By Bill Rauch
It’s my hope that 2019 will be the year the lines between our local governments become less rigid.
Yes, great progress has been made since the 1990s, when Beaufort County’s municipalities sued each other over their growth plans, and the county government and the school district were at constant war over turf.
Despite growing bigger every day, Beaufort County has grown smaller since those days. Now if we don’t hang together, to quote Ben Franklin, “we’ll assuredly hang separately.”
Several areas of focus, all regional by their natures, come to mind — highways, pressuring the state to bring fairness to school funding, offshore drilling, law enforcement, stormwater and affordable housing.
On highways, clearly Hilton Head Island needs another corridor to I-95, and Beaufort needs the Third Crossing. If they are “looking down the road,” as they ought to be, both towns should be working together and with their other partners to bring these longstanding needs to reality.
On school district funding, the state formula has long been unfair to Beaufort County. As our legislative delegation gains seniority, the time approaches when fairness might finally be brought to the formula. But our representatives in Columbia will need the help of the other locally-elected officials to grab and maintain the legislature’s focus.
On drilling, Mayor Billy Keyserling has been at his best there, but he must be careful to make sure his coastal coalition-building efforts are over and above the necessary day-to-day work of mayoring that is required at home.
On stormwater, to date there has been some commendable but largely partnerless dancing. However, in 2019 the time for line dancing has come.
The drafting and implementation of Beaufort County’s regional plans should be the model: Get everyone in a room and hash out a plan — complete with goals and timetables — that serves everyone. Work out the funding and start implementing the plan.
Now’s the time to get started. The seas are rising, and the the recent boom times are starting to feel iffy.
But a line dance needs a whispering caller to help everyone stay in step. Who will that be? Stu Rodman? Brian Flewelling? Michael E. Covert? Or Paul Sommerville, who — faced with a deeply divided council that couldn’t for nearly two years agree on an administrator — as chairman has managed so far to keep the government on track, out of trouble and speaking to its neighbors.
He might like the time off, but can the county afford to give it to him?
It appears that decision will be up to the newly-elected Beaufort County Council members, who as they are sworn in will face not only the chairman choice, but that of calling the direction of the new County Administrator search as well.
The next chairman and administrator will have to work not just with the county’s prickly mayors, but with Marty Sauls in Jasper County, the state legislative delegation, and the feds, too.
On the subject of “hanging together,” when the feds bring their long-anticipated MS4 Clean Water squeeze here, the local governments will be heartened to have one another for company in the vise.
In 2019 let’s see how good our locally-elected officials can get at dancing together. If we make clear we will judge them on that basis, they might just surprise us.
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.