MOUNT PLEASANT -- Political newcomers Chris O'Neal and Chris Nickels bring accounting and law expertise, respectively, to a Town Council shaken up by the departure of Paul Gawrych and Nick Collins.
The freshmen council members began serving four-year terms on Tuesday.
O'Neal was successful in his first run for public office, while for Nickels, the second time proved the charm. They share goals such as encouraging business development and fiscal responsibility.
O'Neal, 30, seemingly came out of nowhere to snag a council seat in an election that saw the defeat of one-term Councilman Collins, the top fund-raiser in the race. Two-term Councilman Gawrych did not seek re-election.
Nickels was known around Town Hall because of his service on the Board of Zoning Appeals and his previous run for council.
On the campaign trail, O'Neal used people skills honed while building a client base for Moody CPAs & Advisors, where he is a vice president and partner with Brian Moody, who for 12 years was a Charleston County School Board member.
Moody encouraged O'Neal's political ambitions.
"We had lots of chats about running for public office. When he first told me he was passionate about it, I asked him if he had lost his mind," Moody said. All kidding aside, he is a strong supporter of O'Neal. "I know that Chris comes at this idea of public service from all the right places," he said.
Nickels, 48, an attorney at Clawson & Staubes, said it was harder to get his message across in his first campaign two years ago because of a crowded field of 17 candidates. Nine candidates ran in this election for four seats, but it was still a tough field that included three incumbents and a former two-term councilman.
In his first term, Nickels said he will propose that meetings of council and its committees be webcast. Meeting agenda items should be written in such a way that the average Jack or Jill can understand them, he said.
Nickels said his interest in transparent government stems from a story he read in The Post and Courier in mid-October about the Dorchester County Council providing simpler descriptions of agenda items in response to resident frustrations.
He understands why many council agenda items are couched in legalese, but he said that providing a separate summary in plain language could help people know if they want to attend a meeting.
Council meetings are shown on the Comcast community channel, but not everybody has Comcast, he said.
O'Neal's decision to become a contender for council was born of his desire to change things for the better. "You can keep talking about it or you can do something about it. At some point you have to be a man of action," he said.
Perhaps an inkling of O'Neal's future political aspirations can be found in twin bachelor's degrees at Clemson University, where he studied economics as well as speech and communications.
"This is probably something that had been kindling for a while," he said.