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Pawleys Island: To replace mayor, fingers point in one direction

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The finger-pointing began just days after Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis announced that he won’t run again after 20 years in office. “He’s telling me I should run. I’m telling him he should run,” said Council Member Ashley Carter.

He was talking with Council Member Rocky Holliday. They are both in their first term on Town Council.

“A number of people have asked me,” Council Member Mike Adams, the mayor pro tem, said. “One volunteered to be my campaign manager. They wanted to volunteer me.”

Otis served a term on the council before he ran for mayor in 1997. He was running for the vacancy created when Mayor Julian Kelly was suspended after his arrest on a charge that he threatened a newspaper reporter. It was the first election cycle after island voters agreed to reduce the term of office for the mayor and council from two to four years.

Announcing his retirement eight months before filing opens gives people time to get used to the idea that there will be a new mayor for the first time in a generation. “It gives everybody plenty of time to think about what their place in this might be,” Otis said.

Carter doesn’t plan to run. “I’m trying to get away from taking on more responsibility,” he said. Holliday didn’t volunteer either, he said. (Holliday was out of town and could not be reached for comment this week.)

The announcement by Otis at the end of the monthly council meeting caught the members and staff by surprise. None more so than Adams, who said he had planned to announce that he wasn’t going to run for another term. He was first elected in 1999.

Adams now plans to run for another council term to make sure there is continuity, but he won’t run for mayor. “I feel certain someone with good qualifications will come forward,” he said.

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman was first elected in 1997. “A lot of people asked me if I was going to do it,” she said. “I don’t have that kind of time.”

Otis recalled being asked by an attorney representing someone who was suing the town over an ordinance how much time he spent at Town Hall. He said the implication was that he was running the place. When he added it up, he said, it averaged about 30 minutes a day.

His colleagues on the council say that doesn’t reflect his impact on the town. “That job is fairly demanding, and he has given countless hours to the town in that position,” Adams said.

“Bill Otis will be a tough act to follow,” Zimmerman said.

Although the town limits only cover the island itself, the Pawleys Island mayor also has an impact on the mainland. Otis was part of the Don’t Box the Neck group that opposed requests that Georgetown County change the zoning to allow big-box retail stores on Highway 17. He was able to attract funds for those efforts from island property owners who were concerned about the impact of large-scale development off the island.

In recent months, Otis has joined other mainland residents in opposing a plan by Pawleys Plantation for a golf cart access through neighborhoods along the South Causeway.

“Being around a long time creates a wider view of the position in the community,” Otis said. Some mainland residents actually think he’s their mayor, he added.

He is stepping down in part because he believes the town is able to run without him since Ryan Fabbri was hired as its first professional administrator. While he liked being involved, Otis said he realized future officeholders might not share that view.

“There’s no reason you couldn’t dial it back,” Fabbri said. “I don’t think you’re going to find anyone for a part-time, unpaid position who puts in that much effort.”

Since his announcement, Otis said a few people have asked him about the mayor’s job. He won’t be surprised if there is more than one candidate, he added.

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