As one of the nation's fastest-growing towns, Bluffton is facing many challenges, from traffic congestion and a developing infrastructure to industry diversification and meeting the needs of a young community. How the town will address these challenges is up to the winners of the upcoming mayoral and Town Council races.
Eight candidates are vying for two at-large Town Council seats this November. Mayor Lisa Sulka, who is seeking a third term, also faces a challenge from Beaufort County Councilwoman Cynthia Bensch. Elections will be held Nov. 3, but voters must be registered by Oct. to cast a ballot. All voting precincts will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. A runoff election, if-necessary, will be held Nov. 17.
Check out the profiles below to find out what each of the candidates envisions for Bluffton.
Neighborhood: Stock Farm in historic Bluffton, since 1993
Current job: Realtor with Carson Realty and mayor of Bluffton
Priorities if re-elected: "My main priority all along has been to keep our young people here in Bluffton, and work to make sure we have high quality jobs," Sulka said.
Sulka said the May River and economic development are top issues on her agenda.
Leadership style: "I believe that a good leader listens to others and helps create consensus on issues," Sulka said. "The type of leader that benefits our town is one that is involved with the community."
According to Sulka, her leadership role involves being a "cheerleader" for the town and fostering strong relationships with other municipalities.
Neighborhood: Shell Hall
Current job: Beaufort County councilwoman representing District 7
Priorities if elected: Complete Bluffton Parkway evacuation routeto Interstate 95for Sun City Hilton Head and Bluffton residents and attract economic development in medical, pharmaceutical and scientific markets.
"I-95 is the most important component in the goal of creating manufacturing and industry jobs in preparation of completing the Jasper Port," Bensch said.
She also said the town must provide water and sewer infrastructure and eliminate antiquated septic tanks to protect waterways.
Other issues that are important to Bensch are promoting public trust and transparency and helping Bluffton grow into a family-oriented community.
Leadership style: "I am not a ‘go along to get along’ politician; my pledge is doing what's right for the people," Bensch said. "I enjoy doing research because learning the background of most problems is critical to resolving them."
Town Council Race
Neighborhood: Promenade; Bluffton resident for 22 years
Current job: Development coordinator for Timbers Resorts
Priorities if elected: Focus on attracting new businesses to the area, including different types of industry and “green” technology.
"Bluffton has to diversify its economy away from just tourism/hospitality, retail and construction, which are far too susceptible to economic fluctuations," Spears said. “Let’s try to find a sustainable industry, like ‘green’ technology, that can provide work for skilled, educated employees, as well as attract new talent to the area."
Other top issues for Spears include solving the downtown parking crisis and addressing the needs of young families.
"More and more young people are moving back to town, and it is apparent that the town is not designed for them," Spears said. "There are very few locations for safe and public recreation for families."
Leadership style: "I think it does a disservice to a town when a leader is elected and has blinders on to everything but their point of view," Spears said. "It’s OK to change your mind on a subject if the other side makes a compelling case."
Neighborhood: May River Road
Current job: Highway maintenance engineer
Priorities if elected: Continued support for the expansion of the Buck Island-Simmonsville infrastructure and for pedestrian and bicycle accommodations throughout the town.
Brown said the town must "maintain quality of life, so families can grow here for generations to come."
Leadership style: Democratic.
"Being able to consider both ends may serve the town better," Brown said, noting that town leaders should represent all of the people.
Neighborhood: Cypress Ridge, since 2013
Current job: Retired radiologic technologist and manager of radiation oncology facilities
Priorities if elected: Focus on education, economic development and affordable housing.
Leadership style: "My leadership style is to listen, serve, be the person others choose to follow by setting the pace through expectations and examples, as well as provide vision for the future," McKinsey-Chandler said.
Neighborhood: The Farm on Buckwalter; Bluffton resident since 2002
Current job: Retired state chief investment officer and college professor
Priorities if elected: Eliminate the Bluffton Police Department and transfer its work to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
"The Bluffton Police Department gave out 7,827 traffic tickets and warnings in 2014 and had only one homicide during the year," Sims said, noting that Bluffton citizens have about a 50 percent chance of being pulled over in the town.
"We could use the millions of dollars that we save from this transfer for worthwhile projects in the town of Bluffton or to reduce our taxes," Sims said.
Leadership style: "When you employ an individual to do a job, you should let them do their job and not micro-manage unless it becomes absolutely necessary," Sims said. "If it does become necessary, then you might need to look for someone else to do that particular job."
Neighborhood: Old Town Bluffton resident for 30 years
Current job: Pitmaster and owner of Bluffton BBQ
Priorities if re-elected: Continue to push for economic development in Bluffton and prioritize watershed issues.
"Another priority is to ensure that the Bluffton state of mind is not mulled over by regional ignorance," Huffman said. "We are not someplace else you have been. ... Not to say we don't take inventory of other successful examples, but this is Bluffton. There is a reason everyone has embraced our community and moved here."
Leadership style: "My leadership style is to be present, have a seat at the table, listen and have a say with a common-sense approach when necessary," Huffman said. "My experience so far is that we are shaping responsible policy and making a difference. The people always let us know otherwise, and I respect that."
Neighborhood: Boundary Street, Old Town; Bluffton resident since 1994
Current job: Former Palmetto Electric Cooperative operations manager
Priorities if elected: Long-term responsible growth to protect the environment and quality of life, including the completion and upgrade of the storm water model.
"The May River can become polluted, the roads overburdened if we do not manage our resources wisely," Wood said. "The recent debate about the limited parking in Old Town is a perfect example of the growth curve getting ahead of us."
Leadership style: Wood sees himself as a consensus builder who believes in strategic and long-term planning.
"Listen, because you just might learn something," he said. "Respect people's opinions, and when disagreeing, try not to box them into a corner."
Neighborhood: Bluffton Village
Current job: Executive sales manager at Cashback Corp.
Priorities if elected: Outdoor entertainment in downtown Bluffton, which can help attract tourism.
"I want to put Bluffton on the map for tourism, make it more than a stopover for heading to Hilton Head or to Savannah," Downey said. "I will work closely with the chamber and businesses in the area to make this happen."
Other issues that are important to him include keeping the May River clean and improving the parking situation.
Leadership style: Downey says he is the kind of leader who listens to all people and ideas.
Neighborhood: Hampton Hall resident for six years
Current job: Managing partner at Harbor Light Insurance and Wealth Advisors
Priorities if elected: Plan short- and long-term growth, including services and infrastructure to sustain it, and maintain quality of waterways.
Other top issues for Lutz include tourism and recreation and attracting “green” business such as IT and health care services.
Leadership style: "Being self-employed, you are forced to develop organizational, supervision and negotiating skills, including problem solving and long range planning," Lutz said. "It's like I tell my children, ‘I am not smarter than you, I just have more life experience.’ Shame on you if you don't take advantage of it."
Lutz said a council member should be compassionate, listen to town residents and work with the other town representatives.
SENATE DISTRICT 45 SPECIAL ELECTION
A special election will be held Oct. 20 to select a replacement for the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney. The reverend and married father of two was among the nine victims gunned down in June during Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Senate District 45 spans parts of Jasper, Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, and Hampton counties.
Democrat Margie Bright Matthews, a Walterboro attorney for 26 years and one-time public school teacher, will face Republican Alberto Fernandez of Jasper County, a businessman and minister who was the only candidate to seek the Republican nomination.
2015 Election Calendar
Last day to register for town of Bluffton municipal elections
7 a.m.-7 p.m.: Senate District 45 special election
10 a.m.: Canvass hearing for Senate District 45 special election
7 a.m.-7 p.m.: Town of Bluffton municipal elections
10:30 a.m.: Canvass hearing for town of Bluffton municipal elections
7 a.m.-7 p.m.: Town of Bluffton municipal runoff election, if necessary
10 a.m.: Canvass hearing for town of Bluffton municipal runoff election, if necessary
New Photo ID Requirements
New voter photo identification requirements are in effect. Have one of these five photo IDs ready to vote:
- S.C. driver's license
- ID card issued by S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles
- S.C. voter registration card with photo
- Federal military ID
- U.S. passport