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Sullivan's Island Mayor

The Town of Sullivan's Island is governed by a seven-member Council, including a voting Mayor. The Mayor and Council members serve staggered four-year terms. Municipal elections are held every odd calendar year in May. Council is charged with establishing goals and policies, modifying Town ordinances, approving the Town's annual budget and awarding Town contracts. Voters will choose the Mayor and three Town Council members in 2021.A Candidate Forum was held on Tuesday, April 13. Here is the link to the video of the forum:https://www.facebook.com/163608920102/videos/201109241539207

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  • Candidate picture

    Patrick M O'Neil
    (NP)

Información Biográfica

Why do you want to represent the citizens of the Town of Sullivan’s Island as Mayor?

What experiences qualify you to serve as Mayor?

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the Town now and in the future? How would you address them?

In 2020, Town Council negotiated a settlement to an ongoing lawsuit that will require the removal of significant portions of trees and vegetation in the Town’s Accreted Land. What is your view of the settlement in relation to the guiding principle in the Town’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan to maintain and preserve the natural environment for the benefit of islanders and wildlife?

In the Comprehensive Plan, resiliency, sea level rise and stormwater drainage were identified as key issues to be addressed. How would you prioritize and fund resiliency efforts to mitigate the unique set of threats to Sullivan Island’s infrastructure, including: storm surge from sea and marsh; sea level rise; stormwater runoff from heavy rain and flooding events?

What would you propose to improve ingress/egress to the Town during beach season and other peak traffic periods, as well as parking in the commercial district?

What are your views on charging for parking?

Campaign Phone (843) 670-9266
Age 73
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/patrick.m.oneil.5 ; Twitter: @oneilpm1
Education BS, Economics, LSU; PhD, Clinical Psychology, University of Georgia
Experience Member, Town of Sullivan’s Island Planning and Zoning Commission, 1993–2001 (Chair, 1999–2001); Member, Town of Sullivan’s Island Town Council, 2001–2015; Mayor Pro Tem, 2005–2009; Mayor, Town of Sullivan’s Island, 2015-present; Member, Board of Directors, South Carolina Beach Advocates, 2019-20
Candidate Email oneilpm@comcast.net
After much deliberation and discussion, I decided to ask my Sullivan’s Island neighbors to elect me to another term as Mayor. Like the rest of the world, we on the Island continue to face a myriad of challenges posed by the pandemic, and I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away while conditions persist for an indeterminate time. Perhaps even more important is the critical juncture at which the Island stands. We face immediate pressure from escalating development and population increases in the tri-county area, growing long-term danger from sea level rise and climate change, and severe threats to the Island’s unique identity from economic factors that compete with our traditional values of conservation and historical preservation. This election will determine whether we want the Island to be a community or a commodity.
6 years service as Mayor; 14 years service on Town Council before that; 7 years on Sullivan's Island Planning Commission; 3 years service, Board of Directors, South Carolina Beach Advocates, 2019-20; 45 years as clinical psychologist;

Other community and state service including 5 years as member and/or Chair of the South Carolina State Board of Examiners in Psychology,
1. Impacts to the Island of escalating development and population increases in the tri-county area; 2. Growing long-term danger from sea level rise and climate change; 3. Severe threats to the Island’s unique identity from economic factors that compete with our traditional values of conservation and historical preservation; 4. Stormwater management; 5. As mentioned earlier, do we want the Island to be a community or a commodity?
This settlement was legally mandated deforestation. It flies in the face of that guiding principle in the Comprehensive plan.

In the October meeting, I offered an amendment to delay the decision; it was voted down 4-3. I offered an amendment to include the votes of each Councilmember on the agreement; it was voted down 4-3. I voted against the agreement; it passed 4-3.

At our March 16 meeting about the revised implementation plan, almost every citizen who offered public comments was strongly opposed. I was also opposed and voted against this work plan; it passed 4-2.

It has been asserted, falsely, that the alternative to the settlement agreement was to cut everything down to three feet. NOT SO. The Supreme Court had merely remanded the case back to the original court to hold a trial on the complaint.

It has also been falsely claimed that voting against the settlement agreement was inconsistent with voting to attempt mediation. Again, NOT SO. Attempting mediation does not require acceptance of any particular proposal that might come out of that effort.

Under its terms, this agreement cannot be undone or fought by a new Council. However, this makes it critical that we do everything possible to prevent any additional damage to what’s left of this unique, priceless natural gift.
It was very appropriate for the new Comprehensive Plan to focus on resilience topics; I am very proud of the Planning Commission's thoughtful and knowledgeable efforts. This is one of our most important set of challenges both for the near term and for the long term.

Regarding stormwater, our stormwater infrastructure is in the road rights of way, and all are owned by SC DOT, which clearly is not able to maintain them much less make much needed improvements. This leaves it to the Town to do as much as it can, which has always been limited. We have a grant application under review by FEMA which will support an Island-wide engineering survey to determine and prioritize what needs to be done in a methodical manner. It will also enable us to take advantage of future grant opportunities to help fund the identified construction needs. It is important to note that any plan of remediation for our stormwater system will be incremental and require a number of years, which is why we need to identify the most pressing needs and the projects that will have the biggest initial impact.

Sea level rise will be with us for the foreseeable future, unfortunately. The Town's floodplain management efforts have been dealing with this for some time. Our building codes and zoning ordinances have been modified in recent years to address the impacts of sea level rise. Part of future stormwater system improvements must include back flow prevention devices for the stormwater outfalls to the marsh, to prevent high tides from entering the stormwater pipes and causing flooding elsewhere. Through my service on the Board of the South Carolina Beach Advocates, we are joining a network of SC municipalities with local tide gauges to better understand what conditions influence the actual water level at the Island and enable us to better predict actual local impacts of predicted very high tides.

Our best protection from ocean storm surge is the accreted land and the maritime forest throughout it. The proposed widespread cutting from the mediation agreement will likely reduce this protection; how much cannot be known at this time. Our best protection on the back of the Island is to maintain a healthy marsh, to retain our setback requirements to avoid having structures that would be in harm's way, and to encourage marsh side property owners to adopt resilient approaches to land planning.

Unlike the lower Charleston peninsula, we can't wall off the Island! This requires us to take the Dutch approach of living with water in all our planning and regulations.
There are only two ways on and off the Island, and both of them are and will be two lane roads: causeway and IOP connector. As the area population continues to swell, traffic to and from the beach will continue to be a challenge on busy beach days, as it has been for more than 50 years. We need to continue to work with Mt Pleasant and IOP to coordinate traffic flow, and to work with the County on ways to encourage visitors to plan their day trips here to avoid congestion by, e.g., carpooling, timing their trip, and using the traffic cameras to see what current traffic is like before leaving home (SCDOT511 app or 511sc.org; BCD Beach Reach app). I am proud to say I led the effort to get our camera on the Causeway a number of years ago.
I do not think we should charge for parking at this time. It runs counter to our Island culture of openness and public access. It also would feed the (incorrect) assumptions by many people in neighboring communities that we want to keep them off the Island, assumptions that sprang up following our necessary pandemic-related restrictions. We don't now have the staff to manage paid parking, and the information we were given from a potential vendor of such services suggested they would charge far too much for those services.

However, I believe in “never say never”. In 2019, the Town (i.e., taxpayers) spent more than $800,000 to accommodate and protect visitors to the Island, nearly all of whom are day-trippers.

Our 2,848 Island parking spaces are almost all on road rights-of-way owned by the SC DOT, which provides precious little upkeep. So maintenance of the road shoulders rests largely on our Island taxpayers’ shoulders.

The Tri-County population is growing exponentially, as is the visitor impact on beach communities. We need more support from the County and State to manage this. Otherwise, down the road we may have to consider some degree of paid parking in some areas at some times.

We need to keep our options open. This is why the bill introduced by Sen. Grooms to prohibit beach communities from ever charging for parking is so ill-conceived and dangerous. If I go to Columbia to speak with Sen. Grooms about this bill, I will have to pay for parking. Why should it be different for beach communities??

However, if we ever have to consider any paid parking in the future, this must be a careful, unrushed, highly transparent process with abundant opportunity for public input.