8/3/19: TUESDAY’S MEETING: WILL THE TOWN COUNCIL REVIVE THE NONCONFORMING LOTS ZTA BEFORE DECEMBER? WHO’S REALLY ‘PLANNING’ THE TOWN’S PRIORITIES? The Beacon On Peter Rascoe’s Refusal to Be Held Publicly Accountable

mackeycottage
Pictured above is the westside entrance to the Mackey cottage, an oceanfront flattop at 218 Ocean Blvd. that was built in 1955 and modified in 1969. The Town Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday about the cottage’s designation as a historic landmark. The Southern Shores Historic Landmark Commission has recommended that it be approved.

A month after unanimously voting to table for five months a proposed revision of the Town’s nonconforming lots ordinance, the Town Council next week will consider taking it up in September, per a request by Councilman Jim Conners.

A possible rescheduling of a public hearing on Zoning Text Amendment 19-01PB from December to next month is one of two noteworthy items of business on the Council’s agenda for its meeting Tuesday, which will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

The other item is the adoption of a schedule for future long-range planning meetings by the Council, apparently organized around priorities identified by Mayor Tom Bennett and the four Council members, two of whom—Christopher Nason and Gary McDonald—chose not to run for reelection and, therefore, have only four more months in office.

Councilman Fred Newberry, whose four-year term also expires this year, is running for reelection in November.

You may access the Council’s agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2019-08-06.pdf.

The Beacon has written extensively during the past year about the problems presented by nonconforming lots; the Town’s effort to stop development on 50-foot-wide lots, which culminated in the Council’s enactment last September of a new Town Code sec. 36-132; and the Planning Board’s decision-making and approval of ZTA 19-01PB, which grants exemptions to certain property owners from the restrictions imposed by sec. 36-132.

We refer readers to our most recent writings on July 17 and 18, which were posted after the Council voted at its July 9 meeting to table ZTA 19-01PB until December, when the new Town Council will be seated. We will be interested to hear Tuesday evening why Councilman Conners has changed his mind and to learn whether anyone else has.

We also will be eager to find out how the five long-range planning issues listed on the Council’s agenda came to be selected as priorities.

There has been no public discussion among Council members about the issues deserving of long-range planning and budgeting, just a discussion at the April 23 budget meeting concluding that long-range planning—which Councilmen Newberry and McDonald have advocated for years—must occur.

According to Mayor Bennett’s explanations at Council meetings, he asked each Council member to submit a list of priority planning concerns. He did not limit them to their “Top 5,” which would have comparatively focused priorities, nor did he advise them that he was going to use their lists as expressions of viewpoints that might support “consensus,” without further discussion.

The five planning issues identified on the agenda are:

*Beach nourishment

*Future capital rehabilitation/replacement of town buildings

*Capital apparatus/equipment needs of the SSVFD

*Town land-use plan update

*Town-wide walking path system

These appear to The Beacon to be the priorities of some of the Town Council members, who have made their views known at meetings, but not all.

The Beacon wonders why the Mayor cannot just allow the sessions to go where they will go, without trying to control them in advance.

Even more important: Why is he seeking to do this now with a lame-duck Town Council?

The Beacon will attempt to answer these questions after Tuesday’s meeting.

RASCOE REFUSES TO BE INTERVIEWED BY THE SENTINEL, THE VOICE WITHOUT RESTRICTING QUESTIONS REPORTER CAN ASK

The Beacon would like to acknowledge and “shout out” to Mark Jurkowitz, editor and owner of The Outer Banks Sentinel and The Outer Banks Voice, for his refusal to accept “preconditions” that retiring Southern Shores Town Manager Peter Rascoe sought to impose upon the news outlets before he would grant them an interview with him.

In refusing to be manipulated by a news subject, Mr. Jurkowitz showed journalistic integrity. In refusing to grant an interview that he could not manipulate, Mr. Rascoe showed a blatant disregard for the public accountability inherent in his position.

Mr. Rascoe does not work for himself or for a private company. He works for us.

The Town Manager, who announced his Sept. 1 retirement through a front-page article in the fawning The Coastland Times, is a public servant whose salary and benefits are paid by taxpayer dollars and whose duties and powers derive from town ordinance (Town Code sec. 2-22), which is based on N.C. law. He has an obligation to respond to the media, even if it’s to say no more than “no comment.” To do otherwise is to be arrogantly dismissive.

The Beacon is embarrassed for Southern Shores. Once again residents are being victimized by a government official who withholds, rather than discloses, information that the public has a right to know. We are appalled that a municipal-government employee—one who owes his retirement at age 62 to taxpaying constituents—thinks that he is not accountable to journalism watchdogs who serve and protect the public’s interests.

On July 22, The Sentinel and The Voice published a short news story by reporter Michelle Wagner about Mr. Rascoe’s retirement, which he announced privately in a July 19 letter to the Southern Shores Town Council and publicly in an uncritical July 21 article in The Coastland Times. The copy in The Times article was so canned that The Beacon wonders if Mr. Rascoe wrote it himself.

(See https://www.obsentinel.com/news/rascoe-to-retire-as-southern-shores-town-manager/article_79c8361a-acc6-11e9-a585-67d81abab194.html.)

Ms. Wagner concluded her story with the following paragraph:

“When contacted about an interview, Rascoe declined to participate unless the reporter accepted a number of preconditions regarding the kind of topics that could be discussed and the people who could be interviewed for the story. The Sentinel [and The Voice] declined.”

Not only did Mr. Rascoe refuse an open interview, he imposed a gag rule on his staff! Unheard of! Disgraceful!

In a council-manager form of N.C. municipal government, the city/town manager serves as the chief administrator and is responsible (answerable) to the council. His/her position is nonpartisan, and he/she cannot be political. Mr. Rascoe’s imposition of restrictions on an interview by local media implicates the Town Council, at whose direction he serves. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Mayor Bennett said nothing in the wake of the Town Manager’s obstruction, and The Sentinel did not question him.

(For more about this form of government, see https://www.sog.unc.edu/sites/www.sog.unc.edu/files/course_materials/CMG%2004_Managers.pdf.)

Had The Sentinel and The Voice accepted Mr. Rascoe’s terms, they might as well have ceased publication. Journalists are not public-relations operatives. They are truth-seekers who document history. In government affairs, they have a special duty to ensure that the public’s business is conducted honestly and transparently and that they report upon that business objectively, accurately, and critically.

As for Mr. Rascoe, the obvious question is: What does he have to hide?

Mr. Rascoe’s last day on the job is Aug. 16. Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett will assume his duties until a new town manager is hired.

EXTRA: The Beacon has confirmed through the acquisition of town public records that Mr. Rascoe is indeed the highest-paid town manager in Dare County. We will publish a story about Mr. Rascoe’s salary and benefits, and those of other Southern Shores employees, vis-à-vis the compensation of public employees with the same positions in the other beach towns next week.

 Ann G. Sjoerdsma, August 3, 2019

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