The Hilton Head Island Town Council gathers in the final weeks of the year to set goals and hear updates on projects, an annual event that draws dozens of residents. This year, council members will travel an hour to Beaufort for the workshop, which will be held over three days and will not be televised.
The 2019 workshop will be held at the Best Western Sea Island Inn on Bay Street in Beaufort — 41 miles away from the Hilton Head Island Town Hall. It’s set for Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning, Dec. 5-7, a stark change from the past three years of workshops, which have been held on the island on weekdays. And it will cost more, because taxpayers are paying for lodging, in addition to event space and food.
The City of Beaufort, by comparison, holds its retreats 9 miles away at the St. Helena Library conference room. The Port Royal town council meets for its retreat in its regular council chambers. In recent years, the Town of Bluffton has held its workshop at the Rotary Community Center and Oscar Frazier Park, both in Bluffton.
On Monday, Hilton Head Mayor John McCann defended moving the council workshop, which he calls a retreat, out of town.
He said the workshops used to be in Beaufort until former Mayor David Bennett moved them to Hilton Head in 2016 to “take the focus away from the council, make it more of a community retreat” and more accessible to local residents.
But the workshops, he said, have “nothing to do with the community.”
The location change and inability of the public to watch remotely make the meeting less accessible both digitally and physically — a contradiction of the mayor’s campaign promises to increase transparency and put residents first.
Costs of moving back to Beaufort
This year’s three-day workshop is also likely to be more expensive.
The Best Western in Beaufort hosted the council from 2011 to 2015. Prior to that, the workshop was held at Honey Horn on Hilton Head, according to town meeting minutes.
When the workshop was held at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa in 2016, the town spent $20,319, according to finance director John Troyer. That was nearly $5,000 under budget.
This year, the town has budgeted $45,000 for the meeting in Beaufort. When the workshop was last held there in 2015, it had a $40,000 budget and came in $500 over that amount.
Council members will be reimbursed for their mileage to Beaufort, and members and their spouses have been invited to stay overnight on Thursday and Friday on the town’s dime.
Rooms have been reserved across the street from the Best Western, at the Rhett House Inn bed and breakfast, which costs between $177 and $245 per night, according to the inn’s website.
The Best Western costs about $148 per night for the weekend of the workshop.
McCann said hosting the council at the hotel “keeps the council together for two and a half days,” which he said is a benefit. He said people will still drive to Beaufort for the workshop.
“It’s the way its been all these years,” McCann said, “and I’m not going to change it.”