Governance by the People?

It helps to recognize Sea Pines Plantation as the small town that it is -- with elected representatives (ASPPPO), a public works department (CSA) and a major dominant employer (Sea Pines Resort).  Typically the elected officials represent the broad interests and priorities of the town’s residents and help a) guide and prioritize public works projects and b) work cooperatively with the town’s major employer for the betterment of all.  But this is not how Sea Pines Plantation works.  A little history may help explain why the current situation is upside down.



Probably the least known and least understood issue facing the Residential Property Owners (RPOs) of Sea Pines is the official governance structure of the Sea Pines Community. Many think that CSA is the governing body while others think that it is ASPPPO. In truth, there is no defined legal governing body of the community. The confusion stems from several issues, mainly misleading statements -- some intentional, others inadvertent.


Sea Pines governance must be defined and enabled.


In 1974 there was a seminal stage in the formation of the Sea Pines community. Because of financial difficulty, Charles Fraser wanted to institute an annual property-based assessment to support the upkeep of the community, something which had previously been the responsibility of Fraser and the Sea Pines Plantation Company. A very smart group of residents formed a negotiating committee known as “Property Owners Advisory Board” which in association with Fraser developed the subsequently passed Covenants Referendum and Amendments of 1974 to designate these funds, their use and their control. Additional items such as an increase in the gate pass fee, commercial assessments, a very significant reduction in the allowed number of future residences and other items were also defined. This group of wise and responsible property owners (the genesis of the eventual formation of the Association of Sea Pines Plantation Property Owners, i.e. ASPPPO) were concerned that Fraser's finances were so precarious that they required that these funds be placed in a special separate escrow account which was to be maintained entirely separate from the Company. The purpose of these funds was to pay for named “community services” which were defined as road maintenance, landscaping, insect control, security and other community services, etc.


This was not defined as a governing body, and it was meant to perform the Public Works (aka “housekeeping”)  functions. Other than the similarity in names, it had absolutely no relationship to the current CSA, which was subsequently formed de novo after the Bobby Ginn bankruptcy in 1987.


In the intervening 13 years these activities were supervised by agents of the several successive owners of the Sea Pines Company (by various names), and the funds for operations were provided by the collected assessments and fees. As provided by the 1974 Covenant Referendum, residential property owners, initially as the “Property Owners Advisory Board” and later as “ASPPPO”, served as the officially defined advisory body relative to these functions.


With the resolution of the bankruptcy in 1987, the trustee and the court arranged for the transfer of a number of assets from the defunct company to an entirely new entity called Community Services Associates (CSA). Roads, common properties and the responsibility to supervise and perform the Public Works duties previously performed by Fraser and his multiple successors were transferred to CSA. There could not have been and there were no elements of governance function included since none really existed antedating that event.  


So, neither ASPPPO nor CSA have legal governmental standing, and the community operates by a sort of “consensus” mode even though there have been continued claims by some that CSA “governs”.


A unilateral attempt to establish CSA as the governing body occurred in 2015 when Michael Tucker, a board member of CSA presented the “Long Range Strategic Plan for CSA” which contained the statement: “The CSA board is the governing body of Sea Pines Plantation...” At a subsequent ASPPPO board meeting, two lawyer board members protested that this statement was incorrect, and it was moved and unanimously passed that this statement must be corrected. Tucker promised to do so promptly, but as of the other day (over 2 1/2 years later), that statement has still not been corrected.


Sea Pines alone has a population and budget that would rank it among the 25-30 largest cities in the state of South Carolina. (In the 2010 census Hilton Head ranked 9th). The lack of a legally justified and recognized governing structure must be corrected, and this will require an amendment to the Covenants.


This has special significance because of the extreme imbalance on CSA between the current representation of the residential property owners and the commercial interests, primarily the resort.


Whereas the total commercial contributions constitute less than 5% of the total CSA budget, they have 47% (8 out of 17 votes) of the voting power.


Unfortunately and too frequently, conflict exists between the residential and commercial interests. When this occurs, almost without exception the combined influence and interests of CSA’s commercial and resort representatives result in one or more “property owner representatives” joining the unified commercial interests in swinging the vote against the best interests of the residents. A more rational and justifiable governing board would be composed of 7 members (5 residents, 1 Sea Pines Resort and 1 other commercial), still leaving a disproportionate relationship.


Sea Pines Plantation deserves a governing structure which is representative of its constituents. ASPPPO must be responsive to the wishes and needs of its constituents, the residential property owners, and must not be supplicants to CSA and the Resort.  It's past time for a change.