BEAUFORT — The mood was at times somber, cut with ample rounds of applause and well-timed jokes, Monday evening at the fire station along Live Oak Street as Beaufort welcomed new leadership, including the town’s first African American mayor.
Sharon Harker, who handily won election in the Nov. 2 municipal contest, took the helm as mayor in an historic moment.
“Let me send my sincere gratitude to the citizens of Beaufort to trusting me to serve as you next mayor. I am humbled and I am honored,” she said in her first address. “I’m also honored to be the first African American to serve as mayor. Now this is an historical moment in the town’s 308-year-old history, and one that should not be taken lightly.”
She takes over from two-term Mayor Rett Newton, who is running as a Democrat in the 2022 U.S. Senate race.
The new mayor said she was proud to have raised her three children in Beaufort.
“My goal is for other families to feel and experience (it) the same way,” Ms. Harker said.
In an interview following the ceremony, she said to do that – to preserve Beaufort’s appeal and accessibility to middle and working class families – officials will have to begin discussing housing affordability, economic development and more.
“The first thing is to have that conversation, and I think we’re heading in that direction,” she said, noting it was a topic many were receptive to on the campaign trail. “…They know that we need to have a diversity of citizens within our town in order to make it work, and they are ready and open to that,” she continued.
Also sworn in Monday night were commissioners Melvin Cooper and Bucky Oliver, both of whom won election in the November contest, and Bob Terwilliger, who was appointed by the board Nov. 22 to fill the unexpired term vacated by Ms. Harker on her move to the mayoral seat.
During closing remarks, all three new commissioners expressed gratitude for voters’ confidence and indicated they were looking forward to their first terms.
In its first order of business, the newly seated Beaufort Board of Commissioners elected member John Hagle to serve as mayor pro tem.
As part of Monday’s celebration, the town honored Mr. Newton and outgoing commissioners Ann Carter and Charles McDonald.
Ms. Carter, who served as mayor and commissioner, along with appointments on various town advisory boards, was honored with a decorative clock, proclamation and day so named in her honor, Dec. 8, 2021.
“Many times I would go to her office to get a little bit of counsel, only to find out I’d have to get in line behind maybe 20 citizens, and I think at some point in time she sold tile there,” Ms. Harker, in some jest, noted Monday in sharing her reflections on Ms. Carter’s legacy. “…She never turned anybody away.”
Similarly, Ms. Harker reflected on the tenure of Mr. McDonald, who she credited for her own first run for commissioner, calling him a staple of the town.
“For over four decades I have served the good citizens of Beaufort … and I really thank you, each and every one of you, for allowing me to do that,” Mr. McDonald, who was also the town’s first African American chief of police, said in closing remarks.
Dec. 9, 2021, will be held as a day in his honor.
Finally, the crowd honored Mr. Newton, who proved to be an outfront leader for the town through a number of tough years.
“Rett’s skills and leadership were on display for the world to see,” Ms. Harker noted. “He’s had to move us through a pandemic and two major hurricanes. He did this with compassion, with courage and conviction.”
The town will observe Dec. 10, 2021, as Rett Newton Day. Like Ms. Carter, he and Mr. McDonald also received clocks and proclamations as thanks for their service.
“I can’t wait to see this board take off and take us to even greater heights,” Mr. Newton said.
While Mr. Newton did not close out his remarks with his signature sign off, Ms. Harker did.
“The future of Beaufort is bright,” she smiled.
Note: This article was updated at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, to include a full report.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 225; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.