2018 CITY GUIDE HILTON HEAD ISLAND: Moving On

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HILTON HEAD MAYOR DAVID BENNETT REFLECTS ON TERM

Hilton Head Mayor David Bennett recently announced that he is not running for a second term, citing among other things the need “to fulfill my highest responsibilities — being a good husband and father.” 

Just before announcing his decision, Bennett sat down with Hilton Head Monthly to discuss his first term and unresolved issues facing the town.

Question. What factors influenced your decision not to run?

Answer. I am pursing my own balance. With all the work to be done in our community, the mayor’s job is not a part-time job. Even with the assistance of many, many volunteers, the commitment is substantial and that impacts my personal and my professional life and, frankly, there are things that I want to accomplish in those areas. Moreover, I want to be a good example of someone who took their turn as a civil servant without being a career politician. We have more than enough of those, in my opinion.

Bennett2Q. As you near the end of your term as mayor, what do you consider your top three accomplishments?

A. Many of my accomplishments are the results of what I would call a substantial grassroots efforts. First among them would certainly be the infrastructure and environmental improvements that we have made, beginning with the five-year sanitary sewer master plan. That is a collaborative partnership between the Town of Hilton Head Island, the Hilton Head Public Service District and Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. By spring of 2019, we will have installed just under 10 miles of sanitary sewer main. That is going to enable approximately 430 parcels … to move off of septic systems onto the public sewer service. Probably equally as important is that will prevent new septic system from being permitted. Town Council also has made it a priority to pave dirt roads — during the past three years, we paved 10 dirt roads and we have an additional four that are in the immediate pipeline.

The second accomplishment would be establishing the countywide Economical Development Corporation in what I would characterize as an unprecedented cooperative regional effort with participation by leaders from every municipality across the county.

A third accomplishment would be galvanizing our identity as a distinguished home of world-class arts, culture and heritage.

Q. What do you leave unaccomplished?

A. I still see opportunity to revitalize and repurpose the aging real estate stock in our community core. Our distinct Gullah/Geechee community still lacks the town’s support that it needs to achieve true sustainability. I think that requires a unique approach to predominantly land management issues. And I still see missed opportunities due to a lack of transparency and accountability that exist systemically.

Q. If you could revisit any situation, what would it be?

A. I suppose the one that comes to the top of my mind is the inclusion of the proposed arts venue as it relates to the 2016 sales tax referendum. We hadn’t done a good enough job of communicating our overall objectives on the topic, and so asking for a funding, no matter how it was produced, in advance of that was premature and politically naïve.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing Hilton Head’s next mayor?

A. Establishing an appropriate and sustainable balance between tourism and the quality of life of our residents. And that’s probably closely followed by advancing the Gateway Corridor (U.S. 278 between Moss Creek and Squire Pope Road) improvements.

Q. What do you mean by “appropriate balance”?

A. There is a certain level of tourism that is beneficial and important to the island. But there is also a level of tourism that places too much of a burden on our infrastructure and our resources, on our quality of life. That balance needs to be established.

Q. Anything that you’d like to add?

A. I would just want everyone to know that it has been an honor and privilege to be able to represent them … and I that I’ve done my level best to represent them faithfully every day with their best interest at heart. I am appreciative of the opportunity.