Familiar faces on Beaufort City Council don't have to mean old approaches

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Familiar faces on Beaufort City Council don't have to mean old approaches

Published Wednesday, November 14, 2012   |  423 Words  |  

Election Day brought victories for all three incumbents on Beaufort City Council: Mayor Billy Keyserling, who sits on the council, was unopposed in his at-large, non-partisan race; and Councilmen Mike McFee and George O'Kelley Jr. won new terms that will begin in December.

The return of familiar faces doesn't necessarily mean a return of the status quo, however.

Call Tuesday's results an affirmation of the status "whoa!" instead.

Pete Palmer, the only challenger in a city race, captured 28 percent of the vote as a self-styled "protest" candidate. That's only four points behind O'Kelley, the closest thing to a protest incumbent on a council that too often votes in lockstep.

With that in mind, the election seems an accurate reflection of Beaufort's mood: The current council has handled a difficult economy fairly well and seems determined to animate plans for the city's future. However, those plans strike some as overreaching in service of narrow constituencies and gauzy notions, and they want the headlong rush to cease.

Indications are that McFee and Keyserling -- both native Beaufortonians with genuine regard for their hometown -- have taken those concerns to heart.

McFee said on the election's eve that when he went door to door seeking votes, it became apparent many feel shut out of the city's decision-making. He vowed to remedy that with clearer, more consistent communication.

In a similar vein, Keyserling ran a re-election campaign -- against himself, as he described it -- though he faced no opposition. He is to be commended for putting out signs to thank Beaufortonians when he could have squirreled away his campaign money for the next cycle. He also attempted to drive traffic to his website and attract subscribers to his email newsletters -- also commendable if the aim and result is mutual understanding.

We still believe, as Palmer did, that city government could use a few more people who ask questions and that slicker public relations are no substitute for genuine conversations. We believe, as well, that the city must take pains to ensure the authentic voices for historic preservation are invited to help make planning decisions, particularly those involving Beaufort's new form-based code.

That said, the voters have spoken, and most of them are comfortable with the old guard. Their faith will be justified -- and the city best served -- if the incumbents continue to stop and listen to what the discomforted have to say, too.