County, city candidates respond to questions on development, taxes and more
By Tony Kukulich
Anyone expecting fireworks during the candidates forum held Wednesday, Oct. 19 was likely disappointed by the event more notable for its cordial and friendly tone than for controversy.
Sponsored by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and held at the University of South Carolina Beaufort Center for the Arts, the forum featured two sessions. The evening started with the five candidates vying for two available Beaufort City Council seats. The Democratic and Republican candidates competing for the Beaufort City Council District 2 seat followed.
The race for the county’s District 2 seat took shape after Republican newcomer David Bartholomew edged out 16-year council veteran Paul Sommerville by 125 votes in the June Republican primary. Bartholomew faces another political newcomer, Democrat Marilyn Harris, who was unopposed in the June Democratic primary.
Candidates in both sessions received questions formulated by a panel just moments before the start of the event. Development in the city and county was clearly a primary concern among those on the panel, and many of the questions were related to growth in the region.
Harris and Bartholomew saw nearly eye-to-eye on a number of points. Both supported adherence to the Lady’s Island Plan, and both thought a more comprehensive master plan for that area was needed.
“The Lady’s Island Plan was a vision,” Harris said. “It’s a great start. I believe it’s imperative that we complete the outstanding projects that were planned back in 2018. I believe that the next step for the Lady’s Island Plan is a master plan, something that is executable, something that the county council can look at and provide funding to support.”
Noting the recent controversy surrounding the proposal to expand a portion of the Sea Island Parkway to four lanes on Lady’s Island, Bartholomew stressed the importance of community involvement in future decisions while offering a suggested approach to the traffic issue on the island.
“We don’t need to expand Sea Island Parkway,” Bartholomew said. “We need to worry about the side roads and expand those – make it easier to get off the main routes and make that area easier to traverse for the people that live on Lady’s Island.”
Both candidates came out in support of the proposed 1% sales tax referendum for the preservation of green space that voters will decide upon in the election.
On the issue of affordable housing, one question referenced the recently established Affordable Housing Trust Fund created by Beaufort and Jasper counties along with the municipalities in those counties. A total of $3.4 million has been pledged to the fund. The candidates were asked how the spending of those funds should be prioritized. Their answers diverged on this topic.
Harris stated that prioritization should be needs based, but added that the county’s need should also be a factor.
“We certainly need to look at the employee need in the county,” Harris said. “Where is the county’s greatest need for employees? Is it teachers? Is it law enforcement, etc., and prioritize it that way in terms of affordable workforce housing to support those individuals that we need to increase our quality of life and make sure that this is an affordable place to live.”
Bartholomew made a case for prioritizing the needs of public servants first.
“They’re the ones that are putting their lives at risk,” Bartholomew. “They’re the ones that are giving back to our community and serving the community. I think it’s a shame that they can’t live in the community that they serve.”
He added that a focus on improved economic diversification in the region would provide workers the opportunity to afford their own homes without depending on government assistance.
In both her opening and closing remarks, Harris made an effort to distinguish herself from Bartholomew in one significant way. She said that she would devote herself full-time to the role. Though she didn’t mention it explicitly, Bartholomew, according to his campaign web page, is an attorney with the Beaufort-based Schiller & Hamilton law firm.
“This is a full-time job,” Harris said. “If you’re looking for a candidate that will represent you full-time, I am your candidate.”
The terms for Beaufort City Council members Mike McFee and Phil Cromer are set to expire, which accounts for the two available seats. McFee, a three-term council veteran, is seeking reelection while Cromer opted not to run. City council members are elected at-large for four-year terms.
In addition to McFee, the candidates for the city council are: Michael Anderson, Josh Gibson, Wilma Holman and Josh Scallate.
Early voting in the November midterm election has already started. It got underway at four county sites Monday, Oct. 24, 2022 and continues through Saturday, Nov. 5. Voting runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The early voting centers are closed Sundays and for legal holidays.
There are four early voting centers in Beaufort County:
• Beaufort – 15 John Galt Rd, Beaufort, SC 29906
• Bluffton – 61B Ulmer Rd, Bluffton, SC 29910
• Hilton Head Government Complex – 539 William Hilton Pkwy, Hilton Head Island, S.C. 29928.
• St. Helena Branch Library – 6355 Jonathan Francis Senior Rd., St. Helena Island, S.C. 29920.
The entire forum can be viewed by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmIrdPFdXJ4.
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications.