August 2009

Love Him or Hate Him: Bluffton Town Councilman, Charlie Wetmor

Author: Courtney Naughton

Charlie Wetmore is a jerk. Or at least that is what I thought before we sat down together for a drink, at my request. So, I am sitting at a bar with Bluffton Town Councilman, Charlie Wetmore. He’s having a Coke (ah, a man of the people), and I am juggling a Corona and my pen.

We’ve been here before, at the same bar that is. And those nights when we happened to be at the same place at the same time—whether it was corn hole night at Monster Pizza, open-mic night at Station 70, or live music night at Corks—endeared me to Charlie. He can throw ’em back with the best of us. And I like that. (In fairness, who don’t I love when I’m throwing them back?)
But, I also had my doubts. I have always been struck by the juxtaposition of his personalit; in some instances he is open and approachable and in others standoffish and arrogant.

Charlie and I have shared a love-hate relationship since his first run for public office in 2006. Admittedly, I started it. I might have complained about the excessive amount of campaign signs lining every inch of our neighborhood. And since then, I may have commented publicly (in the form of a newspaper column) on his negative non-verbal communication at council meetings.

But, the good news is he doesn’t hold a grudge, and neither do I.
In politics, voters and constituents call for transparency, meaning, they want to know about every aspect of their elected official’s life. Well, Charlie is pretty transparent, about as transparent as Saran wrap. He knows he lives in the public eye, and while he doesn’t necessarily like or agree that his personal life is the business of his constituents, he does tend to let it all hang out. I mean let’s face it: The Bluffton eye can be pretty scrutinizing, especially toward a Yankee transplant.
Yes, he’s a Yankee. Born and raised in upstate New York, Charlie and his wife Kristina first ventured south to Hilton Head Island in 1991. They spent the next 14 years moving around the South before settling back in Bluffton in 2005 with five children in tow. And it was when registering his youngest children at Bluffton Elementary School that Charlie had his first foray into community action.
And this is when I realized that Charlie has a heart. He is not a jerk.
It is funny how things happen. You see, when the school asked if his children would be taking the bus or would he be driving them, Charlie replied, “Well, they’ll be walking.” The response from the school official was, “No they won’t; there are no cross walks.”

And that got Charlie thinking. There were 1,300 homes within walking distance of the McCracken school complex. But instead of sending kids on foot with a back pack and lunch pail, parents were piling the kids into cars, driving a quarter mile, sitting in a long line of other parents’ cars and doing it all over again seven hours later.

A few conversations (with other concerned parents) later and the Bluffton Pathways organization was formed. One year later, all of these neighborhoods were inter-connected with the school complex via a pathway system. Now if only those pathways were lit. (Hint, hint, Charlie—this would be a great campaign platform for November!)

That success was the catalyst for Charlie to run for Town Council in December, 2006. And he won. Since then he has not been without controversy. Earlier this year, a conflict with his son that resulted in Charlie’s arrest was fodder for the local media for days. A tough pill to swallow, but he did.

Clearly a proponent of free speech, Charlie says what is on his mind; he plays devil’s advocate and he asks the hard questions. He also rubs people the wrong way. He admits it. But, while his approach can sometimes be terse, he succeeds in peeling back all of the layers of an issue to make sure every angle has been covered. That’s his shtick. Every council member has his or her role, whether it is peacekeeper, information seeker, or cheerleader. But Charlie, he’s the bull dog. And I can respect that.

His term is up at the end of the year and he will “probably run again.” He wants to leave a legacy. “I want to look back and be able to say that I did things to help us grow closer as a community,” he said.

I think he might be off to a good start. What started as a concrete pathway to connect the neighborhoods with the schools has become a pathway to greater discussion and transparency in Bluffton politics.
We deserve that.

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