Port Royal holds candidates forum for town council and mayor’s races

10 mins read


Candidates vying for spots on Port Royal’s town council and for the mayor’s job fielded questions on everything from speeding on Ribaut Road to the future of the town’s shrimp docks at a forum held in Port Royal on Monday, Oct. 21.

Hosted by the Beaufort League of Women Voters, the forum drew about 60 people to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on 11th Street, where candidates answered questions that were emailed in advance.

Three candidates – incumbents Jerry Ashmore and Robert Landrum, along with newcomer Kevin Phillips – are running for two open seats on town council, while Joe Devito is challenging Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Beth Gray-Heyward.

Gray-Heyward was unable to attend Monday night’s forum due to a conflict in her schedule, according to the league.

Candidates were given five minutes to introduce themselves and say what, they believe, are the key issues facing Port Royal.

Jerry Ashmore

Ashmore, a 19-year employee of The Greenery, said he is running because he wants to give back to the community and set a good example for his kids. He serves on the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan Implementation Committee and as vice chair of Port Royal’s emergency planning committee.

The shrimp docks are important to Port Royal and the need to promote smart growth is another important issue, he said.

“The two key words for me are parking and traffic,” he said. “We have to keep our eye on that.”

The town’s budget is also something council members need to be judicious with, and the need to be “forward thinking” when it comes to the town’s comprehensive plan coming up in 2020.


Robert Landrum

A USC Beaufort history professor, Landrum said the four themes that describe his service are an environmental sensibility, an advocacy of smart growth, the effective use of his seat to serve the needs of citizens and a miserly steward of tax money.

“I’ve been a parsimonious steward of your money,” he added.

Landrum wants to preserve the area’s quality of life and the things that visitors come to the Lowcountry for since it is the basis of our economy, he said.

The council’s job is to pay careful attention to traffic, parking, sewer, trash, recycling, affordable housing and the preservation of the local environment, he said.



Kevin Phillips

Phillips, an attorney, said he was drawn to the practice of law for the opportunity it provided in helping people every day.

He serves on the board of the YMCA and also works for the South Carolina victim’s assistance network, a nonprofit which provides free legal services to victims of violent crime.

“I believe in service and have dedicated my career to it and dedicate my free time to it,” he said.

Issues that are key to him include responsible growth, quality of life, traffic and sidewalks, or expanding the town’s walkable area.


Joe Devito

A retired utility manager for BJWSA, Devito has 20 years of experience with Port Royal’s planning commission among other area planning and development boards. 

He also served on the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan Implementation Committee and currently serves as president of Friends of the Spanish Moss Trail.

Key issues for him include traffic and safety, sidewalks or making Port Royal more pedestrian friendly.

“When it comes to smart growth, (or) planned growth, long-term planning of our assets and how we’re going to maintain them so more people want to come in and invest in this community because it is such a great place, is what I want to start looking at.”


Over a nearly two-hour period, the candidates answered about a dozen questions on such subjects as assisting property owners with rises in sea levels to how to improve the area’s schools.

On how the shrimp docks should be managed:

Ashmore supports the docks and said the shrimping industry should be preserved, but the boats at the dock need to be working.

“I don’t think the town should be in the shrimp business,” he said. “I don’t think it’s good business for the town to be in private business.”

Landrum agreed that the town does not need to be in the shrimp business. He also said the town needed to “get rid of the hulks” with specific penalties for derelict boats.

“Port Royal is not a dumping ground for boats,” he said, and added that the town needs to negotiate a temporary lease for the processing facility and fix the
shrimp docks.

Phillips said anything that is a potential environmental hazard should be addressed first, then the town should launch an information campaign and consider a referendum on the issue.

“If we get consensus from the public and they want to pay for the shrimp docks, then like I said, I want to be the representative for all of Port Royal,” he said.

Devito also said it was time to get rid of the derelict boats. He said citizens need to weigh what the true cost is for having the shrimp docks and how they want to pay for it.

“Do we need to be in the shrimp business, or do we need to be in the dock business that allows those shrimp boats to be here and someone else is owning the processing,” he said. “But we can’t bleed to make that happen.”

On increasing Port Royal’s non-residential taxpayers:

Ashmore said the S.C. Highway 170 corridor is key to expanding commercial development but council will need to consider parking and traffic issues. The town could also look outside “the normal areas” while staying within its growth boundaries, he said.

Landrum agreed saying it was important to concentrate on the business corridors such as Paris Avenue and Highway 170. The growth of new businesses, such as some of the restaurants coming online, should lead to increased A-tax revenue, more jobs and a “broader, more diversified and more vigorous” local economy, he said.

Phillips agreed that it was important to diversify the tax base and look for opportunities around the Highway 170 area that can be developed more for commercial. Plus, once the port is developed more, that will bring in additional shops and businesses, he said. Business growth is vital to the future of Port Royal, he added.

Devito agreed on the need to expand the commercial corridors as others had mentioned, and added that the town had the opportunity to improve its infrastructure. An improved infrastructure, such as sidewalks to connect to businesses, is what will bring business in, he said.

On the timeline for bringing the Spanish Moss Trail to downtown Port Royal:

Devito, who is on the board, said bringing the trail across Ribaut Road to Port Royal is top priority for the board, and residents could see construction to make that happen within 12 months.

Ashmore said the project was “near and dear” to his heart since he worked on the first phase. The trail is an amenity, he said. He too estimated the connection to Port Royal could happen within a year.

Landrum also said the trail was an amenity and that it can help alleviate future traffic congestion. He said the town council needs to press developers for a more specific plan on where the trail would cross Ribaut Road. He donated one third of his council stipend to the trail and encouraged others to do the same.

Phillips said the trail was vital to development and to connecting Port Royal to everything. He said he would work to personally advocate for it on the county level and use relationships he has cultivated to advocate for its completion.

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