Part 1: Q&As with Sullivan's Island elected officials

  • Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pat O'Neil


Sullivan's Island Town Council welcomes a couple new faces to Town Hall and brings two familiar folks back to office. The May 7 municipal election elevated mayor pro tem Mike Perkis to mayor, re-elected Pat O'Neil to council and gave seats to Chauncey Clark and Susan Middaugh.

The Moultrie News sent them eight different questions – most serious and a few not so much – to be completed in question-and-answer format. Answers were only edited for grammar. O'Neil's and Middaugh's responses are published below. Perkis' and Clark's are scheduled for the following issue.

Moultrie News: What is your background prior to being elected to town council?

Pat O'Neil: I'm a clinical psychologist and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, having spent my career working in obesity. I am director of the Medical University of South Carolina Weight Management Center and immediate past president of the Obesity Society, the primary North American professional and scientific group devoted to obesity.

Susan Middaugh: I grew up in Kansas City, earned a B.S. from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Tennessee. After moving to the Lowcountry, I enjoyed a 30-year career in research and teaching as a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, primarily in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Currently, I serve as chair of the Sullivan's Island Board of Zoning Appeals, with 10 years of experience on this board.

MN: Why did you decide to run for office?

PO: This will be my fourth four-year term on Council. I deliberated for quite some time before deciding to run again, as I wanted to make sure I would be able to maintain my level of energy and commitment. I decided that we have some significant matters and challenges to address in the next four years and thought that I could make a difference.

SM: My husband, Larry, and I have lived on Sullivan's Island for 35 years, raised our daughters here, followed island issues as they arose, and attended many town council meetings. I have always thought of Sullivan's Island as a family-oriented small town and a vibrant grass-roots democracy with great diversity of thought and opinion. I ran for town council, because I want to preserve these important aspects of our Island community.

MN: What is the biggest accomplishment of Sullivan's Island Town Council in recent history?

PO: I guess that depends on the definition of “recent history,” but I would say that retaining our top-notch elementary school on the island and securing the protection – via Mount Pleasant Land Conservancy – protection of two back-beach properties for public enjoyment have been very recent major achievements. Also, we have made good progress in addressing the issue of the town hall replacement. On the latter point, we obviously have a long way to go, but we went through a very deliberate, transparent and professionally guided process to choose among the alternative sites. Now, we are about to choose an architect and begin a similarly open and participative process to build a new town hall that serves our residents and respects both our island's built environment and our taxpayers' dollars. Reaching farther back in history since I've been on council, we have improved our capacity for communicating with the public – example: Nixle, town e-newsletter – although there is still room for greater outreach. Going still farther back, I would point to our zoning ordinance and historic preservation ordinance as major achievements with far-reaching positive impacts.

SM: Two accomplishments stand out. Ten years ago, council led a community-wide effort to update town zoning ordinances to limit the size of homes, restrict weekly rentals and prevent minihotels. Recently, town council has negotiated the rebuilding of Sullivan's Island Elementary School – the neighborhood school that has long been an essential part of our community.

MN: Have there been any oversights from town council members in recent history?

PO: Of course there have been things we could have done better. For example, it seems that no matter how much we try to get the word out about issues we are considering, there are still people who have interest in issues who tell us they haven't heard about it. We clearly need to be more aggressive in our public outreach.

SM: Communication is always a struggle. Ideally, more residents should attend town council and committee meetings to stay up-to-date on current issues. Yet, we all have busy lives and attending meetings at a set day and time is often not an option. An update of town communications could be a good solution; for example: emailing, a link to meeting agendas and handouts; providing live, online video streaming of town meetings; and archiving recorded meetings for later browsing.

MN: What are your top three priorities while on council?

PO: I assume you mean for the next few years. My top three are: (1) get a new town hall built that serves the town well, (2) complete and implement the management plan for the town's protected land – accreted land, (3) enhance our sense of shared community in the face of inevitable differences on specific issues.

SM: Top priorities are: (1) rebuilding Sullivan's Island Elementary School, (2) an environmentally sound management plan for the accreted land along our front beach, (3) improvements to our water and sewer system, (4) a new town hall. As council works through these important items, it will be essential to provide convenient, online opportunities for interested citizens to follow and participate in council deliberations.

MN: What is your favorite thing to do on the island?

PO: On weekends, a – slower and slower – jog on the beach or streets, followed by lunch on the island, followed by a nap.

SM: I enjoy walking on the beach and around the neighborhoods, just to be outdoors, see what is blooming in the yards, follow new construction projects and talk with neighbors.

MN: We all know Sullivan's Island is home to some fantastic restaurants. What's your favorite?

PO: Tyler, I didn't get elected four times by making unnecessary enemies. I think all our restaurants have great food, and you can see by the crowds that a lot of people on and off the island agree.

SM: Dunleavy's Pub.

MN: What's something that people may not know about you?

PO: Take your pick: (1) despite what you might infer from my name, I grew up in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in Cajun country along Bayou Lafourche; (2) I ran in the very first Cooper River Bridge Run and still wear that T-shirt when I do the Bridge Run. It's moth-eaten and droopy, rather like the runner; (3) When an undergrad at LSU, with no knowledge of what my ultimate career would be, I won $25 in a fried-chicken-gizzard-eating contest.

SM: By education and interest, I am a scientist who likes to learn new things, discover the facts and figure out solutions to problems.

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