Beaufort council hopefuls spar during candidate forum

With special-election day less than a week away, two of the three candidates running for a vacant Beaufort City Council seat took the stage Wednesday to make their cases to voters.

George O'Kelley, 69, a Beaufort attorney and former city councilman, and Ron Petit, 70, a retired member of the Air Force and federal civil service employee, agreed on several issues.

Both say the city needs to play a role in development.

Both support a project to turn an old railway line into a biking and hiking trail.

And both say residents should be able to park downtown for free.

But the candidates showed the crowd -- about three dozen people gathered at the Technical College of the Lowcountry -- where they differed as well.

On the parking issue, for instance, they brought different proposals to the table.

"Every resident of the city of Beaufort, when you pay your taxes, you ought to be given a sticker," Petit said. "And you put that sticker on your car, and you park for free."

O'Kelley advocated construction of a parking garage in the downtown area.

"We need it. It ought to happen," he said.

They also disagreed about whether the city should annex the Beaufort Commerce Park.

In 2006, during O'Kelley's previous term on council, he voted against the annexation of Clarendon Farms, a situation he compared to the commerce park.

"You'll have to provide police service, fire service, etcetera, etcetera, every time you go out that far," he said. "And I'm not sure that's a good idea."

Petit argued "bringing the commerce park into the city through annexation, in my judgment, would be good not only for the city of Beaufort, but it would also be good for the area."

A question about stormwater runoff standards divided the candidates, too.

Petit argued the city should adopt the county's standards, saying a united effort with the city, county and S.C. Department of Transportation is needed to address the problem.

O'Kelley agreed only that the city needs to act.

"I'm not sure if we should enact in lockstep with what the county has done, but certainly we should do something more," he said.

A third candidate, Larry Holman, 63, president of the Beaufort Black Chamber of Commerce, did not attend the forum, and would not say why when reached by telephone after the event.

Tuesday's election is being held to fill the seat of Councilman Gary Fordham, who died in April. The winner will serve the remainder of Fordham's term, which expires in 2012.

Beaufort residents must have been registered to vote by June 19 to cast a ballot in the special election, according to the city's website.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at

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