Dear Readers: I will be out of pocket this afternoon and during much of this week, attending to work and life outside of The Beacon. I will post further reports about yesterday’s Town Council meeting and about news of interest to Southern Shores property owners and residents as my time allows.
By now you should have received a mailer from the Town requesting your opinion on a potential town-wide beach nourishment—from the Kitty Hawk/Southern Shores line to the Southern Shores/Duck line—in 2022. You are being asked to submit your comments by June 12, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to the Town Hall, 5375 N. Virginia Dare Trail, Southern Shores, NC 27949.
Please include your property’s address with your comments. This point was not made in the mailer, and it is very important because the Town Council is considering funding a beach nourishment project by imposing new taxes on property owners according to their property’s proximity to the ocean.
Oceanfront and “ocean-zone” property owners would bear the lion’s share of the tax burden for the Town’s financial investment in an estimated $14 million to $16 million-plus project. (Dare County also would be a contributor.)
The Town staff will compile the comments in a report to the Town Council, which will be holding a public hearing about beach nourishment at 9 a.m., Tues., June 16, in the Pitts Center during its workshop meeting. If you would rather not send in written comments, you may speak at the public hearing, the details of which The Beacon will provide later.
The Beacon just learned from Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett at yesterday’s Council meeting that municipal government meetings are not restricted by the 10-person maximum occupancy limit that Governor Cooper has imposed on other “mass gatherings” indoors. We intend to follow up on this exemption ASAP.
We believe that the relegation of the public to Zoom videoconferencing in order to join a Town Council meeting—while all Council members and Town staff are physically present in the Pitts Center—has adversely affected public participation and the flow of public information in Southern Shores governmental affairs.
Yesterday, I was one of seven Zoom audience members for the Council meeting. By the meeting’s conclusion, I was one of five.
I have wondered before whether the Town Council meetings were being attended by more than 10 “in-house” people.
Because meeting participants who sit on the sideline or in the front of the Pitts Center meeting hall are not visible on a Zoom videoconferencing screen, I have not been able to verify my counts. I trusted the Town that it was adhering to the 10-person maximum occupancy. Last evening it was clear that at least a dozen people attended the meeting simultaneously.
I would like very much to see accommodations made for the public to attend the June 16 workshop meeting, with seating arranged so that social distancing can be observed.
DISAGREEMENT ABOUT TOWN ENGINEERING CONTRACT
The Town Council unanimously approved yesterday the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget and an amendment to chapter 16 of the Town Code that updates the Town’s flood damage prevention ordinance, after holding public hearings on each during which few remarks were made.
Differences of opinion arose, however, when the Council took up implementation of the no-left-turn initiative this summer (see The Beacon, 6/1/20) and the selection of a new engineering contractor from among applicants to a Request for Qualifications issued by the Town. The Beacon will delve into these differences in a later post. Today, we would simply like to share with you a most unusual occurrence.
Town Councilman Matt Neal was in the middle of making a motion during the meeting about delaying a decision on a new engineering contract when Town Councilman Jim Conners interrupted him to make his own motion to approve awarding the contract to current engineering contractors “Deel and Anlauf.”
Mr. Conners’s interruption was a shocking breach in professional courtesy and the rules of procedure. But, rather than rebuke Mr. Conners for his breach, and disallow his intervention, Mayor Tom Bennett seconded his motion, ignoring Mr. Neal!
I have never seen such a sequence of events occur in a Southern Shores Town Council meeting. When former Councilmen Gary McDonald, Chris Nason, and Fred Newberry were on the Town Council, Councilman Conners often asked not to be interrupted, and the offender would always apologize and desist. That Mr. Conners would interrupt another Council member and not stand down was quite shocking.
Town Attorney Ben Gallop, who might have stepped in to restore order, chose to say nothing, until after the Mayor attempted to amend Mr. Conners’s motion to somehow incorporate Mr. Neal’s request.
The Beacon will elaborate on the interests at stake in this disagreement when we have sorted it out better. Neither the RFQ nor the applications received by the Town were in the meeting packet for public perusal nor are they on the Town website.
Town Councilman Leo Holland spoke about verbal presentations made by the applicants, but The Beacon is unaware of when such presentations may have occurred and before whom. Council members also repeatedly referred to a “scorecard” for applicants—which Mr. Neal called too subjective—but that scorecard also has not been publicly disseminated.
Bottom line: The awarding of the Town’s engineering contract will occur at the June 16 workshop meeting.
We agree with Councilman Neal that new Town Manager Cliff Ogburn should be involved in this decision, but he will not be in office by June 16.
In fact, we believe he should make the choice, and the Town Council should approve his choice, unless there is a clear problem with the qualifications of the engineer he chooses.
It is Mr. Ogburn, not the Town Council, who will be working directly with the town engineer.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 6/2/20