It was a loud call for change on Nov. 5 in Irmo.
After months of discord and public unrest over a variety of issues, voters unseated Mayor Hardy King, who drew national criticism in 2018 when he posted comments on his Facebook page many considered anti-Muslim, and two Town Council members.
Councilman Barry Walker Sr. defeated King, 987 to 477. A third candidate, Mike Ward, received 368 votes.
Incumbent council members Mark Pouliot and Julius Waites lost their seats to newcomers Erik Sickinger and Kelly Busch.
Walker, who has served on Council for the past 15 years, will be the town’s first black mayor.
Walker says he expected to win, “but not by that much.''
He posits that voters were disturbed by the “team” of King, Pouliot and Waites, who he says voted together to promote unpopular causes. Council votes were frequently 3 to 2, with Kathy Condom often voting with Walker.
Now, Walker says, the town will have “a five-vote council.”
What prompted voters to oust the incumbents was “government overreach,” Walker asserts.
He cites a new law that restricts where residents can park their cars on residential properties as one example. Walker says residents shouldn’t be confronted by an armed law enforcement officer and given a ticket because of where they park their car on their own property.
Walker tells Free Times his immediate goal is to sit down with the new Council and start addressing important issues such as water and sewer, and legal problems resulting from a Department of Justice lawsuit stemming from a zoning request for an exemption by a resident with disabilities.
She wanted to put up a carport to cover an entrance ramp that would get wet during rainy weather, often causing 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.
Walker, now retired, was the owner of the former Columbia restaurant Mac’s on Main. He previously mounted two unsuccessful campaigns for Irmo’s mayoral seat.
He suffers from kidney disease and is on dialysis, but he attends council meetings regularly. He is on a kidney transplant list.
In the at-large Council race, Sickinger received 962 votes to Busch’s 869. Pouliot received 564 and Waites 548. A third challenger, Dan Newbanks, received 448.
The voter opposition to incumbents was likely fueled by some recent controversial issues.
Many Irmo residents complained about the town’s handling of the aforementioned housing ordinance. Another action that prompted a backlash was the enactment of an ordinance restricting residents from parking in their 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.
But Sickinger says voters were likely motivated by the discord that was visible at Council meetings.
“People were tired of the fighting and squabbling,” he says.
Sickinger says his priority on council is to “bring the town together.”
Voters could also have been impacted by new social website Citizens of the Town of Irmo. Postings often appear on the site criticizing the mayor and Council.
The Irmo ballot also contained referendum questions for voters designed to advise Council on future actions.
Voters said no to proposals on the ballot to consider a property tax and a hospitality tax for the town. They voted in favor of a proposal to overturn the ordinance prohibiting yard parking.
Another election will be held in the spring to fill the Council seat vacated by Walker.