Sullivan’s Island Town Council Meeting: February 19, 2019

By Gregg Bragg, The Island Eye News Staff Writer

Mayor Pat O’Neil thanks General Clifton Duke Wright for his outstanding service and dedication to the Town of Sullivan’s Island.

Council chambers were filling fast in the run up to the Feb. 19 meeting of the Town of Sullivan’s Island Council. Handshakes and hugs cascaded through several clutches of residents, and the din of celebratory conversations overwhelmed the ears. Mayor Patrick O’Neil had to use his “outdoor” voice to announce the meeting’s start at precisely 6 p.m., and the cause of the jubilance didn’t become clear until after citizen’s comments.

Gary Visser, chair of TOSI’s Planning Commission was the only contributor to the first segment of the meeting. He opened his remarks by applauding Council’s investment in Charleston’s [Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester] Council of Governments. Visser and his team just completed work on the Town’s comprehensive plan; a required document for SC municipalities, which also requires periodic updates. The primary focus of Visser’s comments were to thank staff members for their assistance, and he was particularly effusive about the contributions of his committee members. “This isn’t the first comprehensive plan, but it is by far the best,” said Visser to affirming applause and comments from Council.

Action items for Council began with the swearing in of Amanda Capone as TOSI Code Enforcement and Beach Services Officer. “She’s been doing a great job so far,” said Police Chief Christopher Griffin. He ended his comments by saying Capone is building a resume with the objective of ascending to law enforcement.

Council then recognized the many contributions of General Clifton Duke Wright. The official proclamation read in part; “Clifton Duke Wright has served with dedication and distinction on the Design Review Board of the Town of Sullivan’s Island since its inception in September 2004 until February 2019… the leadership of Duke Wright has brought respect, honor and integrity to the Town of Sullivan’s Island… Town Council of Sullivan’s Island, with highest praise and honor, adopt this resolution of appreciation in recognition of the exceptional contributions and service made by Duke Wright.”

The Wright’s first bought property on Sullivan’s Island in 1977, at his wife Sherry’s insistence Wright emphasized. The couple built a residence in 1986 when he retired from the U.S. Air Force, and lived there for the next 33 years. “We don’t [feel] as old as we are, but we are,” said Wright of an impending move to Ashville, NC to laughs and a protracted standing ovation.

Council also had a proclamation prepared for Wayne Stelljes, a full time resident for the past 16 years with family ties to the island spanning five generations.

Stelljes has been “instrumental in the maintenance of and improvements to Thomson Park at Breach Inlet including; exhibits, the historical marker, benches, palmetto logs, and grounds, according to TOSI’s account. “Wayne Stelljes has voluntarily rendered dedicated, devoted, and loyal service to the community and visitors to Sullivan’s Island for years while maintaining the park and monument and serving as a goodwill ambassador to the Island and its history, residents and visitors… The Town Council of Sullivan’s Island hereby honors Mr. Wayne Stelljes,” read salient parts of the proclamation entered into the record on February, 2019. “Every grain of sand on this island is precious to me,” said Stelljes with a compelling tone of conviction, which received raucous approval from attendees.

The third and final proclamation designated April as Sarcoidosis Awareness Month. Sarcoidosis is a potentially debilitating and deadly multiorgan, inflammatory disease affecting an estimated 200,000 people in the United States with no known cause, cure, or reliable treatment regimen.

The Mayor’s report was a brief allusion to a very positive report from the Visitor’s Bureau. Statistics gleaned from meeting materials include; a 6% increase in occupancy for homes and villas on Sullivan’s Island from last year to this, a 9.1% increase in revenue/room, $10,000 in state accommodations tax revenue [not including its local counterpart], and 92,000 Island-related page views.

Town Administrator Andy Benke had another busy report this month.

  • “Owner review drawings” had been submitted by Applied Building Sciences for review by the Town. The bid process could start as early as Mar. 6.
  • Estimates for repairs to the boardwalks at stations 25 & 26 have been received by the Town.
  • The deadline to apply for Greenbelt funds ends Feb. 22. Benke’s suggestion TOSI apply for the “new construction only” grant and use the money to build a new boardwalk adjacent to Sullivan’s Island Elementary School received wide approval.
  • Council responded with interest to news that a group of residents had offered to fund an automated license plate recognition (ADLR) system for the Town.

A rash of recent car thefts was credited for the idea.

The system would act as both a preventative measure, and aid in investigations by rendering a picture of every plate entering/leaving the island into a digital/ searchable format, Benke reported.

  • Benke’s legislative rundown was very thorough and included the following;

◊ S217/H31232 would allow ATAX money to be used on drainage projects [if passed]

 ◊ H3801 would mean five year testing of backflow prevention devices

◊ H3137 is an effort to streamline funding/ budgeting

◊ H3274 removes a municipality’s ability to regulate tobacco/nicotine

Benke had more to say about the legislation out of Columbia, but the Mayor interjected. The “ban on [plastics] bans which failed during the last legislative session, was resurrected on Jan. 22. Senators Tally and Climer re-introduced S0394, which would restrict the rights of local governments to regulate single-use plastics without a “grandfather” clause, and has since been referred to the Senate’s Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee. Mayor O’Neil said the Town intends to contact the members of the committee and encouraged attendees to do the same.

(Mailing and email addresses for The Labor, Commerce, and Industry Committee membership is available at

Councilmember Chauncey Clarke chimed in to add that local 4th graders were putting together a video about the importance of eliminating plastic waste, and planned to send their own letter. “I wouldn’t want to mess with them,” he chuckled.

Councilmember Sarah Church reported preparations for the local St. Patrick’s Day Celebration were in the works, and specified the non-alcoholic portion of the show would be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Mar. 12.

Council then broke for executive session to consider a number of legal/personnel matters.

Town Administrator Benke summarized the related votes taken/decisions made when Council returned to regular session in an email to Island Eye News this way;

  1. “Motion to allow Chief of Police to adjust rank and command structure as necessary by Tim Reese and seconded by Rita Langley with no discussion by Council carried unanimously 7-0.
  2. Motion to allow staff members to donate sick leave to designated employee not exceeding 3 weeks by Tim Reese and seconded by Mark Howard with no discussion by Council carried unanimously 7-0.”

Regarding last month’s executive discussion of an increase in solid waste rates, Benke said, “It was approved but I am still working on the contract language with the vendor. The expense will be absorbed by the general fund. The staff is still working on the 2019/2020 budget at this time but I do not anticipate that the new agreement in and of itself will necessitate a tax increase.” There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.

The next meeting of the Sullivan’s Island Town Council is scheduled for Tuesday, Mar. 19 at 6 p.m.

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