By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Council for the Town of Kiawah Island was ready to meet on June 6. However, neither the town’s attorney, nor town administrator were. Both would miss the council meeting because each had a different meeting they had to attend. “I hope we don’t encounter any parliamentary conundrums today, because we are on our own,” jested the mayor.
Mayor Weaver opened his remarks with the topic of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. OCRM is a division of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and will be responsible for establishing a line along the SC coast, seaward of which development will not be allowed. The boundary was historically drawn every ten years, but passage of S.139 (this time last year) provides for a permanent line to be drawn. The mayor thinks OCRM will have a proposal ready by August, followed by a public hearing, and adoption by year’s end. He added that only property owners would be able to appeal the new limit.
The mayor then mentioned the Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s (KIGR) plans to develop some of its properties “consistent with the 2010 development agreement.”
This means several changes in zoning ordinances should be expected, along with updates to the town’s comprehensive plan. The changes were slated to appear before the planning commission June 7. Approval is expected and the mayor anticipates a first reading of the changes to occur coincident with the hearings, and the second, final hearing to be part of next month’s council meeting.
Kiawah resident Wendy Kulick said she was “thrilled that council has updated its position opposing offshore drilling. Please do not interpret my questions as criticism of that position.” Her question being, “How did Council determine what the majority of Kiawah Island property owners believe regarding off-shore drilling?”
Councilmember Diana Mezzanotte later explained it was an informal poll of her environmental committee.
Old business began with ordinance 2017-08, a measure to adopt the 2017- 2018 fiscal year budget for TOKI. This was the second reading of the ordinance and it came with plenty of congratulations for a job well done by the town’s treasurer, and budget committee. There was one change on the first page of the budget. $350,000 was budgeted for town hall to be spent in 2017, which councilmember Widuch said “has been moved to the budget for 2018. [The change] does not affect the cost of town hall, just the budget.” The measure passed unanimously. Use of the new town hall facilities was greatly debated last month.
Councilmembers returned to the drawing board to develop a more general plan for the use of town hall in the face of construction plans for the Sandcastle, which will disrupt meetings, classes, and everything else held there for an undetermined period. Councilmember Mezzanotte wants TOKI to help and hashed out more of the details, but there is still some thinking to be done.
Councilmember Wilson, for example, observed that not all town meetings were scheduled six months in advance, in an attempt to explain objections raised last month (if other groups do schedule in advance, TOKI would not be able to use its own facility?), and suggested the chamber itself be reserved for town use.
New business began with discussion of the number of county deputies Kiawah Island should keep on hand for the summer season. The mayor specified there would be an additional deputy on weekends, and one additional overall for the summer.
He couldn’t help but marvel at how it took three deputies to manage traffic to Beachwalker Park over the Memorial Day weekend, but thought it was a success.
The mayor was equally quick to disclaim that TOKI is relying on the county to vet personnel, and to keep TOKI informed about the qualifications of any deputies they brought on board. Councilmember Jack Koach mentioned the contract is good until 2018, which gives TOKI time to review the success of the plan. The measure passed unanimously.
The second item of new business was a recommendation to amend resolution 2015-01 by adopting resolution 2017-01 opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling along the South Carolina Coast. The original measure was passed during a brief period when the Obama administration and Washington speculated local offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean was a good idea. TOKI was last among coastal communities to oppose oil exploration at the time, but ultimately did so in a 3-2 vote. The new measure is an entirely different animal.
Councilmember Mezzanotte pointed out that her poll of the environmental committee suggested near universal support for the ordinance. Eyes widened however, when councilmember Koach asked why council didn’t simply let the previous resolution stand as is. This question proved serendipitous, and enabled several council members to clarify their positions.
Councilmember Wilson and Mayor Weaver were both members of counsel in 2015, and both voted against the resolution. Koach’s question allowed the mayor to elaborate on his opposition at the time, which was based on technical details he felt the previous resolution shouldn’t have made, and express support for the current measure as more direct.
The mayor went on to say it seemed there is a “clear majority of our citizens who don’t want drilling off the coast.”
Councilmember Mezzanotte wasn’t done though, adding, “This is a matter of who and what we are. We should make a statement, and we should feel good about it.” The mayor reminded attendees he had spent 25 years in oil and gas, but said he would support the resolution.
Councilmember Widuch made similar remarks, but conceded that he was in a minority. Both Weaver and Widuch joined in a unanimous vote to oppose offshore oil exploration.
The final item of new business was a discussion of the annual employee disclosure statements on ethical conduct and conflicts of interests. The mayor was quick to specify this move was unrelated to past activity among staff, but merely a matter of best practices. He said the town’s attorney would receive, assess, and report to council on both full time and contract staff. Councilmember Koach suggested failure to provide requested information and/or sign the contract should be a dismissal offense. The measure passed unanimously.
Councilmember Mezzanotte reported the environmental committee and its subcommittee on sea level rise had identified 30 areas of concern and (potential) improvement for Kiawah. She said they are working with Seabrook, Beaufort and Charleston to identify and improve infrastructure in the face of rising seas based on the Army Corps of Engineers assessments.
Councilmember John Wilson reported on the ways and means committee. He thanked staff for a smooth budget cycle and a final product he characterized as “solid and defensible.”
Councilmember Widuch said the new town hall is still on schedule and below budget. He cautioned progress is fluid, but said it looks good for an August move in. He also said the temporary trailer for firefighters residing at station 6 (the intersection of Flyaway and Governors) was onsite. He expects 2 to 6 weeks to move equipment, and expects the old building will be torn down in July.
The mayor then announced the formation of a new project to be headed by John Wilson and Chris Widuch. The Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down the bulk of TOKI’s requests for funds. The town may get $125,000 (without appeal), but council continues to be perplexed by Hilton Head, which got $8 million in relief, and is so similar to Kiawah. The mayor added that FEMA appears to run counter to moving quickly to get business back to normal. He noted one difference; Hilton Head maintains a reserve of $40 million. The observation has the mayor asking if Kiawah needs a bigger reserve fund and/or does the town need to have credit lines in place (similar to Seabrook’s bond options).
Wendy Kulick was back for the second round of citizens comments and asked for TOKI’s help in getting the word out about disaster awareness day, now being held on Seabrook for the third consecutive year. Her concern was fewer Kiawah residents attended when the event was held on Seabrook.
Kulick also asked about the speed limit in front of the town hall and asked the county could be made aware of the situation. She also thanked council for the resolution to oppose offshore oil exploration and commended the town’s efforts to monitor the ethics of its employees.
Kiawah resident Dennis McGill asked about the professional services line of the new budget, noting attorney’s fees were capped at $90,000. Since the town’s attorney takes up $80,000 in annual salary, he wanted to know what the other $10,000 was for. He asked if a final figure had been determined for the outside attorney used to assist TOKI in arbitrating the water rate increase. The mayor said a final number was still not known.
McGill then asked about the Mercer Group’s contracts with TOKI. The mayor responded saying the Mercer Group was currently evaluating the permitting process and wouldn’t move to the issue of salaries until later this year. McGill concluded by asking if the four TOKI staff members who had received excess payments had retuned all funds due the town, only to be informed they had not.
The town’s treasurer would later agree to meet with McGill for a review of the budget. There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.