By Al Dozier
Two council seats and the office of mayor will be up for grabs in what could be hotly contested races in the town of Irmo this November.
The elections come in the wake of some controversial decisions made by the council that brought out citizen protests at some council meetings.
Many Irmo residents complained about the town’s handling of a zoning request for an exemption by a citizen with disabilities. She wanted to put up a carport to cover an entrance ramp that would get wet during rainy weather and often caused her to slip and fall.
The town denied the variance, prompting the threat of a lawsuit for violating the Fair Housing Act. The town was ordered to pay $40,000 in damages to the woman and adopt new guidelines on handling ordinances affecting disabled citizens. The town contends it did nothing unlawful.
The litigation between the Department of Justice and the town is ongoing.
Another action that prompted a backlash of complaints was the enactment of an ordinance restricting residents from parking in their front yards. The ordinance was designed to improve appearances in residential communities, but some citizens complained that there wasn’t adequate space in their driveways to accommodate all of their vehicles.
The council’s decision not to draw up new ordinance provisions to block a proposed new low-rent housing project also brought complaints. The council made that decision based on legal issues.
Mayor Hardy King is seeking a third term as mayor. He was first elected to Town Council in 2005 and was elected mayor in 2011. He is owner and operator of King’s Furniture Revival in Irmo.
While some citizens are calling for a change in government because of the recent controversies, King doesn’t anticipate a big turnout of voters in response to those complaints.
King said he is still working on his re-election campaign and will announce his message to voters after the August filings.
He is expected to face opposition from Councilman Barry Walker Sr., who was first elected to council in 2004. He was re-elected for a fourth term in 2017. His term on council does not expire for another two years, so he could retain his seat on council even if he is defeated in the mayor’s race.
Walker said he hopes to run, but said he is not ready to make an official announcement. That announcement could come August 17 at a special event he is already planning. He said he does anticipate a good turnout of voters in response to recent council actions.
Walker ran for mayor in a 2007 but was defeated by former Mayor John Gibbons. He ran again in 2011, but lost to King.
Now retired, Walker is the former chef and owner of Mac’s on Main, a business he operated for 15 years. He is now dealing with kidney failure, which requires him to be on dialysis. But he rarely misses a council meeting.
Walker said he is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant
Councilman Julius Waites, now retired from a position as an educator in Richland School District 1, is seeking re-election for a second term. He said the council has been doing its job and that some of the recent outbursts from citizens are based on misinformation.
When contacted by the Irmo News, Councilman Pouliot would not confirm if he will seek re-election to his seat. He said he has not yet made up his mind.
Pouliot, a buyer at Constantia Flexibles, is completing his first term on council.
Three other candidates expected to seek election to the at-large council seats are Erik Sickinger, Mike Ward and Dan Newbanks. They have already made public comment about the need for change and sometimes show up at council meeting to voice their views.
Sickinger said he decided to run for council after attending meetings and determining that he did not like the way the council was conducting its business.
Sickinger works for CitySourced, a software company that provides services to municipalities.
He has lived in Irmo for three or four years and says he wants it to stay a good, solid small town.
Ward said he would like to see a more professional conduct at council meetings. He recently sent a letter to the council with a list of guidelines that could be used at council meetings that could improve decorum at the meetings.
Ward describes his occupation at that of a professional entrepreneur in the areas of technology and insurance sales.
While he has held leadership roles in various community organizations, Ward said he has not run for public office before.
Newbanks, a financial advisor to Modern Woodmen of America, is also running for public office for the first time. He sees a very negative public view of the town of Irmo, as outlined in these comments on his Facebook page.
“The town of Irmo has had a rough go for the last two to four years, maybe longer. We’ve gotten black-eyes in the media for situations that are embarrassing.”
Newbanks said a small town such as Irmo should not have so much “negative attention.”
Other candidates could announce for office during the filing period, which opens August 16 and closes August 30.