8/19/20: TOWN COUNCIL ENACTS FLAWED PUBLIC-ASSEMBLY LAW BY UNANIMOUS VOTE; BEACON TAKING A BREAK. Plus Town Manager Proposes Traffic Engineer.

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The Beacon is taking a break from the Town of Southern Shores.

We abhor ignorance and incompetency in government and witnessed too much of both in yesterday’s Town Council “discussion” of the Town Code Amendment (TCA) to regulate public assemblies—which, in this Council’s usual display of groupthink passed 5-0, despite obvious problems that Councilman Matt Neal tried to point out before he, unfortunately, surrendered.

Even Councilman Jim Conners said the regulations pertaining to parades in TCA 2020-08-01 gave him “pause,” but he did not pursue his objections after Mayor Tom Bennett pointed out that rarely, if ever, are parades held in Southern Shores. Not only is that not the point of lawmaking, but the Mayor is wrong. He simply does not live on a street where parades—such as those on the Fourth of July—occur.

The Council met yesterday for a workshop session at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center. No members of the public attended, and Mr. Neal participated remotely from his office.

TCA 2020-08-01 was before our elected officials on first reading. There was no need for them to rush to judgment. Last we looked, there are no protesters poised at the gates of Southern Shores, preparing to wreak havoc on our small seaside town.

We read recently a suggestion by a Southern Shores homeowner on the social-media site, Next Door, that a police-support rally be held in town, but, according to an informed source who knows this homeowner, Mayor Tom Bennett shut down that idea, “censoring” him, as the source said.

All five Council members are lawmakers for this town—not rubberstampers of what Police Chief David Kole says he wants or needs and what Town Attorney Ben Gallop says is legal. They could have done this right, but they did not want to bother to take the time to do so. (For background on TCA 2020-08-01, see The Beacon, 8/15/20 and 8/17/20.)

They would rather enact a flawed piece of legislation and fix it “down the road,” as Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey said, after thanking the people who created the mess.

The only member who showed an aptitude for independent analysis and a public responsibility to perform that analysis was Mr. Neal, who said the new ordinance sets a “bad tone” by the Town.

But he said this after he curtailed his objections and voted against his reasoned judgment to approve the amendment, saying he did not want to be “the lone speed bump” to its passage.

Councilman Neal, your constituency needs “speed bumps.”

It looks like the Town is “trying to corral free-speech gatherings,” Councilman Neal stated after the TCA had been passed. It is targeting and burdening political speech.

The next time you run into a Council member, ask him or her to explain First Amendment law on free speech/peaceable assembly to you. If any—except for Mr. Neal—have a clue, we would be shocked. Certainly Mr. Gallop did not inform them.

The Town Attorney said he did a “cut and paste” of Raleigh’s public-assembly ordinance, after receiving Chief Kole’s attempt to cobble together a Town ordinance based on what other Dare County beach towns have done.

“I can’t guarantee that any of it’s perfect,” Mr. Gallop said. That means he cannot guarantee that it is constitutional.

Contrary to what Mr. Gallop also said, First Amendment law does not change all of the time. It is well-established. (See The Beacon, 8/15/20) What changes are the factual circumstances to which First Amendment law about permissible time, place, and manner regulations is applied.

Beacon readers, we have hit the wall on our ability to tolerate ignorance and incompetent government groupthink on matters of public consequence and are taking a break of indeterminate length.

We are thinking about organizing an 11-member picket of the new public-assembly ordinance to be held in an orderly single-file fashion on the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk without getting a permit first because the Town cannot constitutionally require us to get one when no “significant governmental interest,” such as public safety, is involved.

We will not block or disrupt pedestrians or impede traffic flow. We may even leaflet passersby so that more than eight people who live in town—the five Council members, Chief Kole, and the two members of the public who remotely attended yesterday’s meeting (including myself)—will know how the Town regards citizens’ First Amendment rights.

TOWN MANAGER’S REPORT: Hiring of “traffic engineer” proposed

Before we start our break from the Town, and particularly, the Town Council, we would like to report to you that Town Manager Cliff Ogburn suggested yesterday:

  1. Hiring a traffic engineer to analyze the weekend traffic-count data that, Mr. Ogburn said, Chief Kole has been collecting and reporting by email to the Town Council—but not sharing with the public—as well as past traffic data, and to make recommendations on how to address the cut-through traffic. (The Council viewed this suggestion favorably.)
  2. Extending the Ocean Rescue season until the end of September by keeping at least two lifeguard stands and two ATVs in operation. (Vacation home occupancy is strong through September, the Town Manager said.)
  3. Updating the Town website, either with a “full-blown makeover” or via upgrades. (It’s about time. The website is embarrassingly deficient.)
  4. Working on a permitting process for large outdoor gatherings on public property. (This is where the Town should have started, not with Chief Kole’s initiative.)

COVID-19 IN DARE COUNTY

We have not said much lately about COVID-19, which is having such a devastating effect on how we live, socialize, and do business with each other. Certainly, it has chilled public involvement in Town Council meetings. Here is the latest news:

Dare County continues to report daily about one to four newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases. Yesterday, none was reported.

Since Aug. 1, 55 new cases have been reported on the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard, 19 Dare County residents and 36 nonresidents.

Yesterday the overall COVID-19 case total stood at 402—216 Dare County residents and 186 nonresidents who tested positive locally. Fifty-four of them are age 17 or under; 90 are between the ages of 18 and 24; 137 are between the ages of 25 and 49; 76 are between the ages of 50 and 64; and 45 are age 65 or older.

Since Aug. 1, there have been more than four new cases reported by the DCDHHS on only four dates: Aug. 1 (nine); Aug. 7 (five); Aug. 8 (seven); and Aug. 17 (six).

Currently, there are 11 active COVID-19 cases among Dare County residents, one of whom is hospitalized outside of the area, while the remaining are in home isolation.

THE RELIABILITY OF THE STATEWIDE DATA provided on the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard came into question last week with an acknowledgment by the department that it had unknowingly reported inflated numbers of completed COVID-19 tests. The total number of administered tests was corrected with a reduction of 194,215, so that, as of yesterday, the dashboard showed that 1,951,120 tests have been performed.

Other problems that originated with reporting laboratories and necessitated corrections in the data have occurred previously. This error, however, has convinced us that we cannot calculate an estimated positivity rate. Henceforth, we will only report on what the NCDHHS says are the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state, the current number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations, and the number of people who have died as a result of the disease.

Yesterday’s NCDHHS data showed 146,779 cases and 2,396 deaths to date, and 1,026 hospitalizations.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/19/20

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