Folly Beach runoff will decide winner of final council seat

Folly Beach voters still have the opportunity to decide which of two candidates gets the last open council seat.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 5:00 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 6:21 PM EST
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FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (WCSC) - Folly Beach voters came out in record numbers to select city council members on Nov. 7th and still have the opportunity to decide which of two candidates gets the last open council seat.

Incumbent Billy Grooms and challenger Ann Peets will face off for that last seat. In the main election, voters elected Katherine Houghton and Chris Bizzell to two of the three open seats. Grooms brought in 14% of the vote and Peets brought in 13%.

Grooms has served for four years and says he was inspired first by his work in the city public safety department.

“I had worked recently with the city and the public safety department and I really enjoyed working with staff, and of course the residents of the city. They’re really wonderful neighbors, and such a caring and loving community that we do have here. And I really wanted to be a leader in that role. And so I decided on going to council to continue the happiness that we have here in the dome of delight on the beach,” Grooms says.

Peets, a longtime resident, says she was inspired to take a more active role in her community this year.

“I’ve noticed when I’ve gotten more involved in the Folly Beach community, is that city council is really heavily weighted toward investor and business interests and away from residents who make up the backbone of the community. So that’s why I wanted to run. If I were to be elected in this runoff, then I would basically balance the council to be three resident advocates and then three more investor business focus candidates,” Peets says.

Grooms describes himself as a working man living at the working man’s beach. He says the community is his number one focus.

“Getting everybody to come together because I have sort of become a broker of healing in the community and I’m here to build bridges and not fences. You know, divisiveness has entered the community and so I want to bring that together. True leaders don’t create division, but true leaders, bring people together,” Grooms says.

He noted that public safety is also important to his work.

“We had a disaster recently with the bride that was killed right in front of my house, which was devastating to the community. And so we’re going to take safety measures. I’ve been working with Nancy Mace’s office and with the city, trying to give some speed containment, radar devices and speed limit signs. So I think that will be a first step and what we do in making it safe for us as well as bringing us back together,” Grooms says.

Peets describes herself as a resident-forward candidate willing to work with all users of the beach community to create the best place to live work and play.

“I have a four-year agenda that I’ve set basically from talking to residents all across the island. We want to really come back together as a community,” Peets says.

She says if she is elected, she will implement her four-year plan, which has a focus on improving livability, safety and long-term housing. She says those topics are broad, but each is filled with ways to make subtle changes that could have big impacts.

“Livability - that’s a wide platform but basically it includes flooding, septic issues, environmental issues, and enhancing people’s activities. The secondary is safety. Safety is a really big deal for residents in terms of parking, pedestrian safety, maybe think rethinking some of the red lights downtown with all the visitors coming downtown and worrying about bike paths and walking paths and parking,” Peets says. “There’s been a lot of discussion around many long-term residents having to leave the island with all of the changes in the short-term rental regulations. So, we want to find solutions for those employees that want to live on the island as well as long term renters to enhance their resident possibilities and also attract them back to the island.”

When asked what sets her apart from her opponent in this runoff, Peets reiterated her plans for enhancing the community though her community ties.

“I’m an inclusive resident advocate councilwoman who would really be working very hard to balance the needs of residents, visitors and businesses on the island. I’m focused on maintaining balance, building community and enhancing livability,” she says. “I’m an experienced proven leader, and I think I can really bring those skills to bear in a councilwoman position. And I’m only funded by individual citizens, not by any association or group. And I have a four-year plan as I talked about that’s really focused on top priorities for residents.”

When asked the same question, what sets him apart as a candidate in this runoff, Grooms leaned into his community service.

“I think character plays a big role in what we do. Obviously, leadership, along with that, and service to the community. I have spent a great deal of my personal time giving back to the community, I think that’s important,” Grooms says.

Each took a brief moment to address their thoughts on a councilperson’s role in regard to the investment short-term rental cap that the citizens voted to enact last year.

Peets, a resident supporter of the cap, signed the petition and says she voted for it. She admits that it is still a hot issue on the island.

“So far we’ve seen the cap have really positive impact on the island, enforcement is really going well. We have a lot of rental managers who are really stepping up and residents are feeling like it’s a little bit more settled since the cap has been in place,” she says. “I think I’ve heard from the community that there are some implementation concerns. And that will really be the first order of business when we convene as a council if I’m elected.”

Grooms was a sitting council member at the time a limit on short-term rentals was brough up. He did not support an initial cap proposed by the mayor before the issue came to a referendum and public vote.

“The referendum was voted on by the people. And of course, we have to honor that. And I think that the people you know, we’ve got some STR controls in place with our STR compliance team. So that’s helped out a great deal,” he says. “And the council, I think, has done a wonderful job in keeping livability up front keeping the residents happy. And the lifestyle here I mean, the livability here is just it really is unbelievable is and it continues to be good. So we are We look forward to making it better in the future.”

Both candidates say they are encouraged by the voter engagement and hope to see everyone come out again for the runoff. Residents within Folly Beach city limits can vote at the Folly Baptist Church or James Island Elementary from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.