Irmo gets set for Town Council elections that could install as many as two new members on the governing body.
As Irmo, the town of nearly 12,000 that straddles the Lexington-Richland county line, stares down a mayoral race pitting the sitting head of its government against the mayor pro-tem, it also gets set for Nov. 7 Town Council elections that could install as many as two new members on the governing body.
On council, Irmo has seen just one incumbent file to keep their place with two at-large seats up for grabs. Erik Sickinger is seeking re-election, while Kelly Bush is leaving his council post.
Sickinger is running alongside four challengers in Phyllis Coleman, George Frazier, Jeff Allen, and Gabriel Penfield, so there will be at least one new council member when the dust settles.
Sickinger said he doesn’t feel like his job is done. The incumbent stated that for the last two years, he has received overwhelming responses to run again.
“I don't desire standing on council for the rest of my life, but we lost two years to COVID where it really slowed down,” Sickinger said. “And with the relationships and the understanding that I have of how government works and how I can help our residents. I feel like this is a nice follow through from the last couple of years.”
Sickinger told the Chronicle that council does a really good job at segmenting the responsibility and working on the things they care about. When it comes to what the council could improve on Sickinger stated that they need to improve on following the set rules to ensure there is an orderly meeting.
If he isn’t re-elected, he said he hopes to see someone on council take up the helm of constituent services and be active to make sure problems get solved.
When asked, Sickinger said he does believe the town needs a mayoral shift.
“Mayor's position is both ceremonial and a reflection of the heart and soul of Irmom,” Sickinger said. “The mayor's job, outside of the ceremonial, is to chair a council meeting and make sure that they're being run orderly, fairly and properly.
“I've experienced too many meetings where that has not been the case,” he added.
Coleman was raised in the town and is an alum of Irmo High School. After living in the town on and off since college, she has since resided there for the past 5 years.
She told the Chronicle that the project to bring a downtown to Irmo – which stalled after residents of the predominantly Black area where the town was looking to put it – was handled, specifically the way they tried to acquire the land, was what really pushed her to run. Coleman added that she has been approached over the course of this year to run.
“My role is to be an advocate for the residents of Irmo and to contribute to the positive growth and management of the town,” Coleman said. “I don’t see that as just my role, but that of all Town Council members.”
Coleman’s priorities include developing and creating an alternative exit out of the Hidden Oaks subdivision in Friarsgate, widening Broad River Road and continuing to annex land into the town.
Frazier has been a resident of Irmo for the last seven years and is the chair of the town’s Events Committee. He told the Chronicle that he is running for council because he wants to be a new voice for the citizens.
“My campaign slogan is 'Family first, people always,’ so that's really what my campaign is all about, family and putting people first,” Frazier said.
Frazier told the Chronicle that some of his goals include appealing certain ordinances, expanding the events committee, supporting first responders and getting a video monitoring network into high traffic areas and neighborhoods.
When asked, Frazier said the ordinances he wants to appeal include the ordinance for the prospective downtown project and the ordinance relating to council members being able to participate in a meeting through zoom.
“I am looking for change, looking for just a different direction,” he said.
Allen has lived in the town of Irmo for 24 years, living in the Irmo-St. Andrews area for the past 34. He served on the Irmo Fire Department for 23 years and has also spent 16 years as a member of law enforcement.
Allen told the Chronicle that he has been asked for several years to run for council.
“I knew I wanted to and it was just a matter of timing. The time is now. This is something that I consider a continuation of my service to this great Town, and I am humbled by their support,” Allen said. “The mounting emphasis on my participation suggests to me that there are issues that need correction. As a good friend of mine said this past summer, if good people don't run, bad people will.”
With his background in fire and police, Allen stated that his number one focus will be on the safety of residents, emphasizing that the town has a first class police department and a fantastic fire department which has received an ISO rating of one, the best potential rating.
“These agencies must be looked after as completely as possible,” he said. “Where some politicians will make statements about their support for public safety, they have not walked the walk and really do not understand the true needs regarding what takes place behind the scenes.”
Penfield has been a town resident for 13 years and owns multiple businesses, including the recently closed Tribal Coffee, along with Poore House Furnishings, Parking Lot King and Mavericks Cigars, though his primary business is wealth management.
He told the Chronicle that he would like to see more transparency both in general and fiscally, a better sense of community, and more communication between council and residents.
“There's a saying that bad things happen when good people do nothing,” Penfield said. “I guess I just felt compelled out of a sense of ownership in the community, ownership in terms of my family being here.”
Penfield said that he is not just running for town council but is running to pull together the fabric of the community to create a “Friday Night Lights” feel. He added that he would like to help create a council where they reach out to communities and break bread so that residents feel like their voices can be heard, stating that residents have told him their concerns don’t feel heard.
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