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Pawleys Island: Mayor gets surprise vote of confidence

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Although Pawleys Island voters won’t go to the polls this year, Mayor Bill Otis got a vote of confidence this week when he was named Citizen of the Year by the Pawleys Island Civic Association. With 446 families represented, the association’s membership is significantly larger than the town’s voter rolls.

The town doesn’t have to hold an election because no one filed to challenge Otis or the four incumbent council members. There were 140 registered voters in the town in 2005, the last time there was a municipal election.

Otis was elected mayor in 1997, running on a pledge to return “boring government” to the island. That followed Gov. David Beasley’s suspension of Julian Kelly as mayor after Kelly was indicted for threatening a newspaper reporter and lawsuits that followed the town’s 1994 annexation of the 1,900-acre Prince George tract on the mainland.

Otis said he reassessed his role before deciding to file for an eighth two-year term and decided he was still able to make a difference in the civic life of the island.

He also serves on the civic association board, but was absent when it voted on this year’s Citizen of the Year. As Eleanor Adams, the association vice president, read the citation, Otis bowed his head when he realized the award was for him.

“See what happens when you miss a meeting,” he said as he stepped to the podium through a standing ovation in the packed Pawleys Island Chapel.

“This is a special place,” Otis said.

He asked the other council members to stand. Then the people who serve on the town’s boards and commissions. Then the people who have contributed to its various projects. By the time Otis was through, the entire audience was on its feet again.

“What other place can do that? That’s what makes this place special,” Otis said.

He said afterward that he still believes town government is boring, at least in comparison to the factious days in the mid-1990s.

But not boring to people who live or own property on the island.

“Our focus is on Pawleys Island and its preservation and its people,” Otis said. “It’s a balancing act. It always will be.”

The town has to act to head off change it sees coming. It marked crosswalks at intersections on the North End this year after a review of parking and traffic problems by the Planning Commission. It has increased its police department to five full-time officers, enough to have round-the-clock coverage.

During his State of the Town address to the association members, Otis said there were about 25 thefts from unlocked cars this summer. There were six arrests.

“The police department really stayed on top of this,” Otis said. “We got ’em.”

He drew gasps when he told the association two burglary suspects admitted to police they had a gun when they entered an unlocked house.

“It’s not the way it used to be,” Otis said. “Lock your doors.”

He first came to Pawleys Island in 1948, when he was 8 years old. His family has had a home on the island for 60 years. “I hate to be the bearer of that” warning, he added.

Questions from the association members were few. Why can’t glass be put in the recycling bins? (Too dangerous for the jail inmates who hand-sort items.) What’s the law on fireworks? (“We don’t allow any,” Otis said, “not even in your possession.”) How should owners deal with illegal parking? (Post your property, then call police if there’s a violation.)

One North End property owner said he thought speeding was more of a problem than parking. “I wouldn’t say it’s NASCAR, but it’s at least Indy 500,” he told Otis.

Otis said he would ask police to set up a radar unit to monitor traffic, which they did Saturday and Sunday.

“I’d like to see it proactive rather than reactive,” the owner said.

Otis said later that the comments from association members show that’s what the town has done. “The folks in that room understand the needs that are being addressed are the needs they support,” he said.

Since the town was formed in 1985, with the support of the civic association, it’s always had to weigh what kinds of changes to make in order to keep the island from changing.

“To do enough, to do it timely enough and not do too much,” Otis said. “That’s the challenge.”

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