HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Alan Perry threw his hat in the ring first for the 2022 mayoral election and is the last candidate standing today.
The residential mortgage lender and longtime island resident won the Nov. 22 runoff with 56 percent of the votes.
The Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Beaufort County’s Board of Canvassers will certify the results today.
A little more than 1,000 votes out of 8,610 separated him from his opponent, former school board member JoAnn Orischak. She had led by 440 votes in the Nov. 8 general election, in which 15,761 people voted. Since neither of the two leading candidates earned more than half the total, the race went to a runoff.
“My roots are ingrained in this community,” said Perry, who moved to Hilton Head as a child in the early 1970s. His father, Charles Perry, was well-known as a founder of the island’s recreation center and an announcer on the ninth green of the RBC Heritage golf tournament.
In addition to his work as a senior loan officer for Mortgage Network, Perry has served on Hilton Head Island’s Planning Commission and on the board of the Island Rec Center, among other volunteer positions. A graduate of the College of Charleston, he married another longtime island resident in 2017, and together they have four children.
Speaking about all his connections to the community, including real estate groups, the mayor-elect said of himself and his wife at a Nov. 14 forum, “Yeah, we know a lot of people. And that can be a really good thing. It’s not part of the good ol’ boy system that is trying to drive Hilton Head to overdevelopment. It is a history of knowledge and friends and family and a community that wants to work together to make it the best place that we can call home.”
Candidates, voters worried about capacity
Development loomed large on the campaign trail this fall, said Perry, as did the three newly elected council members.
“I think there is a great concern about the capacity on the island, the density, and also the number of folks who who might be visiting and the impact that that has on our beaches, and also on our traffic,” said Ward 2 Council member-elect, Patsy Brison, an attorney who specializes in zoning and land use.
Ward 4 Council member Tamara Becker, who was reelected this month, said voters shared her chief concerns: “Overdevelopment, the lack of focus or loss of quality of life for residents.”
Even one of the top issues for the unopposed Ward 5 election winner, Steve Arnold, who serves on the town’s Planning Commission with Perry, spoke to development woes. “I’m very concerned about Sea Pines Circle traffic,” he said.
The busy roundabout near one of the island’s largest gated resorts is not as niche an issue as it could appear. It relates to the contentious subject of the proposed new bridge between Hilton Head and the mainland, which will create a six-lane corridor onto the island. A petition with about 10,000 signatures has urged officials to reconsider the plan, citing fears that a wider bridge would increase traffic and further tighten the bottleneck at Sea Pines Circle.
Speaking about how much more crowded and built-up the island has become since the 1970s, voter Loreen Buchanan said, “I went through grief.”
Buchanan described returning from college in the 1980s and finding that many of the scenic, wild places she remembered were gone. “It messes with your mind because it’s like, ‘I know something else used to be here. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I know it wasn’t this.'”
On the other hand, she said, places like the Island Rec Center have provided more opportunities for kids.
“So, you know, so there’s been good that’s come along with development,” Buchanan said. “I’m not gonna say it’s all bad.”
Workforce housing another top issue
As the island’s population has grown — expanding from self-governing Gullah communities, to second-home owners, to permanent residents, to short-term renters — the housing has changed, too, leaving a shortage of affordable homes for workers on modest salaries.
Thomas Barnwell, a fourth-generation native islander born in 1935, said people who live outside the island’s 13 private communities have long struggled to get the town government to pay attention to the need for workforce housing, but it is on officials’ radar now.
“I’m talking about housing for the people that do yard service. I’m talking about housing for people that work in assisted living facilities. I’m talking about housing for those teachers that have a desire to live on the island,” Barnwell said.
Projected Mayor-elect Perry agreed that workforce housing will be a key topic during the coming years.
“We have to be careful that we make sure that it is appropriate for what is needed, and that we don’t overdo it,” Perry told The Post and Courier. “What is the number that needs to be on-island, and what is the number that may need to be off-island from a regional standpoint?”
He added he’d also address voters’ concerns that tax dollars alone didn’t pay for workforce housing, but that the town developed strong public-private partnerships. “From there, I think it would go to making certain that it’s not over building a monstrosity that is not within our character,” he said.
Island’s form of government
When he takes office on Dec. 6, Perry will join 270 other mayors across the state, all of them elected at-large from their cities and towns.
Hilton Head is one of only 32 South Carolina municipalities that uses a council-manager form of government, in which the town manager is empowered with chief executive authorities such as preparing and executing a budget, hiring and firing employees, and implementing the policies that the council sets, said Scott Slatton of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.
In that situation, “The mayor is often the de facto spokesman for the city and the spokesperson for the council. They are obviously by the public viewed as the sort of leader of the city,” Slatton said.
Rock Hill, Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Aiken are other places with a council-manager government.
The role of Hilton Head’s mayor became a framing issue in the campaign this fall, as Perry’s opponent promised to dedicate herself full time to the position, despite its pay of only $25,000 a year.
Slatton said acting as a full-time mayor in a council-manager system would be “unique.”
He noted other mayors who held on to their regular jobs: Knox White in Greenville is an attorney; Jerome Rice in Spartanburg is a school teacher; until recently, Brenda Bethune in Myrtle Beach co-owned the local Budweiser distributor.
Addressing the fact that he will keep up his work as a mortgage lender, Perry praised his colleagues. “I have a great team … that is allowing me to go into this endeavor,” he said at the Nov. 14 forum on Hilton Head Plantation, the gated community where he lives.
In addition, addressing what he called “the 800-pound elephant in the room,” Perry said he had the right bearing for the job. “There is a demeanor that is required to sit on the dais to take the heat.”
The newly elected mayoral and Town Council terms run four years, until Dec. 1, 2026.