Tuesday is an important election day in Beaufort County, and we trust voter turnout will be much better than it was in the recent special election for the state Senate District 45 seat.
The towns of Bluffton and Port Royal have seen a robust and healthy competition for mayor and two Town Council seats each. All told, 16 candidates will be on the ballots, and they each took the time and effort to travel to our office to explain their viewpoints to our editorial board.
In the Bluffton mayoral race we endorse Lisa Sulka. She brings the experience of two terms as mayor and one term on Town Council, dating to 2004. She is a natural leader who tends to unify forces as the town has gone through growing pains that will not subside anytime soon.
Sulka, a Realtor, realizes that Bluffton will be in trouble if every home the town has approved is built and comes with three people. She expressed interest in the town intervening as much as possible. The town adopted the May River Watershed Action Plan with methods to restore water quality through stormwater management and sewerage service. But it also targets further degradation of the May River, and Sulka expressed support for reducing development density already approved and guiding it to more acceptable places. She believes that the transfer of development rights can work.
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Sulka's record on quality-of-life issues is solid, with new or expanded parks, a noise ordinance and a start to fixing parking problems in Old Town.
For Bluffton Town Council, eight people are seeking two at-large seats on the ballot.
We endorse political newcomer Dan Wood and incumbent Ted Huffman.
Wood recently retired as operations manager for Palmetto Electric Cooperative, bringing solutions-oriented experience in intrastructure construction and design to the council. He also has been involved in the community on many levels, as a member of the Planning Commission, Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee, Rotary Club (past president and Rotarian of the year), and the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society. He founded the Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival.
Wood is well versed on the details of environmental protection, economic development, planning, historic preservation and public recreation. He believes the town should be aggressive in renegotiating development agreements to reduce or move density.
Huffman has earned another term on council, and his experience will be needed. He has been accessible to the public and a voice for working people. He remains committed to the small-town feel of Bluffton.
We also like Harry Lutz of Hampton Hall who is seeking his first political office. He too has been involved in municipal and civic groups and has started a business in Bluffton.
In Port Royal, we endorse incumbent Sam Murray for mayor. As mayor since 1995 and a past Town Council member, the retired educator has helped Port Royal remain Port Royal -- a lovely, small town in an urban setting. If he wins another term, he should use it as his time to shine in resolving to the public's satisfaction the future of the Port of Port Royal site. He knows full well what the citizens want today and what they have wanted for more than a decade in removing the fences surrounding the state-owned port, getting it on the tax rolls and breathing new life into the town's core.
For the two Town Council seats we endorse incumbent Tom Klein and political newcomer Jerry Ashmore.
Klein has showed an attention to detail and willingness to work on town issues (he drove to Darien, Ga., to smell for himself a jellyfish plant similar to one proposed for Port Royal).
We found it hard to pick a favorite between Ashmore and candidate Darryl Owens. Both have served on municipal and civic bodies are raising young families in town. But we lean to Ashmore because he works in town, while Owens is chief of operations for the Jasper County School District in Ridgeland.