By Bill Rauch
Announcing his intention to fill Rick Caporale’s vacated Beaufort County Council District 8 seat, a Bluffton resident said last week two of his top three priorities — should he be elected — would be “building a ’South of the Broad’ coalition on County Council,” and “fiscal conservatism.”
Those campaign promises, when taken together, are of course either naive or demagogic because no government can go in both directions at once.
Because regional, racial or ethnic coalitions, while sometimes warranted, are always expensive. We have had real world experience with these phenomena in Beaufort County.
Why are they expensive?
Because they result in Us versus Them decision-making. And Us v. Them politics brings abruptly to an end government operating in a collegial way.
In recent years the Beaufort County Council — notwithstanding a few discordant voices — has run the county on a collegial basis. Recently-departed County Administrator Gary Kubic, former County Council Chairman Weston Newton, present County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville and Vice Chairman Jerry W. Stewart, strong leaders all, have seen to that.
But that could change.
If it does, it will cost us.
And, yes, we are more vulnerable than usual to sudden and ill-advised change because the County Council inexplicably can’t find in a timely fashion a way to put into place Kubic’s replacement.
Should a South of the Broad Coalition gain traction, arguments like “The south pays more so the south should get more” will begin to permeate the public discussion.
Moreover, kooky proposed initiatives — like “Once the school board finishes all those new Bluffton schools, the south should take their new infrastructure and run” — will begin to gain followers. Nevermind that the state legislature, which would have to pass the required legislation to split the district, is committed to getting school districts down to one per county.
But the noises will be made, and bones will be thrown in the effort to keep peace.
Nevermind that about 60 percent of the more than $600 million dollars that have been raised over the past 20 years by countywide school, transportation and infrastructure bond measures and penny taxes have been spent in and around Bluffton.
Nevermind that it was Charles Fraser’s remarkable vision and salesmanship, and the tax dollars that came from northern Beaufort County, that built in its early years the resort we call Hilton Head Island.
Fiscal conservatism requires that the 11 members think and act as a group that respects one another and their mutual commitment to getting the county’s residents and its schoolchildren what they need with the fewest frills and the least fat. Doing this often means providing for different communities differently. One size rarely actually fits all. Just because one district needs a pool doesn’t mean the other ten do. So it takes some good will — some give and take, some collegiality — to get there.
Most recent Beaufort County Councils have been up to that. They have operated collegially, and it has worked for them. It’s been 25 years now since County Council last faced a serious taxpayer revolt.
When Mike Covert, who represents Bluffton’s District 7 on the County Council, ran successfully in 2016, he said, “There is no North or South. We are one county.” And as a council member he has commendably practiced what he then preached.
When Fred Washington, Jr. was school district chairman, he sternly kept regional politics in check by imploring his colleagues to “Bridge the Broad.”
Council Chairman Paul Sommerville, a fiscal conservative with common sense, says the same thing in different words. “We are one county. Period,” he likes to say. “Any effort to divide Beaufort County in any way will harm us all.”
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.