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Lolita Huckaby

Lowcountry Lowdown

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By Lolita Huckaby

Beaufort looking at some newleadership

BEAUFORT – The campaign signs are gone, ballots have been counted, the challenges are over – at least here in Beaufort County – and we know who our local elected officials will be for the coming year.

With all the national publicity about our democracy being at stake and every vote counting, 52 percent of the Beaufort County voters, 138,812 to be clear, turned out to vote. Slightly less than the 71 percent for the 2020 general election which included a presidential race, but ‘tis expected.

Of that number that did vote, 54 percent voted straight-party ballots, a practice that is allowed only in six states – South Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Oklahoma.

Over the years there’s been talk in the state legislature about changing that, since most states seem to be moving away from the practice. But like medical marijuana, it hasn’t happened yet.

Of those that voted, roughly 3,000 ballots were cast early, aka absentee votes.

As a result of all this, we here in Beaufort are looking at some new leaders.

The 11- member Beaufort County Council will have four new members, including David Bartholomew, an attorney who lives on Lady’s Island and beat veteran Councilman Paul Sommerville in the primary for the Council District 2 seat.

All the new members are Republicans which leaves only two Democrats – York Glover and Gerald Dawson – on the council. Not that it really matters for the County Council, most of their issues and votes don’t reflect a party line; it’s much more a north of the Broad-south of the Broad faction.

The 11- member Board of Education also will see four new members, and since they don’t run on party, there’s no Republican vs. Democrat split there either. But considering the issues the board has been facing – from COVID-masking to book-banning to CRT-teaching – there definitely will be splits. It’s probably a good thing Superintendent Rodriguez, who by most reports is doing a pretty good job of keeping the public education system floating, got a 5 percent pay raise and contract extension, before the new board shows its colors.

The four members of the Beaufort City Council are going to include one newcomer, Josh Scallate who, at age 31, replaces Mayor Stephen Murray as the youngest person up there.

Scallate, a native of Beaufort and firefighter with the Lady’s Island Fire Department, jumped into the political ring this year, first with a challenge to Alice Howard in the spring Republican primary for County Council District 4. Howard won the primary by 135 votes but Scallate, who lives in Mossy Oaks, opted to run again for one of the two City Council seats on the November ballot. And he won, besting his closest challenger Josh Gibson by 18 votes.

Incumbent Councilman Mike McFee was top vote-getter, winning another four-year term and extending his tenure on council to 14 years. Councilman Phil Cromer, who opted not to seek re-election after two terms, will return to non-political duties after next month’s swearing-in of the all-male council.

Disclaimer: All these statistics, and much, much more are available on the state Elections Commission’s website, scvotes.org. Best source for getting voting results.

The drop box outside the U.S. Post Office on Charles Street is back in service after almost six months of being out of commission. The metal box was damaged by some crazies who must have thought there was money inside to be had. It was replaced in late summer but then remained closed with a plastic bag over its “head” until just before the election. This strange inconvenience prompted rumors to fly that the facility was destined for closure. One well-connected “rock star” developer said the facility was indeed slated for closure, saying, “it’s just a matter of when.” Sources close to reality, including Congresswoman Nancy Mace’s office, declined to comment. Lolita Huckaby/The Island News

Will Green Space initiative be our salvation?

BEAUFORT – It wasn’t just political leaders voters chose earlier this month. A majority of voters said “yes” to a plan that will allow the county to raise sales taxes for two years to purchase land targeted for development.

The vote was 53 percent to 47 percent, a bit closer than some had speculated since the proposal came with the blessing of the sacrosanct Beaufort County Open Land Trust, which in its own right has protected more than 25,000 acres of land from development over the past 33 years.

But the voters said “yes” and the additional sales penny, which will be collected beginning in May and continue for two years or until $100 million is collected, is ready to serve as a pilot project for the state’s Green Space Sales Tax Act. The legislation, adopted by the General Assembly in May, just before it adjourned for the year, was the effort of state Sen. Tom Davis who was looking for options to slow the rapid development of open spaces in areas such as Beaufort County.

As soon as Davis presented the plan in June, the County Council jumped on board that train, abandoning plans to go for a separate sale tax plan that a citizens task force had been working on for months to prioritize transportation projects for a referendum question.

It was lack of specific details about the operation of Green Space Sales Tax program that some critics raised, including former state Rep. Edie Rodgers. That the money raised in Beaufort County could be used to purchase development rights or property outside of Beaufort County was one concern.

Another concern was that a seven-member panel would be established to decide which properties would be “saved” with the sales tax revenues.

While all this gets straightened out and the process begins, the Open Land Trust, contract managers of the county’s Rural and Critical Lands Program which also buys property or development rights to protect open space from development, has been busy bringing parcels to the County Council for purchase approval.

Most recent action was last week when the Council delayed a decision to swap Camp St. Mary’s property for protected property in the Okatie area. The proposal, which was tabled over the recommendations of the administrative staff, is designed to come up with land for a new library, recreation areas and a recycling convenience center in the Bluffton area.

Not to cast doubt on the whole process, since we’re talking about saving the area’s natural beauty, but it’s kinda like a shell game – difficult to follow the moves but hoping for a win.

Let us count our many blessings

BEAUFORT – Deputy County Administrator for Infrastructure and Engineering Jared Fralick recently started off what could have been a heated meeting about proposed traffic improvements for Lady’s Island with a simple question for his listeners: Why do you choose to live in Beaufort?

It’s a good question which all of us should ponder, at least once a year… maybe Thanksgiving?

Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.

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