Mt. Pleasant is home to beautiful views, low crime rates, and low property taxes, which have made it attractive to out-of-state retirees and upwardly mobile young families. For the good folks who call Mt. P home — 90 percent of the population is white — it's all rainbows and sunshine. But there are some problems facing the town that make Mt. Pleasant markedly less pleasant — mainly overcrowding in schools and some traffic and infrastructure issues. Because of the low property tax rate and geographical barriers blocking new residential growth, the town will likely need to figure out how to broaden its tax base with new business and industry. Another problem might be civic engagement in the younger population. A recent candidates forum at Moultire Middle School was geezer city. For the first time in four years the town will hit the reboot button on its mayor and half of its eight council members.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Town Councilwoman Linda Page is the candidate to beat in the race for mayor. While her town council campaign four years ago might have been a shoestring affair focused on upgrading a single playground, this time her campaign is a juggernaut. Outgoing mayor Billy Swails supports her, and she recently snagged the endorsement of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Page's family moved to Mt. Pleasant in 1959 and started Page's Thieves Market, a business the mayoral hopeful currently runs.
Her doorstep speech to voters is simple: She's running for mayor because the town has done a great job in the last four years and she wants to continue it as someone who's been in the trenches. She pitches herself as a hard-working problemsolver who will listen to her constituents. She says she's more comfortable in a T-shirt and tennis shoes than a business suit.
"We have lots of things coming up that are going to be important to the town," she says, such as finishing infrastructure work and dealing with overcrowded schools. Page says she'd address overcrowding by working with the Charleston County School District. When it comes to secondary education, she says she's working to bring Francis Marion University to Mt. Pleasant.
Page is also a supporter of spending $22 million on a new town hall, an effort she says is being done with citizen involvement. The town currently has a website where citizens can choose how a new town hall should look and what they'd like it to represent culturally. "We're engaging the community to build a great civic cultural building," she says.
As vice-chair of the CARTA board, Page was one of the only candidates for mayor and town council to bring up public transportation during a recent mayoral forum, saying she'd worked with the Hungryneck Straphangers, which seeks to be a better force for public transit in the area.
One thing Page would do as mayor is "reach across lines that are drawn by the counties," to make sure the town's best interests are represented and figure out how best to work together.
"Your mayor should live here," she says. "I live here."
Joe Bustos isn't a fresh face. A former town councilman for almost a decade, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on it last year. He also briefly served as chair of the Charleston County Republican Party. It was a sea change when Bustos knocked off established incumbent chair Lin Bennett earlier this year on the winds of a more libertarian faction of the GOP. But Bustos stepped down from that GOP post so he could run for mayor of Mt. Pleasant. The hallmark of his campaign is open government.
"One of the first things I'd work on is absolutely reducing the number of executive sessions that are held," Bustos says. "I just think the public needs to be back in the town hall."
Speaking of the town hall, he wants to stop work on a new one, saying it's not an appropriate use of money.
Meanwhile, Bustos says the people of Mt. P have lost faith in their local leaders. He points to the March DUI arrest of councilman John Burn, who had also been accused of sexual assault, and accuses the current mayor and council of circling the wagons around him.
When it comes to big changes, Bustos wants to move the Medal of Honor Museum off the U.S.S. Yorktown and into a permanent building at Patriots Point. If problems ever were to plague the ship, he worries needed repairs would close down the one-of-a-kind museum. He also would create another senior center near Carolina Park and wants to lure suppliers for Boeing to Mt. Pleasant by making the town more attractive.
"You're never going to have smoke stacks in Mt. Pleasant, but a light, green industry — that would be a fit right there by the airport ... before residential development kind of squeezes it out."
A town councilman serving since 2006, Ken Glasson now wants the top spot. Because he's a leader, that's why.
As current chairman of the bids and purchases and the fire committees, and a member of the finance and transportation committees who is also a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who served in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo, Glasson says he has the resume for the job.
"When I looked at the candidates that are running and I looked at what I've been blessed and fortunate to have experienced, I felt that my qualifications exceeded my opponents," he says. "Being homegrown is not a prerequisite for being the mayor, I'm sorry, because the majority of the people of Mt. Pleasant aren't from here. Two-thirds aren't from here. They came here to enjoy that lifestyle."
Glasson believes Mt. Pleasant has grown beyond a small fishing village. "Our projections are that we'll build out to 100,000 people," he says. "So when you're trying to represent all of Mt. Pleasant, you have to look at the qualifications of the person that we're going to elect as the CEO of the fourth largest municipality in the state."
About his voting record on council, Glasson says he's been "very consistent, very conservative, and I don't flip flop on issues. I stay focused on the bottom line for the town." One of Glasson's grandest goals is to build on that and get the town a AAA bond rating. (Right now it's AA+). He says he wants to make Mt. Pleasant a place to do business and a business-friendly place. And he can do that, he says, because of his leadership skills and experience. Says Glasson, "Unlike my opponents there is no time or necessity for on-the-job training."
C. Carl Carroll Jr.
Carl Carroll, who runs Crazy Carl Taxi, can be hard to track down during daylight hours. He's a dispatcher for the cab company, but he also goes out on calls. You have to hit him up in the evenings if you want to talk, and even then he might be busy. Is he really serious about running for mayor? We don't know, but he's on the ballot.
George A Freeman
A community activist, realtor, and retired software engineer, George Freeman, 64, has been on the ballot nine times in Mt. Pleasant since the 1990s. Call him the perennial candidate. The idealist. Every town has one. But Mt. Pleasant's serves on the Charleston County Planning Commission.
"I believe our current administration has got us in a pickle," Freeman says. He worries the tax base is too dependent on building new homes. "Their resolution is to increase tourism and try to continue to build as many new homes as possible." So he'd go about it differently. He says the town must make an effort to bring in businesses that build products so money comes in from out of town.
Freeman's big idea: create a downtown area for Mt. Pleasant like the one in downtown Greenville. Where? An undeveloped area near the new MUSC hospital. He says the town should work with the developer on the land to make it happen.
As a cycler, Freeman is a strong supporter of bike paths. Mt. Pleasant needs more of them, he says. As mayor, he'd also push for a referendum to allow the citizens of Mt. Pleasant to vote on whether council members should be elected to serve single-member districts instead of holding at-large seats as they do now. "I feel our elected officials are too far removed from our citizens," he says. He feels the town is split into two parts — north and south — and single-member districts would provide better representation.
Freeman doesn't believe increasing tourism is in the town's best interest. "When you bring in more tourism, you're going to put more cars on the road, and the area they're going to try and attract them to is Coleman Boulevard," he says. When that's backed up, he says, motorists will flood Highway 17. Freeman is for a grid system where neighborhoods can be interlinked by back roads off the major thoroughfares.
The only current town councilman running for re-election, Elton Carrier chairs Mt. Pleasant's finance committee, which is fitting since he's been a banker for 35 years. "I'm a pretty boring guy," he says. "I'm the finance guy. I think that's terribly important for the council to have a stable finance person, and I've been that for four years."
Carrier thinks the town has never been in better shape. "Our bond rating has increased, we've put more money into the reserves — like $15 million to $21 million in just two years," he says. "Our finances are in great shape. We haven't raised property taxes in 20 years, so that's something to be very proud of. We've been very austere with our money."
A 40-year resident of the town, Carrier is a Citadel graduate who says the new mayor will need a graybeard council vet like him to provide institutional knowledge and support. He supports financing a new town hall through a bond process and says Mt. Pleasant needs three new schools.
Because he's retired, Carrier says he never misses a committee meeting and subs in for Mayor Swails now and then. "I represent the town at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and I'm the accommodations tax liaison to council for the Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee," he says. "So I do a bit more than some of the council members because I do have the time."
When it comes to the big issue of overcrowding in schools, Carrier says there are 1,500 kids who don't live in Mt. Pleasant who go to the town's schools. "There's your overcrowding issue right there. If we could somehow get those constituent school boards to not approve these transfers ... that's the problem."
All in all, though, Carrier's message is one of a town that's humming along better than some big companies, and he's been the oil in the money machine. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce apparently agrees; after all, they endorsed him.
A Liberian-born reverend who grew up during its civil war and became a U.S. citizen in 2008, Anthony Kowbiedu has the most creative name-based yard signs in Mt. Pleasant: "Ko-be-du will work for you." He's associate rector for missions and evangelism at St. Andrew's Anglican Church, and he wants to bring a "conservative viewpoint to town government."
Like many candidates, Kowbiedu is concerned with how the town can manage its growth. The answer, he says, is more affordable housing. "You can't stop people from moving to Mt. Pleasant," he says. "We need to buy up more property and build houses. We need infrastructure."
He's also concerned with unincorporated areas that are surrounded by the town but part of Charleston County. "We need to enter into dialogue with those leaders of donut-hole communities for those donut holes to be annexed into Mt. Pleasant, and we can develop those properties," he says. That he says, will give the town more land mass to build infrastructure to support growth.
Meanwhile, the town needs more industrial business that can bring in significant revenue, he says, but "not industries that pollute the air." Private schools, for instance, or businesses that can hire lots of workers and create jobs.
Zoning appeals board member Ben Bryson's signature issues are housing and growth. "That's my vocation, that's my background, working in real estate," he says. "Specifically affordable housing and workforce housing."
A believer in smart growth, Bryson thinks the town should review its comprehensive plan, do a couple re-zonings and figure out annexations. "I would like to see us incentivize some builders and developers to consider workforce housing and affordable housing so that police officers and firefighters can not only work in Mt. Pleasant but also live in Mt. Pleasant," he says.
Bryson says he sees firsthand the school overcrowding problem. His son is a freshman at Wando High. "We're not a school board," he says. "But we can put a bug in their ear to hopefully accelerate and expedite new schools that are planned ... and make sure the funding that's allocated for Mt. Pleasant really stays in Mt. Pleasant."
When it comes to growth, he says, Mt. Pleasant is almost built out. "Financially, the town cannot survive on a revenue stream of just residential development and property taxes off just single-family homes," he says. "It's got to be on businesses. Hotels, apartment complexes — that's where the impact fees and tax base has to come from if we're going to have additional revenue to do the special projects and infrastructure that's going to have to be replaced over the next 10 years." Bryson has also received Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's endorsement.
If elected to the town council, Bryson says that's where he'd stay "I honestly have no desire for higher office," he says.
As a former town councilman who served from 1996 to 2008, Gary Santos says he saw some of Mt. Pleasant's growth and traffic problems coming. He lost a bid for mayor four years ago, but decided he didn't have time to hold the top town spot this time around. The economy has picked up, and his shipping business is booming.
"I just feel like I could really be a better benefit to the town if I were a council member," he says. "We have the same vote. For me it's just a better fit." That's not to say he won't run for mayor one day.
Santos is particularly concerned with Mt. P's traffic woes. Back when he was on council, the town secured funding for six lanes from the Arthur Ravenel Bridge all the way to Wando High. "But when I got off, for some reason — and I haven't really gotten a good answer yet other than I was told there was more people going South more than North — they decided to go five lanes at Bowman Road," he says. "So you have the classic bottleneck now. That's one of the concerns I've had, something that's really bothered me."
Here's another: When Santos was on council there was an eight-to-one vote to approve a Coleman Boulevard revitalization plan. He voted against it because it raised the height for buildings to 75 feet. "I just thought those were out of character for Coleman Boulevard.," he says. And he's worried about more tall buildings coming to areas like Shem Creek.
Santos has been there before and can help the newbies get acclimated to council, he says. He wants voters to know he helped secure the land under the Arthur Ravenel Bridge for Waterfront Memorial Park. In 2005 the S.C. Parks and Recreation Association made him its Local Government Official of the Year.
The No. 1 reason Joseph Wren is running for Mt. Pleasant town council is to make sure residents his age are represented. He's 43.
"If you look at council after this November election and take me out of it, and you look at all the candidates running, there will be no one in the 35-to-45 age bracket demographics on council," says the self-described history buff and owner of a legal services firm.
The No. 2 reason he's running is to address overcrowding in schools. "We need a conduit to the school district to get plans — there are no plans right now for a second high school in Mt. Pleasant," he says. "With our growth, that has to change ... everybody knows we need it. As we go further along it's going to be harder to secure necessary land for it ... we have to start the long-term planning for that."
When it comes to development, Wren, who sits on the Mt. Pleasant Land Conservancy, says he's helped protect some of the town's scenic vistas. "I'm not a big fan of annexing Awendaw and McClellanville all the way up 17 and having strip malls or whatever — a 30-mile city of just nothing but Rivers Avenue, so to speak," he says.
The town relies too much on housing growth to pay its bills, says Wren, and he doesn't believe it's sustainable.
He says he'd bring a young, energetic personality to the table when recruiting new business or negotiating with CEOs who might, say, be looking for a place to relocate a high-tech firm. "We can't just be a little residential community," he says. "I know our region as a whole is trying to become the so-called Silicon Harbor of the East Coast, so that's one way. We have to continue doing that." Wren was one of only two council candidates that showed up to a bus ride organized by Hungryneck Straphangers to introduce candidates to transit riders.
Two years ago, Mark Smith, a co-owner of McAlister-Smith Funeral Homes and Palmetto Cremation Society, lost an election for Mt. Pleasant Town Council by 65 votes. "It's quite humbling. So there's absolutely no pride and no ego left in me," he jokes.
Smith has been tapping into his existing network as a member of the Charleston County Republican Party board and as president of the East Cooper Republican Club as he campaigns for another shot at a council seat. "I'm running for the good of Mt. Pleasant, to maintain the quality of life," he says. "I've seen some surveys that were done that over 80 percent of the population likes the direction of the way Mt. Pleasant is going."
For Smith, quality of life means no traffic congestion and no overcrowding in schools. "We're not hearing and reading about it. We're actually living it in our own household," he says of the school issue. His youngest son, an eighth grader, goes to lunch at 10 a.m. because of the amount of students who need to cycle through the cafeteria.
He says there hasn't been any funding identified for the town's storm water and wastewater management. "We have a huge upcoming issue with those issues," he says. "It's not pretty, it's not sexy, it's not glamorous for people to go around and talk about, but those are the kinds of core services I think government needs to be focused on."
As for specific fixes, Smith says there are no sacred cows: "Every single tax dollar that comes out of my pocket, my employees' pockets, and every citizen in Mt. Pleasant's pocket paid to a municipality needs to be treated with the sacredness that it is."
As a business owner, Smith has seen firsthand how bureaucratic red tape can hurt a company's growth, and in his case, it delayed expansion plans for his company. "Those are some of the reasons the fire's in my belly to get involved in local politics," he says. "We need to make sure the government's working for small businesses, not against them."
If elected, Smith says he'll donate his paycheck rather than keep the public's money.
A former town councilman who served for 12 years and was elevated to mayor pro tem, Paul Gawrych considered running for mayor this year but decided he didn't have the time. "I could not come to peace with it," he says, "but I definitely came to peace with the fact that I could serve on council."
Gawrych is Mr. Positive when it comes to the town of Mt. Pleasant.
"We have a lot of good things going on. Seventy percent of the population is happy with the way things are going," he says. "I've been involved in a lot that we have achieved and I think that my experience and my leadership will go a long way to helping whoever the new mayor and council members are to continue to move forward in a positive manner."
Gawrych, who is backed by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, says council members don't need to "protect" or "preserve" the quality of life in Mt. Pleasant. They need to enhance it.
"We've only gotten better," he says. "When I was 10 years old, I could ride my bike to the beach, to Shem Creek, to the Pitt Street Pharmacy. I can do that 40 years later, but it's even safer. And now I've got 60,000 extra people living here, and what that means is now I've got the best public schools in the state, best recreation department in the state. We have low crime, we have very average property tax rates, and it's just a great place to live."
The first thing Gawyrich would do on town council is to reconvene a blue-ribbon committee he helped form in 2004 made up of citizens and business leaders to map out a plan for new schools and expansions. He proposes a two-prong attack plan.
"No. 1 we're going to get that elementary school built at Carolina Park right away, and No. 2, we're going to get that second high school under construction," he says. "As a town council member I am going to be relentless in that department." He says a new school should not have been built on Sullivan's Island.
As for traffic issues, Gawrych says he's "stayed on top" of the Highway 17 widening for six years, but "what we have to do now is complete it with all the interconnecting roads that go in between it and Rifle Range Road."
For Gawrych, the town has continually improved the quality of life for its residents, and he wants to make it even better. "We don't have to have all that landscaping done in the middle of Johnnie Dodds or 17 North, but it's who we are in Mt. Pleasant," he says. "It's our identity."
He's also a big supporter of a comprehensive bicycle and trail program. He says he came up with the slogan Battery 2 Beach, a project of the bike-friendly group Charleston Moves, to create a bike route from Folly to IOP, a project he says could be completed in a few years.
At a recent town council candidates forum, Timm Gipe was the only candidate who didn't use the podium. He gave his stump speech from the floor, down where the voters were, name-dropping friendly faces he knew in the crowd. He also was one of only two candidates to show up to a Hungryneck Straphangers bus ride.
A former councilman and Citadel graduate, Gipe says his 40 years in the real estate business has given him the experience needed to understand the growth issues in Mt. Pleasant. He's endorsed by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Like several other candidates, Gipe wants a second high school, and he says he'd work closely with the Charleston County School District to make sure any new schools are planned carefully. He'd like to see the light industrial area near the Mt. Pleasant airport filled with industries that create jobs, he says, because the town can't survive on tax revenue primarily from new housing. He says he'd work with the business group and all the municipalities to lure businesses to the town.
A new town hall is also important to him. The current town hall is segmented into three different buildings and was built as a school in the late 1960s and early '70s. He says, "It was not designed to handle all the new technology of today, which we need, and one of the things is just the unsafe environment for our city employees." Furthermore, he worries about losing historic town records in the event of a hurricane.
Another issue is Coleman Boulevard improvement, which he'd like to help to completion. "The town is going in a great direction," he says. "Billy Swails and the present council have done an excellent job, and I want to help that council and the new mayor finish some of the items on the agenda in the next four years."