Port Royal’s new mayor will work to keep the town ‘Cool, Coastal, Far from Ordinary’
By MINDY LUCAS
The day after Tuesday’s election, Port Royal’s new mayor Joe DeVito was doing what he normally does on Wednesdays – having coffee.
Started by former town councilman Joe Lee years ago, the regular coffee klatch still meets with residents or anyone who wants to talk about, well, whatever is on their minds.
“It was a good discussion like it always is,” said DeVito.
Between coffee, picking up campaign signs, working his regular job and waiting for the election results to be ratified on Thursday, it’s been a whirlwind of a week, DeVito said.
A retired utility manager for Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority (BJWSA) with a long record of community service, DeVito will be the first new mayor Port Royal has had in nearly 25 years. Longtime mayor Sam Murray decided to step down after serving six terms.
Originally from New York, DeVito moved to Port Royal 33 years ago after visiting family in the area.
“We fell in love with Beaufort,” he said.
Sixth months later, he and his wife, Dawn, bought their house on Westvine Drive where they raised two boys, now adults, and have lived in the house ever since.
A master plumber by trade, DeVito first worked for a local plumber after moving to the Lowcountry. He then landed a job with the local water authority, where he worked for the next 29 years until retiring in 2017.
While at the Beaufort Water Authority, DeVito saw the merger with the Jasper County Water Authority and, during the late 90s and into the new millennium, the addition of other municipal water services including the City of Beaufort, City of Hardeeville and Town of Port Royal. Eventually, DeVito became Director of Operations for the BJWSA.
During this time, DeVito also became involved with municipal planning and services, working on both Port Royal’s and Beaufort’s Development Review Team then serving as chairman for the Beaufort–Port Royal Planning Commission.
He also served on the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan Implementation Committee, as president of Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail and vice-chair on the county’s transportation tax committee and most recently as its treasurer.
During the campaign, key issues for him were traffic and safety, sidewalks or making Port Royal more pedestrian friendly.
Now that he has been elected mayor, his focus on these issues won’t change, he said.
“When you’re talking about these issues, nothing happens fast,” he said. “These are difficult things to implement because there are multiple jurisdictions.”
In addition to working with state and local entities on traffic management he wants to also continue building on Port Royal’s pedestrian-friendly vibe.
“To do that it has to feel safe,” he said. “We have to make these roads safe for cars, pedestrians and bicycles and to attract business to the area.”
Port Royal is already working on the issue, he said, through a traffic study and “a very good traffic engineer.”
The key, he said, is understanding the data and how to implement what it says.
Another issue he is passionate about? Connecting Port Royal to the Spanish Moss Trail across Ribaut Road. As he said when he was campaigning, residents could see construction starting toward this goal, within a year.
“It would be an amazing economic boost to Port Royal,” he said. “People come from all over to the use that trail.”
And as far as some of the bigger challenges that could be facing Port Royal such as the development of the port or how to best manage the town’s shrimp docks, DeVito remains undaunted.
“Taking on a challenge is something I’m not afraid to do,” he said, adding that ultimately, he is a public servant and intends to keep that in mind and rely on his depth of knowledge and experience from serving on various boards and planning commissions when moving forward.
“The shrimp docks and port are difficult to separate because they’re both on the same property and they’re both tied together on the master plan,” he said, adding that it could be that a solution to both might come in one fell swoop.
“But it’s too early for me to say what that is,” he said. “And we don’t want to act too fast. We need to move expeditiously, because we need to be able to look ahead and say, ‘Are we even going to like this 20 years from now?’ ”
In the end, DeVito said he’ll be embracing the town’s motto – “Cool. Coastal. Far from Ordinary.”
“Does it enhance that or does it restrict that?” he said he’ll ask himself when making decisions. “We must always be enhancing that.”
DeVito will be sworn in as Port Royal’s mayor on Dec. 11.