The five candidates running for the vacant Ward 3 Hilton Head Island Town Council seat emphasized their qualifications and reaffirmed commitments to finding a title sponsor for the Heritage golf tournament, spurring redevelopment and protecting the environment.
They made their last pitches before the Feb. 15 election on Thursday during the final candidates' forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island.
Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer, 67; Lee Edwards, 43, president of a Hilton Head-based landscaping company; marketing representative Ryan McAvoy, 31; marketing consultant David Warren, 55; and retired money manager Peter Zych, 71, are vying for the seat vacated by Drew Laughlin, the island's new mayor. The council term expires in December 2012.
Ward 3 includes Spanish Wells, Wexford, Long Cove Club, Indigo Run, Point Comfort and Shipyard Plantation.
About 60 people attended the forum at Shipyard Plantation.
Zych said his maturity, balance and experience as a retired money manager working in New York provide him the diplomatic and analytical skills "readily transferable to a council position."
Baer touted his engineering and economic background and four years "working for taxpayers" by representing the island on County Council.
Edwards, who grew up on the island, said he has the experience and knowledge across a range of issues affecting the island. As a member of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust and Coastal Conservation League, he said he understands what is required to preserve the island's environment.
Warren said the town needs to expand and supplement the island's economic engines of tourism and real estate by creating a climate for redevelopment and new business. He said his 30 years in resort operations, marketing, real estate and service on the town's Accommodations Tax Committee give him the knowledge and insight to make that happen.
McAvoy cited his knowledge of demographics and vacationers' habits that he has obtained from working at Hilton Head Guest Services, and he said he is tenacious.
When it came to the issues, all stressed the importance of keeping the Heritage PGA Tour tournament, but differed on the approach to securing its future.
Baer recommended a plea to the PGA Tour to permit six, $1 million sponsors, including the town, county and state, instead of a single sponsor. He also called for increasing ticket prices, reducing tournament expenses and cost-sharing from hotels, restaurants and villas.
Edwards said he supports discussions happening at the state, county and local levels to fund the Heritage in the short-term. Warren said finding a title sponsor is vital to the island economy, and does not believe taxpayer money should be used to sponsor the tournament.
Zych said he opposes the use of public money for private purposes and is opposed to the idea of levying a sales tax to raise money for the tournament.
The candidates also differed slightly on their views of what should be done if falling revenue requires cutting the town's budget.
Zych said he would not comment on where cuts need to be made until a top-to-bottom review is done to determine whether the town is adequately staffed and using taxpayer dollars efficiently
Baer said he'd take the same approach he's taking on County Council by looking for ways to combine staff and other efficiencies to save money.
Edwards said the town should consider staff cuts.
"In this economy we've all had to make tough decisions and make cuts. If we need to reduce town staff, we need to do that," he said. "We need to do a thorough budgeting process and see which departments we need."
Warren disagreed, saying the town manager -- not council -- prepares the budget and determines staffing needs. It's council's job, he said, to approve the budget.