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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Municipal Elections 2023: Scott Thomas runs for Bald Head Island council

There are two seats open on the Bald Head Island Village Council and Scott Thomas, unaffiliated, is up against Ginnie White and Jerry Maggio. It’s his first time running for office. (Courtesy photo)

BALD HEAD ISLAND — Scott Thomas, vice president of corporate services for Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation, is seeking a seat on Bald Head Island council.

There are two seats open, and Thomas, unaffiliated, is up against Ginnie White and Jerry Maggio. It’s his first time running for office.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to their municipalities, covering issues such as balancing growth and infrastructure, traffic and tourism, and climate change impacts.

Thomas’ answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity. 

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

In Brunswick County, voters can cast ballots early at the Brunswick County Cooperative Extension (in lieu of the Board of Elections) at 25 Referendum Drive, Building N, in Bolivia.

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their registration cards, verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

A photo ID is required to cast a ballot in 2023; more information can be found on the state board of elections website.

The candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. 

Port City Daily (PCD): Have you ever run for a government position before? If so, give us details: What, when, where, outcome? If not, what makes you qualified for a village council position?

Scott Thomas (ST): I have not run for political office before now, but I am compelled to run for office at this time because I want to ensure Bald Head Island remains a great place to live, work, and play in harmony with nature.

I am the best candidate and easily distinguishable from the other two candidates because I have a working, local perspective about critical issues affecting our island home — specifically in utility system design, long-range financial planning, hurricane/disaster preparation and commercial transportation. I believe very strongly in financial discipline, managing risk, accountability for results, transparency and ethical behavior.

Additionally, our community deserves leadership that isn’t tethered to the status quo or overly invested in prior, failed strategies. I come to this race unburdened with any political baggage, ready to bring new energy, vision, and ideas to address the needs of all island property owners.

I will work tirelessly to restore some of the credibility and confidence in our local government that has been tarnished in recent years.

PCD: Why run for village council now?

ST: Recent challenges created by our current Village Council — increased taxes (21%+), decreased investment in essential infrastructure, uncontrolled development and outrageous ferry litigation expenses ($2-million-plus) — have put our island community’s identity and environment at risk.

It’s a pivotal moment, and I am committed to responsibly leading our community towards a more fiscally sustainable future where our island home remains a haven of natural beauty, culture, and community spirit.

PCD: Name three issues you think are most affecting the village currently and describe how you would work toward tackling them.

ST: Ferry/Transportation System Litigation — Continued uncertainty about the ferry system is unproductive. In FY2023, alone, more than 10% of the BHI’s total annual revenues were spent on legal fees. Ultimately, my aim is to create an environment where all parties feel heard and respected, leading to a resolution that not only ends the costly litigation but also fosters a renewed sense of unity and shared purpose in providing a reliable, safe, and affordable ferry system for our community. We can transition from conflict to cooperation, ensuring a brighter future for our island. 

Overburdened Infrastructure — It’s time to ensure that BHI’s future is defined by responsible investment in essential infrastructure and calculated growth. I would prioritize necessary investments in critical infrastructure — waste/water treatment facility improvements and expansion, roads, parking, and beach accesses — to ensure all visitors to BHI enjoy a safe, comfortable stay regardless of the duration.

Financial Management — The residents of BHI deserve a common-sense financial plan that provides adequate funding for the maintenance and necessary expansion of island infrastructure and, at the same time, eliminates excessive and wasteful spending. Recently, the Village Council unanimously approved $2,600,000-plus increases in expenses which has resulted in unsustainable tax increases for property owners (21%+ this year), a vastly depleted General Fund reserve, and a lack of attention and critical financial resources for other essential island priorities.

PCD: Where do you stand on ownership and regulation of the Bald Head Island ferry system?  

ST: Any discussion about the ownership and regulation of the ferry system must start with an acknowledgment of the historical success of the BHI ferry; it is one of the only profitable, privately owned passenger ferry systems in the country. The decades of successful operation of the system was only possible because of the careful and calculated balancing of competing interests between the owners of the system (BHIT), both of the municipalities served by the system (BHI and Southport), as well as all of the different classes of users of the system (permanent residents, vacationers, day-trippers and commuters). 

With that in mind, the Bald Head Island Transportation Authority was designed specifically and intentionally to mandate a similar balance of all stakeholders’ input into the operation of the ferry system — and therefore it should have been a very workable model. 

At the same time, I have no reservations that another conscientious private owner could step into the shoes of Bald Head Island Limited and operate the ferry in a similar manner as we have historically enjoyed. As long as the shared purpose of providing a reliable, safe, and affordable system remains at the forefront, either model can work. 

PCD: As evidence shows, climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, along with sea-level rise. What should the village do to protect residents, property and infrastructure?

ST: Well-coordinated plans for responding to storms and power restoration — not just on Bald Head but throughout the Cape Fear region — are an essential part of my current role with BEMC. The Village can and does play a critical role in ensuring the safety of residents, property and infrastructure by advanced scenario planning, communicating with residents, creating efficient evacuation plans, managing stormwater effectively, creating redundancies in community infrastructure, and enlisting storm assistance from state and federal agencies, as appropriate. 

Additionally — and unique to BHI — the Village must have carefully crafted plans for evacuation and re-entry after a disaster that contemplates the availability of ferry service and access to the Cape Fear River. 

My occupation and professional experience with BEMC could provide much needed new perspective and technical expertise for the BHI Village leverage during storm preparation and response.

PCD: What is your vision for long-term residential and commercial development on Bald Head Island?

ST: I’m inspired by and share our island resident’s desire for responsible development without sacrificing what makes BHI special. I believe with thoughtful planning, innovative solutions, and collaboration, we can strike a balance between economic development and environmental preservation. 

I am hopeful that recently started efforts to implement commercial design standards and guidelines can be a catalyst to restore our island’s long-standing commitment to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us and re-affirm our community’s commitment to minimal commercialism in order to preserve and protect the unique BHI experience for generations to come.  

PCD: How do you think Bald Head Island can better support local workers, especially those in the tourism industry? Do you have any creative ideas on how to help businesses thrive on the island? 

ST: The best thing we can do to help support local workers — especially those specifically related to tourism — is bring closure to the uncertainty surrounding ownership of the ferry and parking operations. The protracted and ongoing litigation surrounding ownership of the system has resulted in a significant degradation of service and delays – especially during the high season.

We are blessed on BHI to have countless dedicated employees who commute every day to provide great service and hospitality; the least we can do is provide a hassle-free commute to and from the island before and after their shifts. 

Additionally, we need to provide more public spaces for island workers and visitors to gather and enjoy the island when they don’t necessarily have a residence to use. I would prioritize reinvigorating the island parks, expanding walkways and maintaining trails as well as leveraging underutilized municipal properties for free, public use.   

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