Leadership Through Listening



The Daufuskie Island Council doesn’t have official political power in Beaufort County, but the island’s residents look to it to solve many of their problems.

Daufuskie is accessible only by boat, so when a barge that provided crucial services to the island’s estimated 400 residents was temporarily suspended last year, they turned to council members for help. Likewise, questions about the island’s ferry service, police protection and trash disposal all come before the council, as do issues involving historic preservation, economic development, roads and the environment.

The council meets on the third Tuesday evening of each month at Mary Field School, the 1930s building that was the setting for Pat Conroy’s famous Daufuskie-based book “The Water Is Wide” and that is now owned by the island’s First Union African Baptist church. Meetings are open to all and include two public comment periods. Council members are volunteers elected at-large by island residents and property owners.

At a recent meeting, it was standing room only as the council heard residents’ worries about a proposed restaurant and store coming to the county-owned building formerly occupied by Marshside Mama’s restaurant.

Council member Roger Pinckney tried to smooth over concerns about transparency in the process the county used to negotiate the lease with an entrepreneur who doesn’t live on Daufuskie.

“I think it’s all going to work out for the good of the community,” he said. “The restaurant will provide employment for locals and entertainment for us. We want a general store.”



The seven-member Daufuskie Island Council, led by Co-Chairs John Schartner and Leanne Coulter, is the “voice and advocate for Daufuskie Island with Beaufort County, state, and federal officials and administrative agencies,” according to its website. The council also works to ensure that local, state and federal government initiatives that involve Daufuskie are implemented smoothly, and aims to pool resources to find efficient, effective solutions to issues affecting the island. It was created to enhance property values and protect the investments of property owners and residents.

Despite the importance of the council to island life, Co-Chairman Leanne Coulter said communication with local elected officials could be better. She and the other members sometimes learn that Beaufort County Council plans to take action that will affect the island only when they read about it in the local media — as was the case with a road paving project that the county will undertake on Daufuskie.

“Paving dirt roads is something we want to approach very cautiously. Daufuskie’s dirt roads are part of our island’s historical charm and a major tourist draw,” Coulter said. “We hope the county will be flexible.”

Currently, the Daufuskie Island Council participates in Beaufort County Council meetings through an antiquated audio system.

“We need better communication, starting with a 21st-century hook-up with Beaufort County,” Council Secretary Steve Hill said. “We want to be able to communicate visually as well as verbally.”

It can be hard for state and local officials to strike the right balance on issues affecting Daufuskie, which is only a 30- to 50-minute ferry ride from the mainland — depending on the weather and departure point — but often it might as well be a world away. Case in point: The island’s growing tourism industry led to a spike in problems caused by visitors, including vandalism, impaired driving and damage to rental golf carts, so the Daufuskie Island Council requested an increased police presence last year.

The new patrols represented a drastic change for islanders, who were accustomed to deputies only coming to the island in response to emergency calls. Residents complained about more tickets and warnings for golf cart drivers and drivers of the few cars on the small island — a situation that one man at the meeting described as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The meeting touched on various concerns (“We’re still challenged with armadillos”), the desire to build restrooms at the beach and the state of the golf course (closed, and the grass is not being mowed) at the beleaguered Melrose Resort. The meeting wrapped up with a discussion of parking problems at the mainland terminal for the public ferry. After Hurricane Matthew damaged Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island in October 2016, Daufuskie Island ferry operations were moved to Buckingham Landing on Mackay Creek. The ferry leaves from Buckingham Landing four times daily. Attendees at the meeting reported weekly and daily visitors are causing traffic to back up in the parking lot and are parking illegally at the terminal.

But not every minute was serious at the gathering of neighbors, many of whom greeted each other warmly. Hill announced that Haig Point will host a Gullah culinary festival in October, and many in the crowd expressed joy when they heard said that this season’s 99 loggerhead turtle nests are the most Daufuskie Island has ever seen.