Three mayoral candidates and two of the three council candidates talked in a crowded Port Royal Elementary School multipurpose room during the forum hosted by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Town Council candidate Darryl Owens had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend.
The Port of Port Royal should be sold soon and developed to fit the town's wishes, candidates agreed during what was largely an amicable session.
Murray is facing a challenge in the Nov. 3 election for the first time in more than a decade. He took a firm stance against challengers Kristina Wetzel and Chuck Wood during his closing statements.
"You know what to expect from me," Murray said. "It's not a guess."
Wetzel said she brings fresh ideas and energy and talked about going door-to-door and reaching out to the community beyond the Old Village. Wood pushed outside-the-box thinking and his experience leading a team of employees as maintenance supervisor at Naval Hospital Beaufort.
Council incumbent Tom Klein talked up his experience and said there are aspects of the job that require a learning curve. Jerry Ashmore talked of his deep roots in the town and said he would work to understand the issues.
Here are some of the candidates' thoughts on key issues:
On the Port of Port Royal
Sam Murray: Reminded the crowd about the process more than 10 years ago of the town developing its plan and said development agreements should be honored. "I would like to see one developer develop the whole property."
Kristina Wetzel: Told residents not to fear having a new person as mayor or on the council during matters related to the port and said that there was a system of checks in place to make the process bigger than one person. "It all comes down to listening to citizens."
Chuck Wood: Said the port should belong to the town and that the town should own and operate the drystack storage as a revenue generator. "Why sell a piece of property where we can make money off of it?" (Murray responded that the S.C. Ports Authority owns the property.)
Jerry Ashmore: Said development should maintain Port Royal's unique character and not mimic resort areas. "We've got to do it right. We don't get mulligans on this."
Tom Klein: Thinks the town could form a development corporation to take control if the property goes to auction in three pieces. "Let's take it on ourselves. Let's do it; let's get it done right."
On economic development
Murray: Said issue is larger than Port Royal and that leaders needed to think about what was best for surrounding areas, to include Beaufort and Jasper counties. Said focus should be on businesses related to nearby giants like Gulfstream and Boeing.
Wetzel: Also said economic development was a regional issue and that diversifying businesses would be key. "Port Royal does not need to recreate the wheel."
Wood: Agreed with Murray and Wetzel.
Ashmore: Mentioned opportunities related to the agricultural science program at the Technical College of the Lowcountry that he helped develop and businesses related to nearby Gulfstream and Boeing.
Klein: Said the Redevelopment Commission has talked about how to fill vacant lots and buildings. Said a research firm could be hired to determine the market need and what businesses the town should try to attract.
On shrimp docks and seafood industry
Murray: Said operation was about to turn the corner before the July fire that burned the market. "This is a shrimping town. This is history."
Wetzel: Said the operation was looking up before the fire. "We should continue that. "It's a treasure that not too many have."
Wood: Said mayor and town council would have to work together to decide the future of the operation. "What we have now is special."
Ashmore: Said the shrimp docks are part of town's heritage that must be preserved. "We need to do whatever we need to do to be there for those guys."
Klein: Said town should talk to the S.C. Shrimpers Association about getting a processing facility.
Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.
- Port of Port Royal development plans unlikely before sale closes, Oct. 4, 2015
- Port Royal mayoral, council slates set for Nov. 3 election: Who will you choose? Sept. 3, 2015