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Isle Of Palms Candidate Forum

By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News

Would Isle of Palms residents like to have a mayor who will be a conservative steward of their tax dollars? Would they be more likely to support a candidate who puts a premium on leadership and building relationships on and off the island? Or do they think the best option to replace retiring Mayor Jimmy Carroll should provide a new voice in city government? Local voters, who will go to the polls Nov. 2, had the opportunity to take a closer look Oct. 12 at the three candidates for mayor of IOP – Ryan Buckhannon, Phillip Pounds and Joshua Hooser – at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and The Island Eye News. The virtual event also included six of the seven candidates seeking four-year terms on the IOP City Council: Jan Anderson, John Bogosian, Nadine Deif, Katie Miars, Bryan Stevens and Andrew Vega. Blair Hahn was unable to attend. In their opening statements, Buckhannon, who first served on the Council in 2000, said he would “continue to protect your tax dollars,” Pounds emphasized his leadership abilities and Hooser called on voters to elect a mayor who would provide leadership for all, “not just for the few.” Hooser continued that theme when answering the first question from moderator Julie Hussey: What needs to change and what needs to remain the same in local government. He said the Council should avoid “good old boy politics” and the government should not be run like a private business. “We need people who are going to govern for the entire island,” Hooser said, citing a divide between residents inside the gates of Wild Dunes and those who live elsewhere on the island. “We need to hold people accountable. We need change.” 

Pounds, a Council member for the past two years, said leadership is the most important issue facing IOP, adding that “what that means to me is providing clear, concise communication on our decisions and direction.” In response to a question about the greatest environmental issue facing the island, both Pounds and Buckhannon said the current Council has done a good job dealing with drainage problems, while Hooser said tackling these issues will require “less talk and more action.” 

The three candidates disagreed on other issues as well. For instance, concerning the question of whether IOP should reduce the size of its Council from nine to seven members, Buckhannon said he was against such a move, while Pounds supported it. Hooser said the voters should decide. 

The three mayoral candidates agreed, sort of, that the city should avoid suing the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) over Senate Bill 40, which is aimed at keeping barrier islands from reducing the number of parking spaces and from charging visitors to park on state-owned highways without the Department’s permission. Hooser said he was against taking SCDOT to court because the city is already spending almost $300,000 on attorney’s fees this year; Buckhannon said he “hates the idea of suing” and suggested that the city needs to “extend an olive branch and get them to work with us; and Pounds said litigation should be a last resort for the city. 

“But if there is a need for litigation, this might be it,” Pounds added. Concerning any changes in the city’s short-term rental situation, both Buckhannon and Pounds said the issue needs more study by the Planning Commission, while Hooser called for “a comprehensive fix beyond a moratorium.” All three candidates voiced their opposition to a plan to force residents with septic tanks to eventually tie into the city’s sewer system. Buckhannon said such a plan would nearly triple water and sewer charges for residents, while Hooser pointed out that “we need to save our residential community, not threaten them.” “If we’re going to force somebody to do something, we better have all our ducks in a row. I don’t think we’re there yet,” Hooser added. “There’s no project afoot to make this happen,” Pounds said. “There’s a long-term stated goal of the city to get sewer to the rest of the island, but that probably won’t happen in my lifetime.” The candidates disagreed somewhat on the question of building a park at the IOP Marina. Hooser said he favored the possibility of a hybrid commercial tenant where Tidal Wave Water Sports operated until the end of this summer, while Pounds said that with parking at the Marina at a premium, “we need to reduce some of the commercial activity down there.” Buckhannon pointed out that at one time, he attempted to make the dock a public/private venture. The six Council candidates agreed on most of the subjects brought up during their part of the forum. For example, five of them were of the opinion that the city doesn’t need another commercial district outside the Front Beach area. 

Anderson, however, questioned whether the city is getting its money’s worth for the approximately $750,000 a year it sends to the Convention and Visitors Bureau in accommodations and hospitality taxes. On the question of whether the city should build a park at the IOP Marina, Bogosian, Miars and Anderson answered in the affirmative. Stevens, Vega and Deif suggested the possibility of a public/private partnership that would provide some revenue for the city. The candidates were asked about extending the hours dogs are allowed on the beach without a leash, and all agreed that the current system is working well. Deif said adding another hour where dogs can run free “would be lovely,” and Anderson stated that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most of the Council candidates agreed that the current Council has done a good job addressing problems with the city’s storm and sanitary sewers, though Bogosian pointed out that the city has been using a “whaca-mole” approach and that a comprehensive plan is necessary. Anderson noted that she let city officials know recently that COVID-19 money was available for these types of improvements. 

“Because of my initiative, the city has applied for a $4 million grant to help with drainage projects,” she said. The candidates had different thoughts on the issue of regulating golf cart traffic on the island. Miars suggested that the city should enforce the regulations already in place, and Stevens and Vega agreed. Deif said fewer rules would be better. “Every resident knows how to navigate their golf carts and bikes. They just need to use common sense,” she said. And all six candidates had similar thoughts on the two most controversial issues in the past year-and-a-half: parking and traffic. “We cannot possibly provide parking spaces for everyone who wants to drive their own car here every day,” Stevens said. “We have more work to do there.” Anderson suggested more parking near the Front Beach businesses and less parking along Palm Boulevard, while Vega said the city should sharpen its communication skills “so we can let people know before they get on the Connector how many parking spaces are available on the island.” 

Bogosian said the city already offers eight times the required number of parking spaces and vowed to fight against SCDOT’s possible plan to allow visitors to park in the neighborhoods, while Miars suggested that two lanes of traffic off the island and one lane on might be helpful.

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