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Electing good people matters

6 mins read

By Bill Rauch

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling has apparently caught the fake news bug that’s going around Washington.

One of my former city council colleagues sent me a copy of the mayor’s recent newsletter, which begins, “After ten plus years planning – stakeholder interviews and meetings … Boundary Street is soon to be officially complete.”

Why’s that fake news?

Because the project’s planning and stakeholder meetings began in 2004 — 14 years ago, e.g. long before Keyserling was mayor — and the Dover, Kohl and Partners plan that calls for almost all of what has been built is dated June 2006. That’s twelve years ago … also long before Keyserling was mayor, nor was the mayor on city council then.

Don’t believe me? The plan is on the city’s website.

The germ of the idea for a Boundary Street facelift to spur quality development and to dress up the city’s then-dreary entrance was Beaufort City Manager John McDonough’s in 2003 or 2004.

I know. I was there, including when we put together the Land Acquisition Fund and Tax Increment Financing District II that together raised much of the needed money to do the job.

But kudos to Mayor Keyserling and City Council for putting the final funding package together, getting the permits, working on the under-grounding with the utilities, and bringing on Neal Pugliese as project manager for the job, including doing an outstanding job working with the property owners.

Now, please get to work on the parallel roadway and the third crossing before traffic on Boundary Street cancels out the newly-acquired gains.

* * *

Speaking of McDonough, his departure from Beaufort was, it was well-known at the time, because he had grown weary of being publicly upbraided by then-City Councilman Gary Fordham. McDonough’s lovely wife, Tippi, and his family were very happy in Beaufort. But in 2006, after several unpleasant council sessions, he let it be known to a headhunter that he would entertain offers, and he was rapidly snapped up by the newly incorporated City of Sandy Springs, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb (population 101,908 in 2014, and with a budget last year of about $445 million, which is roughly 20 times the size of Beaufort’s). Sandy Springs is writing the book on public-private partnerships and municipal service privatization, and McDonough has enjoyed a storied run of 12 years and counting as its city manager.

How elected officials treat staff matters. Why do I mention this?

Because a similar bright future awaits now-departing Acting Beaufort County Administrator Josh Gruber, who finally grew weary of being trashed by County Councilmember Steven Fobes (and the others in the Never Gruber Group of Six: Rick Caporale, Gerald Dawson, Mike Covert, York Glover Sr., and Brian Flewelling) and announced this week he’ll be moving on in August.

With Gruber’s departure and the shake-up that will inevitably follow, there will no doubt be other upper management departures. Moreover, even with the long notice Gruber gave, its unlikely his replacement will be in place when he goes. There are some rocky times ahead for the county government.

It’s tough to have to watch the good ones get chased out of town because good city managers and county administrators are hard to come by, and Beaufort County will have its hands full in a tight labor market trying to attract someone good who’s willing to come work for a famously divided council.

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Speaking of divided councils, Beaufort County School District Chairman Earl Campbell and the five board members who have stuck with him and with Superintendent Jeff Moss (Bill Payne, Cynthia Gregory-Smalls, Geri Kinton, Evva Anderson, and Mary Cordray) finally read the handwriting on the wall and last week worked out a deal for Moss’ departure.

The message had only pulsated mercilessly at them 24/7 in bright neon for two-plus years.

Regrettably it took a couple of Ethics Board violations, a fine and a public reprimand, a still-ongoing FBI bid-rigging investigation including U.S. Attorney subpoenas for school board staffers, and two failed ballot measures to finally prompt them into action.

Two-plus precious years were lost to that six’s weaknesses. And now they will have their hands full in a tight labor market trying to attract someone good who’s willing to come work for a famously divided school board.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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