Low-key council race takes nothing for granted
Contested elections are rare in the town of Pawleys Island, so having five candidates for four seats on Town Council might have raised the profile of this year’s race.
But if that’s so, the candidates haven’t seen it, and their campaigns have been low-key heading toward Election Day next week.
“I feel like the town is approaching boring government,” Mayor Brian Henry said, echoing a phrase that was coined by Bill Otis, the town’s longest-serving mayor, when he took office during a turbulent period in the 1990s.
Henry is seeking his third two-year term.
“I think there’s some interest, but I don’t get the impression that the candidates are doing much,” Henry said.
Eileen Boettcher Patterson is the challenger in the council race. She and her husband, Gary, moved to the island from Northern Virginia in 2022 after vacationing there for many years. She said she saw the election as a way to get more involved in the town, but didn’t plan to campaign.
“I didn’t do anything active,” she said. “The number of full-time residents who are eligible to vote is pretty small.”
There are 178 registered voters on the island, an increase of eight since the last election when the turnout was 16.5 percent.
Only the incumbents were on the ballot in the 2021 election, but there were 10 write-in votes for council and three for mayor. They didn’t change the outcome, so the write-in candidate or candidates were not disclosed by the Georgetown County Voter Registration and Elections office, which runs the town election.
“That did catch my eye,” Henry said of the write-ins. He got 15 votes in 2021. “I feel fairly confident that the parties who had so vehemently opposed me in 2019 have softened.”
He unseated a one-term incumbent, Jimmy Braswell, who challenged Henry’s eligibility because he listed the Sea View Inn, which he and his wife own, as his primary residence. Henry’s candidacy was upheld. There were 72 votes cast in that election, which also had five candidates for the four council seats. That was just over 46 percent of the people registered in the town.
“I don’t sense a lot of energy or anticipation in this election, but by the same token you don’t really know,” Henry said, citing the example of 2021.
Sarah Zimmerman is the longest-serving council member at 26 years. She is seeking a 14th two-year term.
Zimmerman hasn’t done any campaigning. Council members were invited to a meeting of North End property owners over Labor Day weekend to talk about issues in the area, but that wasn’t a political event, participants said.
“We’ve always kind of been low-key” when it comes to elections, Zimmerman said.
She and Ashley Carter, who is seeking a fifth term, were the top vote-getters in 2021.
“The way I feel about it is, if I can serve I’m happy to,” Carter said. “I enjoy being on the council.”
The politics is important to some people, but not everyone, he noted.
“I don’t know if it’s 50-50,” Carter said, but he added that “government is far down the list” of reasons people come to Pawleys Island. “It’s important for us to realize that.”
Rocky Holliday is also seeking a fifth term on council. He would like to see more people turn out to vote, but said he doesn’t consider it a bellwether for engagement.
“It’s influenced by so many other factors. I prefer to get feedback more on issue-related things,” he said.
The town has done that with surveys for its strategic plan and its sea level rise adaptation plan.
“People can certainly say something with regard to a vote, but it’s not as clear as if you’re asking about an issue,” Holliday said. “The bottom line is getting more people out to vote.”
A week before the election, five people had voted early at the Voter Registration and Elections office in Georgetown.
Also on the ballot is Guerry Green, who is seeking a fourth term on the council. “Somebody asked me if I was running. I said I was walking,” he said.
But he planned to make some calls to voters before Election Day.
“I think it’s important, if you’re going to ask people to vote for you, to thank them,” he said.
Green said the council has a good record of protecting and preserving the island. He also said that there was less discord than in past elections.
“It’s gotten back to the boring status,” Green said. “The most boring since Bill Otis was mayor.”
Boettcher Patterson, who is making her first run for elected office, said the experience has helped her learn more about the town’s issues.
That includes a pair of lawsuits stemming from the town’s efforts to condemn easements from three beachfront property owners on the south end to allow the town to partner with the Army Corps of Engineers for beach renourishment.
“One friend cautioned me, I don’t know if you want to be involved in that,” she said.
But she wants to be involved whatever the result next Tuesday. Recycling is one issue that stood out.
The town found out several years ago that the blue recycling bins it bought for each home on the island weren’t compatible with Georgetown County’s recycling program because they didn’t separate the materials.
“What are some simple, small ways we can start recycling on the island,” Boettcher Patterson asked. “I’m going to be engaged whatever happens.”
The polls will be open Nov. 7 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pawleys Island Community Church for voters registered in the town, which is only the area east of Pawleys Creek. Voters can check their status at scvotes.org.