Islanders hit polls today in Ward 3 Town Council election

Hilton Head Island voters head to the ballot box again today to choose from among a diverse group of candidates to serve on Town Council. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Beaufort County Councilman Steve Baer, 68; Lee Edwards, 43, president and CEO 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 Ward 3 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. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes, the top two vote-getters head to a runoff March 1.

Should Baer win the race to replace Laughlin, a special election would be held to fill Baer's vacancy on County Council. Estimated cost for such a special election is about $15,000, said Scott Marshall, county elections director.

Tuesday's special election is estimated to cost $5,000, Marshall said, adding that the town would reimburse the county.

Baer announced plans to run for the vacancy in November, two weeks after he won an unopposed bid for a second, four-year term on Beaufort County Council. He said he loves Hilton Head and feels he can do as much local good serving on Town Council with a more hands-on role in community issues.

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.

McAvoy cited his knowledge of demographics and vacationers' habits that he has gained from working at Hilton Head Guest Services, and he said he is tenacious.

Warren said the town needs to expand and supplement its 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.

Zych pointed to his maturity, balance and experience as a retired money manager working in New York. Those attributes give him the diplomatic and analytical skills "readily transferable to a council position," he said.

The new council member will take office during the first regularly scheduled Town Council meeting after election results are certified.