The newly elected Town Council members already appear to be exerting an influence on the conduct of Town business with an action directed toward restoring in 2020 the second Council meeting of the month—which was “suspended” unanimously by the Town Council on June 20, 2017, to be held only as needed.
According to the meeting packet released with the Town Council’s agenda for its Tuesday, Dec. 3, meeting, the reconstituted Council will vote on a prepared resolution that sets forth a 2020 Council schedule of two meetings each month, a “regular” meeting on the first Tuesday and a “workshop” meeting on the third Tuesday. Two exceptions to this scheduling are regular meetings held on the first Wednesday in March and November.
The Town Council will meet Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., in the Kern Pitts Center.
Meeting packet of background materials: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2019-12-03.pdf
The Council’s regular December meeting is traditionally a time for decision-making about organizational matters, particularly those arising in the ensuing year.
Next week’s meeting also will feature a changing of the guard, as outgoing Council members Fred Newberry, Gary McDonald, and Christopher Nason receive recognition for their service and incoming members Matt Neal, Elizabeth Morey, and Leo Holland take their oaths of office. Mayor Tom Bennett’s and Councilman Jim Conners’s terms expire in 2021.
According to the agenda, the new Town Council will—in no particular order—take up the coastal engineering consultant’s “beach management plan”; make important Planning Board and other appointments, including to the Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee; and consider a list of recruiters from which to choose to assist with hiring a new town manager.
The Town has been without a permanent, full-time town manager since Aug. 16, when former Town Manager Peter Rascoe went on two weeks’ leave before his retirement.
The Council also will elect a new Mayor Pro Tempore, who would serve in place of the Mayor in the event of his absence or disability. The Mayor Pro Tem’s term is two years.
Among the reports scheduled to be given at the Council’s meeting is one by Tommy Karole, chairperson of the Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, which held a public forum Nov. 19. (See The Beacon, 11/20/19)
While all of the Town Council’s organizational and business items are important, the apparent decision to revive the monthly workshop meetings, which again would be held at 9 a.m. on the third Tuesday of the month, may be the most consequential to property owners. The proposed meetings present a second opportunity each month for the full Council to confer openly and publicly, and for the public to be privy to their discussions.
During the recent election campaign, Mr. Neal suggested holding workshop sessions, and Ms. Morey stressed the importance of communication among all Council members and between the Council and the public.
The Beacon wonders, however, what effect the addition of these morning workshops will have on the conduct of the regular evening meetings, in particular, whether the new Town Council might consider eliminating one of the two public-comment periods currently held then.
The Beacon strongly discourages such action. These comment periods enable a vital exchange of views among members of the public and the Council both before and after sometimes controversial issues are discussed.
Further, most people are indisposed at 9 a.m. on a week day, preoccupied with work and other daytime business, including the running of a household, and unlikely to attend workshops at that hour.
We will be interested to see what the Town Council has in mind.
PLANNING BOARD, CIIP COMMITTEE, & OTHER APPOINTMENTS
Ms. Morey’s election to the Town Council has created a vacancy on the Town Planning Board, the filling of which may create a vacancy among Planning Board alternates.
A longtime member of the Planning Board, which also serves as the Town’s Board of Adjustment, and its chairperson since January, Ms. Morey was just appointed in July to her latest three-year term on the Board. She submitted her resignation on Nov. 26. The person appointed to complete her term would serve until June 30, 2022.
The Beacon believes that, in order to preserve integrity in the appointment process and to ensure that appointments are not driven by political bias and/or personal favoritism, the two current alternate members of the Planning Board should always be given a right of first refusal whenever a regular member vacancy occurs.
Appointments should not depend upon the predilections of whoever happens to be serving on the Town Council.
According to a Nov. 27 memorandum to the Council from Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett (which is in the meeting packet): “Traditionally, Council has appointed the most senior Alternate Member to fill the seats of Regular Members when vacancies arise.”
When it does not do so—for example, when the Council majority of Bennett-Nason-Conners passed over a very capable senior alternate, Carlos Gomez, to appoint the late Glenn Wyder, who was second alternate—it sends a poor message to anyone who volunteers in Town about his/her value and service. The message is politics come first.
Second Alternate Michael Basilone is the most senior alternate, but he has declined the opportunity to serve as a regular member, according to Mr. Haskett. Planning Board First Alternate Tony DiBernardo, who was appointed in June to succeed Leo Holland, who resigned after serving one year of his three-year term, has expressed an interest in being elevated to the regular Board. He should receive the appointment.
Three other Southern Shores resident property owners have submitted applications, according to Mr. Haskett. They are Lynda Burek, George Berry, and Robert McClendon.
The Beacon will not address their qualifications, which you will find in the meeting packet. If Mr. DiBernardo is appointed to the full Board, one of these three individuals will be appointed to serve out his term as an alternate.
Curious to us is the date of each person’s application. Ms. Burek’s application is dated Aug. 11, 2014: We believe it should have been updated. A statement by Ms. Burek about her current circumstances would seem to be both helpful to the Town Council and the public, as well as mindful of the public record.
Ms. Burek, who ran unsuccessfully for Town Council in 2015 and has been active in the SSCA, may be known to most of the members on the Town Council, but her application is to the Town, not to the Council.
Mr. Berry’s application is dated July 17, 2019, so it was “on file,” and Mr. McClendon’s is dated Nov. 25, 2019—one day before Ms. Morey’s resignation, hardly a coincidence.
Once again, we will be interested to see what the Town Council has in mind.
AMONG THE OTHER APPOINTMENTS that will be made Tuesday are the following that the Mayor traditionally makes from among Council members:
*Three nominees, with one designated as the primary nominee, for a seat on the Dare County Tourism Board of Directors (Mr. Holland served in this capacity during his previous term on the Town Council);
*A member of the Dare County Gov-Ed Access Channel Committee; and
*A member of the Albemarle Rural Planning Organization.
Appointments to the seven-member Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee are also on the agenda, as an item presented by Mayor Bennett
The Beacon believes the new Town Council should take time to reevaluate the composition and terms of the CIIPC membership and to standardize the appointment process so that it, too, is fair and impartial.
APPOINTMENTS TO CIIP COMMITTEE NEED RETHINKING
On Sept. 5, 2017, the Town Council appointed five members—one per elected official—to the newly organized Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee (CIIPC). Named as co-chairs of the CIIPC were the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem, who was then Fred Newberry.
Three months later, Councilman Nason became Mayor Pro Tem, by a 3-2 Council vote. According to the minutes of the Council’s Dec, 5, 2017, meeting, the Mayor appointed newly elected Councilman Jim Conners to serve on the CIIPC, in lieu of the Mayor Pro Tem; the same 3-2 majority of Bennett-Nason-Conners approved this appointment.
In the span of just months, therefore, Mr. Newberry lost his co-chairmanship on the CIIPC, and the junior-most member of the Council, Mr. Conners, ascended to this powerful position. He has served in this capacity for the past two years.
It is time for him to pass the gauntlet.
The other current members of the CIIPC are:
Al Ewerling: appointed by Councilman Newberry
Jim Kranda: appointed by Councilman Holland, even though Mr. Holland left office Dec. 5, 2017
Glenn Riggin: appointed by Mayor Bennett, giving him, arguably, two votes on the committee
Andy McConaughy: appointed by Councilman Nason
Carlos Gomez: appointed by Councilman Gary McDonald
The Beacon sees no compelling reason for the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem, or a Council substitute, which Mr. Conners was, to serve as co-chairpersons, especially considering that former Town Manager Peter Rascoe set the committee’s agendas and led its meetings, and the Council has delegated authority over the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk project to the town manager, interim or otherwise.
Indeed, we see more compelling reasons for the Council not to have such consolidated power over discussions of important and far-reaching Town infrastructure decisions. We believe the membership on the committee should provide a diversity in viewpoint and a demographic cross-section. The Council needs to look for qualified women and invite one or two to serve on the CIIPC.
The Capital Improvement Plan Committee, which preceded the CIIPC, was loosely organized with voting and non-voting members described as “committee members,” “citizen representatives,” and “staff representatives.” As an attendee of some of its meetings, I was never quite sure who had the power to vote. It was confusing.
In 2015, Mayor Bennett and Town Councilman Larry Lawhon, who lost his bid for reelection in November of that year, served as “committee members.” The Mayor appointed new Councilman Chris Nason to serve on the committee after Mr. Lawhon’s defeat. He also appointed Jim Conners to be the committee’s “citizen representative.”
The Mayor made these unilateral appointments in the Council’s Dec. 1, 2015 session. Indeed, he unilaterally made appointments to all Town Council standing committees, which, at the time, numbered four. The others were planning, public safety, and finance.
The Mayor sat on all four committees and selected the Council member he wanted to sit with him on a given committee. This organization may have been simpler to administer, and more desirable to the Mayor than delegation would have been, but it did not enable the committees to thrive.
On Dec. 6, 2016, Mayor Bennett moved to abolish all standing committees. Then-Councilman Leo Holland seconded his motion, and Mr. Nason voted in favor of it, for a 3-2 approval. Councilmen Newberry and McDonald opposed the motion.
Interestingly, Elizabeth Morey served in 2015 on the Capital Improvement Plan Committee as a citizen representative, along with Mr. Conners. Glenn Riggin also pops up as a citizen representative in meeting minutes taken during that year.
The former capital improvement committee last met on Oct. 13, 2016. The first meeting of the CIIPC was Oct. 4, 2017.
We rehash this history because we believe it informs the makeup of the CIIPC. We rehash it because we urge the new Town Council to scrutinize and give thoughtful consideration to the CIIPC’s organization.
There is no good reason to vest in the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem leadership authority over the CIIPC. There also is no good reason to have a seven-member committee, instead of a five- or a nine-member committee. And there is no good reason for the committee chairs, whoever they are, to appoint other members of the committee.
Southern Shores will be better served if there are more than just a select few involved in determining its capital-improvements projects and protecting its environmental welfare.
Historic Landmarks, Cut-Through Traffic Appointments
Lee Whitley’s and Kristine Klousis’s three-year terms on the Southern Shores Historic Landmarks Commission expire on Dec. 6. Both are real estate brokers, and each has applied for reappointment. There is no indication in the meeting packet that anyone else has applied.
Also on the Town Council’s agenda is the appointment of a new Town Council sponsor to replace Councilman Newberry on the cut-through traffic committee.
RECYCLING: According to the agenda, the Town Council will consider a “request” by Bay Disposal and Recycling, LLC, to “amend” its 2018 contract with the Town. The contractor’s request is not included in the meeting packet. There was concern expressed at a previous Town Council session that Bay Disposal was carrying collected recyclables to a landfill, rather than to a recycling center.
CLOSED SESSION: The agenda concludes with the observation that the Town Attorney may “recommend Council convene a closed session . . . for the purpose of consulting with the Town Attorney” and preserving attorney-client privilege. No details are provided.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/29/19