Beaufort voters have a good problem in the Nov. 6 City Council election. Voters have three good candidates to choose from -- incumbents Mike McFee, George O'Kelley Jr. and political newcomer Pete Palmer.
But the three are running for two seats on the five-person City Council, and only the top two vote-getters will be seated. (Mayor Billy Keyserling is running unopposed.)
O'Kelley is the most experienced of the candidates. Before he was elected 16 months ago to finish the term of Gary Fordham, who died in office, he served two terms on City Council. He was elected in 1979 and 2004. The 70-year-old attorney also served as municipal judge in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
As a Beaufort resident for 42 years, this is where his life's work has been carried out and his three sons reared.
Those experiences are valuable perspectives to bring to City Council, but his life includes something even more important to Beaufort -- a military perspective. He is a graduate of The Citadel and served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1968 to 1971. He also served with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve for more than 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
As a council member, O'Kelley brings an eye to detail and neighborhood concerns, which is important as the city wrestles with long-range planning and redevelopment issues. He succeeded in his recent pursuit on City Council to ban texting while driving, and cell phone use while driving for younger people.
His experience, track record of listening to constituents, ability to get things done and attention to city government's role at the "pothole" level commend O'Kelley for re-election.
Pete Palmer is the outsider looking in during this election, and that's exactly what Beaufort's city government needs.
It specifically needs stronger questioning of planning methods that rely on consultants. Palmer can bring fresh eyes and the good sense of a heavily-involved citizen to the City Council.
Palmer, 76, also would bring to council his experience at the Historic Beaufort Foundation. The city is in the throes of changing its zoning to a "form-based code," and it will be challenging to overlay those concepts onto an existing community whose core is its historic district. He also was chairman of the Northwest Quadrant Study Group that took giant steps in opening dialogue between the city and this large section of the community, which needs new life, but faces a variety of vexing issues hindering redevelopment.
Yet when Palmer stood before City Council to question aspects of the Bladen Street Redevelopment District, the mayor chided him for being asleep at the wheel.
We beg to differ. Palmer represents the historical strength of Beaufort -- wise, involved, caring, well-educated difference-makers who have seen its beauty and potential, moved here and proceeded to make it better economically and socially. And instead of slinking away at the mayor's unfortunate admonition, Palmer has risen to the challenge and redoubled his efforts to be wide awake, for historical preservation, for the city's 19 neighborhoods and the people who will be affected by the flurry of planning and redevelopment the city is undertaking.
He brings experience from his career as a CIA operations officer, including working with congressional committees, to his promise to be wide awake for the residents in thoroughly evaluating the city staff's recommendations. City Council needs that.