By Lolita Huckaby
PORT ROYAL – Economic diversity and support for the future development of the Port of Port Royal property were two of several issues discussed last week during a town council candidates forum sponsored by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The at-large council race is on the Nov. 2 ballot and open only to Port Royal registered voters.
The four candidates – incumbents Mary Beth Heyward, who has served on the council for 29 years and Darryl Owens, who is completing his first term – are being challenged by Eddie Gugino and John Hazel for the two council seats. The winners will join Kevin Phillips and Jerry Ashmore, as well as Mayor Joe DeVito in steering the growing community for the next four years.
All four candidates at the forum emphasized their support for the town’s continuing growth but proposed careful monitoring of that growth.
Gugino, a cyber security engineer, stressed the importance of “letting the free-market do its thing” on issues like encouraging development and affordable housing.
“I don’t see why the citizens of Port Royal should have to pay for affordable housing,” he said.
On the same issue of affordable housing, Heyward, who recently retired from her job at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, said it was important for the community and local business owners to support efforts to support housing for their employees.
“We want people to be able to live here, to be part of this community,” she said.
Owens, who directs a non-profit educational foundation in Jasper County, and Hazel, owner of the Devil Dog Marine retail shop, stressed the importance of “obtainable housing.”
“Port Royal needs to continue to attract … people of different income … affordable for you may not be affordable to me,” Owens said.
Hazel brought up the future of the Naval Hospital, located within Port Royal and often rumored for possible closure. He suggested the town should be preparing for that possibility and consider attracting an educational institution there, one that might focus on medical training.
All four candidates spoke in support of short-term rentals and their value to the town’s economy but agreed some regulation by the town is needed.
When questioned about the most pressing issue facing the town, in terms of quality of life, Owens listed “affordability … can people afford to stay here?”
Heyward stressed the current lifestyle – with occasional street music events, the skate park, the farmers’ market – as one of the biggest town assets.
Gugino and Hazel both said there were more activities for young people.
“It’s very important to maintain the businesses that are here,” Gugino said.
As chairman of the town’s parks commission, Hazel said the presence of multiple parks is valuable but “we’re always trying to do more.”
All mentioned the importance of getting more small, independent businesses into the town to create more jobs and better, competitive wages.
“You’re never going to catch the Chamber of Commerce advocating against growing the local business community,” interjected Chamber Director Ian Scott, who moderated the forum.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
WANT TO WATCH?
The one-hour forum is available to watch on the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.
FIND OUT MORE
The League of Women Voters Beaufort has compiled information on the candidates which is available at their website, https://www.vote411.org/.