Sunday with a Friends of Bluffton Artists Showcase, a new feature that was hugely successful last year. The festival culminates the last Saturday and Sunday with a juried, fine art show on Calhoun Street with 100 artists from 10 states set up in the street. In between, there are kayak tours, a run, a tour of the Waddell Mariculture Center, a blessing of the fleet, and a host of cool happening. I personally guarantee a great week.


Finally, don’t forget the “Taste of Waddell” from 3-7 p.m. on Sunday, November 10th. There will be amazing food on the high bluff over the Colleton River, tours of the facility, and a better understand of the contribution this scientific installation plays in the preservation of the health of our waters and the vitality of our fishing and recreation industries.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Mary and I were off last week on a little R and R. We try to stay fairly close to home because I need to be available for both family and constituent emergencies. Not too long ago, I was able to help a local resident clear up some misunderstanding with Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). A few calls on my part and the constituent had the bed they needed. There was also a problem recently with a neighbor who needed to register a used car in South Carolina, but due to the list of former owners, the usually efficient state employees at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) at Sheridan Park could not immediately get it done. I was happy to help.


It’s not that I am a miracle worker, but I do have a good idea of how state government is organized, as well as who the key people are in many of the offices. The workings of government can seem arcane and mysterious to folks who don’t often have occasion to seek information or service from the state. That is where your representative or another member of your delegation can really save you a lot of time and maybe some aggravation. It is a big part of our job, as well as being a source of great satisfaction to all of us.


When I am out of town, either on vacation or at the many legislative conferences we need to attend, our usually very timely constituent service can take a little longer than we like. Please be patient.


Returning to the local scene, I am very pleased that the upcoming Bluffton Council election is attracting so much interest and a huge number of candidates. Each of the candidates has either relevant experience or professional background to do a splendid job. It is also the appropriate venue to hash out the problems, both in the Historic District and Bluffton at large, that are the subject of so much discussion and commentary. When we talk of “redress of grievances” our electoral system offers a host of avenues to solution. I look forward to a spirited, positive campaign season and a flawless election.


Also locally, we got a number of calls and emails regarding the disease threat in the local dolphin population. We were impressed with the professionalism of the DNR’s timely reaction, as well as the response of the South Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network and their representative, Jennifer. Although we have not received the results of the full necropsy, Jennifer advised that those finding diseased dolphins should not touch them without rubber gloves, even if they are in distress. Also, if the animals are dead, you should not breathe the vapors coming from the carcass. These are reasonable precautions considering that the exact nature of the disease afflicting these animals is not fully known at this time.


This note of caution is very timely in that this Saturday, the 21st of September, is the 25th Annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep. We will meet at 9 a.m. at the Bluffton Oyster Factory Park and my friend Kim Jones from the Town of Bluffton will distribute bags and gloves, as well as suggest assignments. Also, those with boats and kayaks are encouraged to bring your watercraft. I hope to see you there, rain or shine. These waterways need our help and support. For more information, either call my office or Kim Jones at 706-4593 or email kjones@townofbluffton.com.


Also, remember the “Taste of Waddell” coming up November 10th from 3 to 7 at the Waddell Mariculture Center at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I appreciate your continued calls and emails on the recent matters under discussion in the column. This week, I’d like to place the politics and the various issues we are involved in under a temporary moratorium and speak to something very local and very personal to many of us.


Bottlenose dolphins are such an iconic feature of the Lowcountry, they cannot be separated from any discussion of our estuarine system or those things about our rivers that each of us feels strongly about. These majestic marine mammals seem to embody much of what we like about our rivers. They are playful, curious, and always seem to be having a good time. Any threat to these lovely creatures is something we all take very seriously.


Last Saturday, Mary and I were a little late meeting some good friends at the sandbar. When we arrived, we were met with the distressing news that a baby dolphin, obviously dead, had recently floated by the sandbar. I’d just been briefed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that some of our local dolphins had been infected with what amounts to measles, and were likely about to suffer considerable losses. With that in mind, we call the DNR, whose officers arrived within ten minutes. They assessed the situation and asked if they could secure the carcass to our dock until they contacted NOAA and the SC Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Of course, we agreed.


The next day we were contacted by a young woman named Jennifer, who worked with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. We learned that she had a master’s degree in marine biology from Coastal Carolina and had been with MMSN for some time. She explained that the rare disease that appeared to have infected the small dolphin was sweeping the east coast. What it might be was currently unknown but appeared to be some form of virus. She explained that there was much concern among her colleagues as the dolphins in our area tended to organize into what appeared to be family or small community groups, which would be vulnerable to the virus when or if it arrived in our estuary. This is not to say that all the dolphins exposed to the disease would die, but they would certainly be affected.
With some effort, we managed to help Jennifer get the young dolphin into the bed of her truck to be taken back to the lab for a full necropsy. She assured me that when they had definitive answers to our many questions, she would give us a full report. It goes without saying that when I have a report, you will have a full report as well.


We are, of course, distressed that these lovely mammals are in some jeopardy. If there is a bright spot, it would be that our DNR has some of the best marine scientists in the business, as well as a well developed network of government and academic resources to address this potential disaster. As it so happens, some of these scientists work at the end of Sawmill Creek Road in Greater Bluffton at the Waddell Mariculture Center, under the able leadership of my friend, Al Stokes.


In fact, the 6th Annual “Taste of Waddell” has been scheduled for Sunday, November 10th from 3-7 p.m. This is always an entertaining, informative and well-attended event put on by the “Friends of Waddell” headed up by my friend Dave Harter, who also is the president of the Hilton Head Island Sportfishing Club. For more information, please email Dave at daveh@hargray.com.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to reiterate my gratitude for the many calls, emails and visits we continue to receive since my initial comments on the systemic failure of the Jasper School System. Each week, we seem to increase our number of constituent contacts relating to this important matter. However, I have to ask a favor that will help us continue to answer your calls and emails in a timely manner. If you can relay your information by email, please do so. As much as I like to have folks come by the office, sometimes we are just swamped. Much of this is, of course, my fault, as I enjoy your visits and especially hearing your take on the happenings of the day. The trouble is, we are committed to return calls and emails within 24 hours if at all possible, and my pleasure in your visits, and my occasional long-windedness makes it difficult for staff to honor our commitment to timely turnaround. Please indulge me in this.


I also want to remind everybody that as far as the legislative delegation, both for Beaufort and Jasper counties, we don’t have purview over the education department. We can hold hearings, we can reform the electoral process, but we cannot mandate that this or that local official be hired or fired. Those are matters of local control and that is the way it should be. That said, we are there to listen, we can also express our opinions, but the local officials are tasked with hiring and firing.


With all that on the table, I must say we in the delegation are profoundly impressed with the way the parents and the other residents of Jasper County have met the challenge of responding to the latest ratings of the local school district. There comes a time when excuses and rationalizations just don’t cut it. I will say this: If you think Jasper County schools are doing a good job, then you shouldn’t complain. If you think that graduates of Jasper County schools are finding and keeping good, family-supporting jobs, there is no need to ask any hard questions. If you think the pool of potential workers is helping to attract new jobs to Jasper County, then you should be happy with the status quo. However, if you see the chronic unemployment, the year-after-year economic malaise with no change in sight, and still think the schools are doing a good job, then perhaps you are part of the problem.


As the local Bluffton Council race heats up, especially with quality of life issues in the Historic District looking to be the primary issue, I’d like to offer this observation: the Promenade was designed with lively entertainment in mind. We have zero complaints because all the stakeholders have signed on to our bars and restaurants having reasonable levels of music and spirited conversation, that perhaps the Historic District residents might find a little much. I know there is a way we can accommodate a wide spectrum of entertainment options if we listen to the folks. The town has established a mixed-use district that worked for years because it pre-supposed that all residents and businesses would strive to be good neighbors. When that social agreement breaks down, the magic quickly drains out, to be replaced by acrimony and ill will.


At the risk of seeming self-serving, we designed the Promenade not to mimic the Historic District, but to complement it. We can provide that which might not be entirely suitable for our neighbors to the South. I offer this observation in the spirit of maintaining the interesting, diverse, and economically prosperous little village we all love so well.