6/29/20: TOWN WEBSITE HOMEPAGE SHOWS MUCH-NEEDED IMPROVEMENTS SINCE NEW TOWN MANAGER’S ARRIVAL.

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Cliff Ogburn started work as Southern Shores’ new town manager last week.

The tenure of new Town Manager Timothy Clifton (“Cliff”) Ogburn has begun in one very visible way: by the start of a much-needed revision of the Town of Southern Shores’ website homepage.

We hope Mr. Ogburn, who resigned his job as Nags Head town manager to come to Southern Shores, does not stop with the improvements made so far. There is so much more that he can do with the website to make it of practical value to property owners and residents—like the highly informative and accessible Nags Head town website is.

The Southern Shores website has long been an unattractive, user-unfriendly platform whose design lends itself to concealment, not to the dissemination of public information.

Until former Town Councilmen Gary McDonald and Fred Newberry advocated for it, the website did not even have a search function. Finding information on the site was often—and still can be—a matter of frustrating trial-and-error.

Even today, if you click on “Beach Nourishment” in the “Most Requested” topics column on the homepage—a list that should be alphabetical—you will be directed to far less information than if you submit a search for “beach nourishment.”

The first obvious improvement to the homepage is the elimination of all of the clutter at the top of the page. The placement of news bulletins in this location has never been effective or eye-pleasing, just messy and hard to read.

Another new improvement to the homepage—which has been an obvious need for ages—is the publication of actual news in Southern Shores. There is now a comprehensive news thread that you can skim through after checking on the “News” button on the homepage.

The top news item on the thread should be an announcement that Mr. Ogburn started working last week. His hiring was announced in the Town newsletter, but not his actual arrival date.

We are hopeful that Mr. Ogburn will reach out to Southern Shores property owners and residents through the website and encourage an open and free-flowing dialogue, as well as an amicable relationship. The website can be an excellent communication tool in the right hands.

We also would like to see him do the same in the newsletter, which currently is devoid of news that is of much consequence to anyone who lives in Southern Shores or owns property here and lives elsewhere.

We would like to suggest that the “Rumor or Fact?” button on the homepage be eliminated or retitled.

The phrase, “Rumor or Fact?,” dates to a time when some property owners distrusted the Town Council and the former Town Manager, and relations became adversarial. It is a phrase associated with the former Town Manager, who did not reach out to residents in a spirit of cooperative and friendly problem-solving, and we know that Mr. Ogburn’s style is going to be much different.

There is some useful information in the “Rumor or Fact” thread, but it is presented in the context of conflict. We would like to see this information rewritten and presented in a manner that is for the benefit of property owners and residents, not for their apparent correction. Some of these “facts,” such as the item about yard signs, even carry veiled threats.

The information accessible through the “Legislation Update” button is more than 3 ½ years old. We would love to be able to read about recent relevant legislation and suggest deleting any news items that pertain to legislative matters before 2019.

Much cleanup remains to be done of the Town’s website, but we congratulate Mr. Ogburn for starting the process.

We look forward to seeing if this week’s Town newsletter has his imprint on it, too.

BEACH NOURISHMENT

We have been struggling since June 16 to figure out how to report upon the discourse about beach nourishment that occurred among certain Town Council members at their workshop meeting that day.

We find it demoralizing when critical thinking and informed research are lacking in important decision-making discussions by elected officials. We expect elected officials to read and understand reports filed by consulting “experts,” to ask searching questions of them—not just to defer to them—and to do their homework in a thorough manner.

If we were to illustrate what we mean by actually quoting Town Council members’ questions and reasoning, we would appear to be picking on people. People might think us harsh and unkind—“mean-spirited” is the word that Councilman Jim Conners used—even though elected officials should be held to high standards and should expect their words and thinking to be scrutinized.

We have consistently opposed municipal government based on cronyism.

That someone on the Town Council actually asked the Charlotte-based financial consultants—who appeared in the meeting via Zoom—the difference between general obligation bonds and special obligation bonds greatly demoralized us.

Starting with its first presentation to the Town Council on Feb. 26, 2019, the father-son financial team of DAC Associates has consistently promoted special obligation bonds and discouraged or ignored general obligation bonds, which could be used and likely would cost the Town less in interest.

I distinctly recall asking the Town Council in public comments last fall why it wasn’t looking at general obligation bonds as a means of financing a nourishment project and being told by former Town Councilman Chris Nason, in a rare personal response, that he didn’t know.

Until June 16, the new Town Council has steadfastly remained focused on special obligation bonds, to the exclusion of any other means of financing. Why? Because DAC Associates told them not to bother? That is not a good enough reason.

We will not say any more about our standards and our frustrations. Instead, we will conclude simply with the observation that the Town Council unanimously approved “pursuing” beach nourishment on June 16, but left open many questions about how to do that, including the means of financing a project.

We would like to give Mr. Ogburn time to settle into his job and begin to assert his leadership. We hope he will provide the critical thinking and informed research that should accompany any beach-nourishment project in Southern Shores.

He certainly has experience with beach nourishment: Nags Head has done two projects in the past nine years.

We would like to feel that our Town government is handling this enormous and expensive undertaking with knowledge and foresight.

The next Town Council meeting will be Tuesday, July 7, at 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center. We will post details about the agenda and participation in the meeting when they are available.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 6/29/20

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