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Pawleys Island: Town politics as usual means no politics at all

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

For the first time, Mike Adams struggled when it came time to register for another term on Pawleys Island Town Council. He is in his sixth term and serves as mayor pro tem.

His day job is regional manager for Heaven Hill Distilleries, and the company has added a couple of brands recently. “Business is more demanding,” Adams said.

But the filing period, which began last week and continues until noon Monday, caught Adams at a slow time in his work routine. So he is a candidate for another two-year term.

Serving on the council isn’t really like work, he said. “The mayor keeps it so well organized.”

Bill Otis, who has filed for an eighth term, is the town’s longest-serving mayor.

The town hasn’t had an election since 2005. A state law passed in 2003 allows municipalities to cancel an election if there are no contested seats. The town went ahead with the 2005 vote even though there were no contested seats, treating it as a referendum on the council.

There were two inquiries about council seats in 2009: one asking about salaries (none) and the other asking about the town limits (just the island itself). This year, no one except the incumbents has filed or expressed any interest, said Donna Mahn, Georgetown County’s director of elections.

Council Members Mary McAllister and Sarah Zimmerman and Glennie Tarbox have also filed for another term. They huddled for a few minutes before this month’s council meeting to discuss the disclosure forms they are required to file.

With no election, there’s no campaign and no campaign spending form to file with the state Ethics Commission. In the 2003 election, where there were six candidates for the four council seats, McAllister and Zimmerman held an oyster roast.

“We had to fill out three or four forms to report that,” McAllister recalled.

She and Zimmerman said it was an easy decision to run again. “I care for the island and what goes on on the island,” said McAllister, now in her fifth term.

“We do what we can to improve the island,” said Zimmerman, who was first elected to Town Council in 1997. “It’s good to have women on the council,” she added. “It brings a different perspective.”

Otis said he decided several years ago that when he got to this point in his mayoral career he would reassess his role.

“I feel like I’ve been able to make a difference and help maintain the essense of Pawleys, and recruit other people to work with us,” he said.

If there is no election, the town will continue another tradition: an Election Day barbecue. “Absolutely,” Otis said.

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