By Randy Bell for The Island Eye News
Married to my wife of 41 years Mimi, we are parents to identical twin daughters, and now have four grandchildren. We purchased our home on Isle of Palms in 2013 after deciding to finally end our 25-year habit of contributing vacation dollars to the local economy. Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, I have lived in New Jersey (Rutgers Graduate), Ohio, Florida, and Texas. With a career spanning over 40 years, I have served as a corporate officer in multiple publicly traded companies, as well as CEO of a venture funded, successful high technology start-up. Prior to retirement in 2014, I most recently served as served as a Vice President, Information Management at Hewlett-Packard. Currently, I am now entering my fourth year as a volunteer Executive Mentor to our returning U.S. Military veterans.
Our Beach is a precious asset and deserves full attention as the centerpiece of campaign issues.
Our City Council operates today without a responsible emergency plan. The protection of our beach is reliant on presumed outside funding in the event of a catastrophic event. I was not here for Hurricane Hugo, but have spent a considerable portion of my life living in hurricane zones.
Recovery is never easy, and as we look at City finances one should ask, “How important are our beaches to both our quality of life and the financial existence of the Isle of Palms?” Todays’ 2017/2018 beach restoration budget requires Wild Dunes homeowner contributions, local and state taxes, plus federal funding, yet still requires loan financing by the city. This is not a sustainable plan for emergencies. We can do better.
Balancing tourism and visitation with appropriate consideration of residential quality of life is a challenge. While we need tourism to sustain our economy, our ability to absorb its impact is finite.
Surrounding communities are growing at a furious pace, yet our limited geography remains static. Visitation demand will grow proportionate to the surrounding population growth.
How do we achieve the correct balance while supporting our local businesses? We desperately need to address with citizen and business engagement more effective planning considering our island’s finite geography and peak visitation capacity.
Public Safety has direct linkage to the exploding demands of visitation. Traffic, parking, and crime all have root cause in visitation that will not change near-term. While we debate these issues of safety daily during tourist season, we can do a better job listening and addressing resident concerns.
Foremost in many of our minds is the IOP Marina and the significant vote that will take place this voting cycle.
Myself, like most residents value our City owned marina. I have been a vocal critic of this majority Council’s decision to cede control of the Marina to its operator with a no bid, thirty (30) year lease that expires in 2045. I stand by my public statements that this was “irresponsible”.
Without the transference of S.C. Accommodations and Hospitality Taxes, IOP Marina would be unsustainable. In the current fiscal year, IOP will take in $406,000 in lease revenue, yet move $ 803,000 from tourism taxes to offset marina expense.
Council needs to recognize in the context of fiscal responsibility that the Marina was purchased “to allow IOP residents access to the water.” Any investment beyond general maintenance should have strong resident consideration. Transparent and full disclosure of all relevant IOP Marina facts, both ”good and bad”, in advance of this election to allow residents the information to make an informed decision is essential.
On fiscal responsibility, operating within a balanced budget and not borrowing
against our future must be a guiding principle. “Fiscal Conservatism” does not mean that the City should not provide for its citizen’s needs; however, it does require a complete and transparent understanding of the city’s ability to pay our debts.
Events beyond our control will ultimately cripple our financial health without responsible fiscal policy. Going forward, we must be a Council that prioritizes “needs versus desires”, and builds financial contingencies for unforeseen emergencies, catastrophic weather events, and economic downturns. Balancing our budget must be the highest of priorities.
Government transparency & citizen engagement: We need to increase citizen engagement while presenting all relevant facts of key issues, and stop acting as if “Council Knows Best”. The lack of transparency today is a central tenant in my candidacy.
Those that attend IOP City Council meetings know that I have advocated vocally on issues affecting our island. On Public Safety, Fiscal/Budget responsibility, the IOP Marina, and resident quality of life as priorities, I remain a vocal citizen advocate with the IOP Council.
As you all hopefully get to know me through this campaign, you will find that I am very open and direct, but I also know how to compromise and act in the best interest of all. I will not be perfect; however, you have my commitment to listen, engage, and advocate while keeping in mind it is “Our Island and Our Future” that is being entrusted to this next elected Isle of Palms City Council.