Incumbent, retiree compete in council race

CHESTER-The race for the Ward 4 Chester City Council seat pits an eight-year incumbent against a retiree with some ideas about how to revitalize the city.

Incumbent Brian Handley, 43, is finishing his second full term in office. His challenger, Edward Beaumont, 65, is running for council for the first time, although he was a school board candidate about 20 years ago.

“I just started going to the (city council) meetings. I feel that we need some changes made, so I decided to run,” Beaumont said.

The Chester municipal election is June 10. Ward 4 covers the residential area south of Carolina Avenue between Third and Sixth streets.

A Chester native, Beaumont graduated from Oak Glen High School in 1968 and continued his studies at Daytona Beach Community College (now Daytona State College). He earned an associate degree in hotel/motel management and business.

Beaumont made a career as a greenskeeper at the Williams Country Club golf course, which was owned by Weirton Steel (National Steel Corp.) and is now operated by the members. He retired but stayed busy with, among other things, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserve.

Beaumont believes Chester needs a shot in the arm when it comes to economic development. “We need to start really digging deep, trying to get some new businesses in here, trying to get tax breaks for them through the state,” he said.

A good place to start, Beaumont said, is the old Taylor, Smith & Taylor pottery site. “There’s so much room for development there. You just need to get out and look and research,” he said.

The Business Development Corporation (BDC) of the Northern Panhandle currently owns the site and has been marketing it for economic development purposes for more than a year. City council recently learned that the BDC has passed on several prospects because they didn’t seem a good fit for the property.

“If the BDC doesn’t do anything, council itself, and the mayor, needs to start looking into it,” Beaumont said.

Beaumont said he also would be aggressive as a councilman, visiting the ward neighborhoods regularly and keeping an “open door” policy. “I’m going to make it a full-time job. I’m retired, so I have the time,” he said.

Handley, 43, a 1988 Oak Glen graduate, said he ran for council eight years ago out of a “need to be involved in my community. I’ve always been community minded.”

In addition to his day job as a loss prevention associate at the Walmart distribution center in Wintersville, Ohio, Handley has been on the Chester Volunteer Fire Department for 21 years. He currently serves as a firefighter and secretary.

Over the course of his time on city council, Handley said he’s grown frustrated with the focus on high grass, weeds and unkempt properties-to the exclusion of other things.

“You have an hour-long meeting, and that’s 45 minutes of it. It doesn’t have to dominate every meeting, year after year,” he said.

“I think this coming term, whoever ends up sitting at that table really needs to focus on trying to bring business in, promoting the city and encouraging more people to come here and live here,” he said. “We really need to look at ways to generate some additional revenue for the city. We’re not going to do anything without revenue.”

Handley said traditional revenue sources such as the business and occupation tax and the municipal fee are not enough.

Handley recently pursued the issue of Chester’s membership in the BDC, winning approval for a motion on March 17 with a 3-2 vote. Membership will give the city a seat on the BDC board and will require an annual investment of $3,500.

“You’ve got to spend a little money to make any money,” Handley said.

Beaumont thinks Chester should try BDC membership for a year. “If they don’t get anywhere with it, I just think it’s money that can be used somewhere else,” he said.

BDC Executive Director Patrick Ford said economic development requires patience and persistence. While communities such as Chester benefit from membership, the BDC also benefits from the support of municipalities, he said.

“We understand the anxiousness to find a tenant for the TS&T site, but after remediating decades of issues, we want to make certain we locate the right business that will have the most impact on improving the employment opportunities for Chester residents,” Ford said. “Our goal is job creation.”