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Mayor's Greeting

Mayor Pat O'Neil

Mayor Pat O'Neil

Published in Island Eye News (October 21, 2016)

Dear Island Neighbors,

Writing this a few days after Matthew, and seeing how people elsewhere in South Carolina and our neighboring states were affected, I am ready to declare that this year, Thanksgiving Day on Sullivan’s Island should have been Sunday, October 9, the day we got out and about after Matthew had come and gone from our lucky place.  

Of course we did have some damage on the Island, some flooding of ground-level living spaces and scary beach erosion close to some structures. We should all try to help our neighbors who experienced those consequences. But if you look around at other places that really took it on the chin, from storm surge (like Edisto Beach) or from rain-related flooding with injuries and deaths (like Horry County or North Carolina) it is easy to see how much worse things could have been for us. And then there’s Haiti, whose people, already in perilous circumstances, suffered yet another devastating hit that most of us can’t imagine. 

I am very thankful for our great good fortune. But not only did we fare well, we had the chance to learn some very important lessons for possible similar events in the future.



Here is my admittedly incomplete list, including some contributions from our Town staff:

 In fact, the first lesson is that we have a truly phenomenal team of Town employees who serve and protect us. I had occasion to observe them up close before, during and after Matthew…and was deeply impressed by their dedication, knowledge, energy, intelligence, planning and discipline.

At the top: our Town Administrator Andy Benke, who not only showed his deft leadership with his orchestration of the Town’s preparations and responses, but simultaneously filled the role of Chief Town E-mailer, texter and Tweeter, keeping our residents informed.

All of the staff of all our Town Departments performed admirably. Certainly we are all extremely grateful to our police officers, firefighters, and fire and rescue volunteers who kept us safe.  But please don’t forget our other very important folks who might not be so visible:

a) our Water and Sewer staff who kept the sewer plant functioning and monitored our water system;

b) our Public Works staff who cleared the streets as much as possible before the storm to keep the storm drains open and remove hazards, and who were out clearing roads before the winds had died down;

c) and all our Town Hall staff who not only had to handle a flood of last-minute car decal and other requests but also had to do what it took to ensure they could be up and running after the storm…in aging “temporary” trailers, as we found ourselves about two weeks on the wrong side of moving in to the new Town Hall.

 We got new evidence of the importance of communication through as many channels as possible. Please follow us on Twitter at @townofsi, sign up for our Nixle emergency info system at http://www.nixle.com, and subscribe to our Town newsletter, ably produced by Lisa Darrow, at http://bit.ly/SINEWSLETTER

 As we learned from a number of other island communities…when you leave, you should prepare for the possibility you will not be able to re-enter the Island for several days. Pack accordingly, and prepare your home accordingly. 

Speaking of re-entry, if you are a recently arrived resident, please NOW get your driver’s license changed to reflect your Island address. The car’s decal alone is not enough to establish residency when you want to return home, if access is limited to residents.

 Town Building Official Randy Robinson advises: If you have a propane gas tank, please shut it off before you leave or before the storm if you stay (turning off whatever it fuels). Winds and flooding can tear these tanks away and if they are not shut off, they can spew potentially explosive gases wherever they land. It happened during Hugo.

 Don’t call 911 to ask where you can buy gas for your car (apparently, this actually happened). 

 Don’t think hurricane prep only when the Weather Channel folks are getting agitated. It should be part of our annual routine. When it comes to our trees, Town Zoning Administrator and certified arborist Joe Henderson advises: Conduct annual canopy cleaning by removing deadwood and selective tip pruning every two to three years by an ISA arborist (or experienced tree maintenance company), to reduce wind-sail which can blow a tree down.  The goal is to develop and maintain a structurally sound trunk and branch architecture that will withstand these pesky storms. 

If your Mayor had heeded this advice, perhaps he wouldn’t have had to pay for a crane to lift up his blown-down marsh-side oak trees to their previous upright positions to try to save them! 

Speaking of trees…Matthew showed that preventive tree-trimming by SCEG around power lines can make for some trees that are, well, so ugly the power lines don’t want anything to do with them. While I am a definite tree-lover, I will look at that work a little differently in the future. When viewing those disturbing cuts, I will also see air conditioning, hot water, a functioning fridge and working cable.  


From the Charleston County School District:

The Healthy Schools Program and the Alliance for Healthier Generation recognized Sullivan’s Island Elementary School for creating a healthy school environment and have awarded the school with the Bronze Award. 

Congratulations, Principal Susan King, staff and parents!


Needless to say, that means we’re importing one.

The next event in the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center’s series of highly interesting and stimulating programs will be at Sunrise Presbyterian Church, on Thursday, November 17, 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM.  The speaker will be Charleston’s former Mayor Joe Riley, Jr., who served the City and all of the Lowcountry for 40 years!

We all know what incredible leadership Mayor Riley graced us with over that time, and the difference it made in all our lives. But you may know less about his deep connections with Sullivan’s Island over the years, some of which took place long before he was born. Come out to learn more about how Joe’s remarkable life story includes Sullivan’s Island!

See you around the Island!

Pat O'Neil

(843) 670 9266




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