A 1st look at the 5 City Council candidates
By Mike McCombs and Dylan McCombs
Earlier this month, the five candidates on the ballot for two Beaufort City Council seats were invited to speak and answer questions at the September meeting of the Old Commons Neighborhood Association.
The first floor of the Wesley United Methodist Church’s Education Building on Duke Street was packed Sept. 15 with Beaufort citizens who wanted to know what these five people were all about.
With a guarantee that the 6 p.m. meeting would turn to other matters prior to 7 p.m., … a promise that was kept … these candidates each had a few minutes to speak to who they were in their own words.
Here are some of their thoughts, edited for length. The candidates are listed in the order they spoke to the room.
McFee, 63, was first elected to City Council in November 2008 and was re-elected in 2012, 2016 and in a special election in 2021. He has been the Mayor Pro-Tem since 2014.
A Beaufort native, McFee graduated from Beaufort High School and earned a Bachelor of Science in biology and business from the University of South Carolina. He has been a real estate broker with HomeTown Realty for 30 years.
“I’m Mike McFee, and I’m running for reelection for city council. It’s been my privilege and honor to serve on the council for more than a decade. Over the time that I’ve been on council we’ve seen a lot of changes – we’ve made strides with reference to transparency and issues within the city, both from our finance department, our police department, fire department, … with references to business licenses, and the improvement of communications and customer service where the city is concerned. I would like to continue to do that work for you. …
“I think we all can agree that we have growth issues, and traffic issues, in the city and into the connectors coming into our neighboring communities, and the islands of course, so I think cooperatively one of the most important things intergovernmentally, I think, is for the governments that work together, the sister city and town of Port Royal, City of Beaufort and the county, regionally on the northern side of the islands, really have to be in lockstep and be working together to make the most of what we have. … We use a lot of leverage from the standpoint of what we can do to be able to afford large projects, and very progressive projects in the city of Beaufort and in order not to raise your taxes and be able to affect the highest and best services for our residents, in addition to trying to improve the physical structure, fiscal responsibility of the physical structures and properties that we own, including our parks, the waterfront park, all of the parks within the city including the expanding Washington Street Park, which we’ve just done a grant application for $250,000 for the new pavilion, which we’re hoping to start very quickly if that is approved. We’ve done resolutions in council for that and for South Side park expansions, so we are excited about all of those opportunities as far as the city and the improvements of that part of our capital and infrastructure in the city.”
Andersen, 29, is from Fairfax, Va. He was born into a military family. He graduated from Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Va. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy for two years before returning to Virginia to earn a bachelor’s in economics from American University. Andersen and his fiancé relocated to Beaufort in 2020 to start a family and to be closer to relatives in the area. He is pursuing an MBA with the goal of becoming a certified public accountant.
“Fairfax, Va., is kind of an example that kind of parallels what Beaufort is going through right now. Fairfax went through what Beaufort is facing today when I was growing up twenty, twenty-five, thirty years ago, and I’ve seen, you know, certain policies that were pursued in Fairfax County which I have a lot of concern about here in Beaufort being pursued as well, and I don’t want us to get to that kind of point where Fairfax has become unaffordable for, you know, your average working families.
“The number one thing that has really also given me a lot of consternation, which is why I put my name forward, is in regard to Public Safety. I’ve met with the chief of fire, I’ve met with the chief of police. As of right now our biggest issue with the police department is retention and recruitment. Right now the police department is down eight officers, I have it on good authority that there are gonna to be another four officers that are going to be shortly departing in the coming months, which in the grand total brings our force down to 20% of what it should be. There’s a lot of discussion about, “Okay, what can the police department do to increase that Recruitment and Retention?” One of the biggest things that I asked Chief McDorman was I asked him, I said, “Do you even have youth program in town currently outside of, you know, the few community engagements you had like in Southside Park?” and he said, ‘To be honest, we really don’t – we’ve kind of gotten away from those types of community engagements.’”
“… Second thing is affordable living – you know affordable housing is a big part of it, about what I’m running on. I don’t see affordable housing as the end-all-be-all. It’s not just the only thing that is going to help keep the cost of living here in Beaufort lower. You’re talking about property taxes, you’re talking about infrastructure, you know that kind of expansion also increases your cost of living as well. There are ways that- you know, I’ve gone through and I’ve read all 300, I believe it’s like 384, 394 pages of the Beaufort City Code, and there’s a lot of issues that I have with it that restrict the kind of structures that could be built here in the city and also in other parts of the city as well to accommodate our workforce housing.
“In addition the third thing is the economic opportunity so you know, … Stephen Murray here has done a really excellent job, in my opinion, of trying to attract a lot of the businesses that aren’t here in the city to diversify our structure out of just tourism and the military. If we’ve seen anything in the last two years, it’s that if we rely too heavily on one of those, specifically tourism, when we do have an example of a covid shutdown, it puts a lot of people out of work. It puts a lot of people out of work, a lot of people have struck hard time paying for rent, they had a hard time putting food on the table and clothes on their backs, and by bringing these other primary Industries into the city, it will allow our future children to basically have an ability to not just stay here.”
Gibson, 52, was born in Anderson and raised in Beaufort beginning in 1972 when his parents moved here. He graduated from Beaufort Academy in 1988 and went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri. He began his career as a staff photographer in Birmingham, Ala., at Southern Living Magazine before he started his freelance career and returned to Beaufort in 1999.
Gibson was appointed to Beaufort’s Zoning Board of Appeals in 2015 and served as the chairman until June of this year. He has also recently served as president of the Old Commons Neighborhood Association.
“The reason that I’m running comes down to three simple words: I love Beaufort. That’s why I’m running. It just means so much to me, and I want it to … maintain its integrity and maintain everything it is that brings people who want to be here. I know that the thing that I think about Beaufort, where we are right now, is that we have what everybody wants, … we keep winning these awards: Greatest Small Town In The South, Greatest Whatever, Greatest, Greatest, Greatest – from Southern Living and other magazines, and stuff like that keep saying this is the greatest place, and so I think that we – that the focus that we should have… The word is out about Beaufort. …
“We’ve got the good problem here. You know, you’re not in stasis, you’re either expanding or you’re shrinking, and it’s good that we’re – it’s good that we’re growing, it’s a good problem to have, so we’re good on that side. So then when we have this growth, we need to manage it, because otherwise, if we just leave it up to … no regulation, or no sense of a vision for the collective or what it’s going to be like at the end of it, then we’ll get steamrolled by somebody coming in with a big pile of money that says they want to do something.
“The things that I think about … that are big issues for me right now, one is safety. … One thing that I’m really big on is that I think we need to invest heavily in cameras around the city. … We keep having these shootings, over and over and over again, in these same places, and it’s the same story every time: Somebody calls 911, there was a shooting. Round up the witnesses, what did you see, nobody saw anything. If we had cameras in these intersections, if we put the cameras where the crimes are happening … if we do that, then we would at least have a starting point for these investigations when nobody’s saying anything. …
“The other thing is in terms of government service. I think that the city is largely trying really hard and largely doing a really good job. … There is an immense amount of stuff that the city does that is amazing, and none of us know about it because we don’t have a real paper anymore, and it never gets reported, … we never hear about it. If you go to any of these city meetings, you will be astonished as to what they’re up to, and how many people are working really, really hard to make our city better, and it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t get the publicity that it deserves …
“And finally in terms of responsible development, something that I feel really strongly about is the direction of what’s been proposed for the marina right now. I think it is inappropriate and way out of scale, what’s been proposed. [He passes out scale comparisons of the new marina proposition and the USS Yorktown] It is way, way, way bigger than the marina that we have now. I mean I’m not pretending the channel is deep enough for the Yorktown, but the scale of it is far different than what it is, and I think that the marina was designed as part of the Waterfront Park, and that there is a niche that was created for the marina, in the design of it. …The Waterfront Park is more important to Beaufort than Central Park is to Manhattan. It is the thing that defines this city, and part of it is the view that you look out there, all the way to Port Royal, all the way to Lady’s Island, all the way to Spanish Point, and if we put something out there that interrupts that then you are interrupting the park itself, and you are degrading the discipline that was created, for the space that was, for the reason that it was put there, and the way it was designed. …
“I don’t know if y’all’ve seen any of my signs around? But they’ve got a light blue stripe at the top, dark green, light green, and dark blue. The reason that those are there is that is the vista of Beaufort County. You got the water, the marsh, the oak tree, and the sky, that’s what we see. And we live, in this tiny little sliver, under the oaks and beneath those oak trees. That’s where we create our homes, our businesses, our churches, our schools, in that tiny little sliver. And that’s what we need to protect. It’s not permanent, and so we need to make sure that we do the work to protect that little dark green sliver that we all live on, that’s it.”
Holman, 75, was born in Durham, N.C., and moved to Beaufort with her family in 1996. She attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., from 1965-1970 and earned an associate’s degree in business from the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Holman retired from IBM as a customer support representative. She worked in the Winston-Salem, N.C., school system and the Beaufort County School District as an administrative secretary. Holman owned H & H Comprotax Beaufort, a tax preparation company, from 2006 to 2021. She has also worked with the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce for 19 years, focusing on housing issues and financial literacy. Holman is a notary public.
“I am married for 51 years to Larry Holman, and we’ve been here in Beaufort for 26 years. We love it, and that’s one of the reasons that I want to get involved. I’m not afraid of work … I’m nervous, I’ll tell you that I’m not a politician.”
“Financial literacy, we work with that. I had a ball, I mean I’ve learned a lot and I like learning curves, I like movin’ forward, you know, and I like people. … I want to carry your voices forward. That’s … one of my main reasons for running because I think today we’re losing a lot of that. Politicians tend to get in there and seem to, now to me, (to) use their own opinions and their own everything and then they forget about you, and that’s what I don’t like and I don’t want that to happen, I want to make sure that we carry you forward, and what you want, and … that’s one of the reasons I want to run.
“But I also think affordable housing – which has already been mentioned – but I do think that’s very very important in this area – and yes, Beaufort is growing, but I think that things are getting out of hand for a lot of people to even be able to afford to live here. The rent is pretty high, so is buying, … all of it is very high and we need to do something I think, to look at that, to try to bring that back into (being) more manageable for the average person here.”
“… like I said I’m willing to learn, and I know there is a learning curve and I like learning new things. …Once I put my mind to something, I want to get it done, and I’m a details kind of person, so I would very much like your vote, and I’d like to represent you, on the city council. Thank you.”
Scallate, 31, is a native of Beaufort and a 2009 graduate of Beaufort High School. He graduated from the South Carolina Fire Academy in 2012, and completed the EMT program at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in 2013.
Scallate is a lieutenant with the Lady’s Island St. Helena Fire District, where he has worked since 2013. In 2018, he was named Firefighter of the Year. He has completed 1,200 hours of continuing education during his tenure at the Fire District. Scallate is a member of the 1% Committee for the Fire District, which determines expenditures from the 1% tax the district receives.
“I was born and raised here and I’ve lived in Beaufort for my entire life, in fact I’ve lived inside city limits for most of my life. I went to Beaufort High School and I graduated in 2009 when I got out of high school I really didn’t have much direction for my life and that changed when I was 22 years old, I lost my twin brother to a heroin overdose and so I decided that I was going to commit to being a public servant and I started seeking opportunities to work with the fire department. …
“So it’s a bit of a learning curve, when you’re working with a lot of type A personalities and it’s not like a regular job where you work for a little bit and go home – you’re there for 48 hours, so you’re not only working with these people, who, often times you don’t see eye-to-eye with, but you’re living with them, and that’s a big difference, so t took a lot of getting used to, but you know I learned that you don’t always have to agree with people in order to be able to work with them in a very cohesive manner, so I had to mature into that. …
“In leadership what I saw with the fire department was you have to be able to look at your personnel, the people that you’re working with on your team, and know where the strengths and weaknesses are, so that together you can effectively accomplish a goal in the most essential way for the community that you’re serving. I think that if that would carry over to city council, because you’re working with, you know, four other members and you all have strengths and weaknesses and different backgrounds, so to be able to bring that together and utilize that for the service of the community is paramount. …
“I mean your job is to represent the individuals that live inside the city, so you need to be in tune with them, you need to engage them, you need to be communicating with them on a regular basis, and even though I feel like the city does a really good job, and, especially in the last couple of years in being transparent. …
“I know what Beaufort’s always been for me, and I know what I wanted to be for my kids and for my family and for their children as well, so I want to be a part in shaping the future of what Beaufort will become. Three things that are important to me are us growing in a very responsible way, affordable housing, (and public safety) … I can (look) back to the first study that was done in 2002 to determine that Beaufort needed to build 715 affordable units every year from 2006 to 2009 in order to have enough to keep up with the growth, and we didn’t do that, and now we have we have a big problem on our hands and we need to … continue to focus.
“I obviously have a very close relationship with the firefighters, and the nurses, and the police officers, and what I find, and I think this is just consistent across the board is leadership forgets how important it is that their staff and their personnel have a purpose in that organization. You can only throw money at it for so long …
“Lastly I’ll just say that if you know last time I ran, I filed in March to run for County Council, and I didn’t win that race, but that’s OK because I learned a lot from that and I was able to get a lot of support in that race, and it’s one of the reasons why I decided to run for City Council is because I feel like I I owe the people who committed to voting for me in that race, to continue to fight. I mean, I can’t just give up and sit down, you know, my goal was to really be and put myself in a position to help shape the future of Beaufort, so I wanted to continue to work for the individuals that committed themselves to vote for me, so that’s why I’m running for City Council and I would appreciate your support just the same, so thank you very much.”
Mike McCombs is the Editor-in-Chief of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.