11/1/20: TOWN TO EXPAND POLICE FORCE TO 13 OFFICERS; KOLE WOULD LIKE TWO OFFICERS ON DUTY 24/7. Plus Other Town Council Nov. 4 Agenda Items.

Southern Shores “is not Mayberry” and needs two police officers on duty “with supervision” 24/7, Police Chief David Kole argued to the Town Council at its Oct. 20 workshop in support of hiring at least one new officer during the current fiscal year.

The additional employee will bring the Southern Shores police complement to 13 officers, according to the Chief, who, although he alluded during his workshop presentation to a study supporting the addition of two officers, limited his request to just one, for now.

“It’s not Mayberry,” the Chief said. “. . . Bad things can happen to police, and things have gotten worse over the last two to three years.”

There are “a lot of arrests, a lot of drug work,” the Chief explained, but he offered no evidence of physical threats being made to, or violence committed upon, Southern Shores police officers.

Although the Chief emphasized the safety of police officers, he presented data at the workshop to suggest that the number of service calls the police handle justify the new hires. We would have liked to have seen better analytics in support of this contention. (See the next section, below.)

With 14 officers on the payroll, there would be 24/7 coverage of the Town by two duty officers and a third person supervising, a goal that Chief Kole said he has had since he first started working for Southern Shores 14 years ago.

Contrary to Town Manager Cliff Ogburn’s assertion that the Town Council had already “agreed to” a new police officer hire at its FY 2020-21 budget workshop, the Council did not consider expansion of the force in April because of concern over lost Town revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Council asked all Town departments to tighten their budgetary belts, and Chief Kole did not bring up the proposed new hires.

The Oct. 20 workshop was, in part, a forum for considering FY 2020-21 expenses that were tabled by departments. The Town Council, notably, did not vote on any of these measures. Mayor Tom Bennett either unilaterally directed Mr. Ogburn to follow up or advised him that “consensus” existed. 

Despite there being no critical discussion about the need for police force expansion and no formal vote, Mayor Bennett told Chief Kole that a “consensus” exists among Town Council members “that we need another police officer.”

Indeed, Councilman Matt Neal, an active participant in most Council business, was conspicuously silent on the issue, and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey only asked the Chief after his presentation how long it would take for him to hire someone.

Nonetheless, the Chief’s request will be formally voted upon by the Council at its Nov. 4 meeting as one of a number of FY 2020-21 budget amendments before the town’s governing body. The Council will not take up each amendment separately, as it usually does, unless a member singles one out. Instead, a vote in favor of the “consent agenda” will result in approval of all four of the proposed budget amendments. (See the others below.)

Funding a new police officer for the remaining six months of the fiscal year will cost $43,521, according to the budget amendment prepared by Mr. Ogburn.

The money will come from the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance, which the Council decided at its workshop—upon Mr. Ogburn’s suggestion—must maintain a minimum $3 million balance, an increase of $1.25 million over the balance it currently must maintain.

The Council also will take up Wednesday an amendment to the Unreserved Fund Balance Policy that increases the minimum balance of the fund and includes language to expand upon the use of the fund. It specifies, for example, that the fund be used to “guard against the effects of an economic downtown, [or] natural or other disasters.”

Councilman Neal suggested at the workshop that the policy be amended to specify that the fund is to be used for “hurricane relief.” He even endorsed setting aside $1 million for such relief, but neither of these suggestions translated to the written word. (The draft revised policy is on p. 27 of the meeting packet.)

The Town Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. The meeting will be open to the public, subject to attendees wearing face coverings and observing social distancing. The meeting also may be live-streamed at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

As usual, there will be two public-comment periods during the meeting. If you would like to submit comments, but not attend the meeting, you may email your comments to Town Clerk Sheila Kane at skane@southernshore-nc.gov. Comments must be limited to three minutes and be submitted to Ms. Kane by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

You may access the meeting agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-11-04.pdf.

And the meeting packet of materials here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-11-04.pdf.

PUBLIC NOT ADEQUATELY INFORMED

We were disappointed by both the data presented by Chief Kole to buttress his argument for a new officer and by the Town’s technological display of the data. We were left with many questions—none of which was raised by Council members—and would like to see the data that the Chief offered available on the Town website.

Because of technological gaffes, we did not see the Southern Shores Police Dept.’s “mission statement” or “vision statement,” and the Chief did not read them aloud. He referred to “community policing,” as part of the vision, but he did not define it.

In 2018, the Chief said, the police department received 17,330 calls for service, of which 15,670 were “self-initiated,” and 1,660 were the result of 911 calls. In 2019, he said, the numbers were “very similar,” although 911 calls were “up a little bit.”

Unfortunately, the computer graphics that Chief Kole shared with the Town Council showing these numbers and whatever breakdowns accompanied them were not shown to the You Tube live-stream meeting audience. The same was true of a graphic that the Chief said broke down, on a weekly basis, the nature of the approximately 1,500 service calls that the police handle each month.

We were able to see “missing persons” and “noise complaints” on this screen, but nothing else. We would like very much to see the reasons for the calls and the number of calls received for each reason, as well as the amount of time spent on each call.

The Chief also did not define a “self-initiated” call. How does it occur? What law enforcement is involved in such a call? Are these primarily traffic-control problems? Motor-vehicle accidents? Overnight checks of vacant businesses? How much time is consumed, on average, by a “self-initiated” call vis-à-vis a 911 call? 

The technology improved when Chief Kole reached his graphics on the “total hours” that Southern Shores police officers “spent alone on a shift” in 2018 and 2019. Finally, we could see for ourselves in pie charts that the Chief displayed that in 2018, 54 percent of the duty hours were calculated to have been covered by two officers, while 46 percent were handled by one officer; and in 2019, the numbers were 56 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

There was no indication, unfortunately, of which hours of the day were covered by one officer, vis-a- vis two, and whether or not the “supply” of one or two officers met the “demand.” Being alone does not prove anything except that there was no backup. It does not establish that backup was necessary.

According to Chief Kole, the police department has three duty shifts: one from noon to midnight; another from midnight to noon; and a third “power shift” in the summer from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. The power shift, he said, always has a supervisor on duty.

What happens during all of this time? What are the police doing? This is what the Chief did not adequately document or convey. We especially would like to know what they’re doing from midnight to 6 a.m. and how successful they are at closing cases with arrests, particularly, in burglaries.

We do not take for granted the protection and peace of mind that the Southern Shores police department gives Town residents. We need and depend upon a well-trained and adequately staffed police department. We would never advocate cutting corners to save a few nickels and dimes.

We also know that police work is potentially dangerous, and we would like to be informed about the dangers in our town that prompt Chief Kole to say, as he has on other public occasions, that “It’s a different world out there right now.”

Southern Shores may not be Mayberry anymore, but it’s not Manteo, which has a more diverse year-round population, or Nags Head, which is a much larger and more commercialized beach town, either.

What is so different and threatening in Southern Shores now? The drug scene? In a community policing model, shouldn’t residents know what that scene is?

Bottom line, for our money—and it is our money, both now and later when the police retire, courtesy of the Town of Southern Shores—the Town Council owes us responsible fiscal oversight of all Town departments, all of which must be held fully accountable, regardless of the role they play.

We are not satisfied that full accountability occurred in the consideration of the decision to hire another police officer. We know transparency did not.

ALSO ON THE AGENDA ARE THE FOLLOWING PROPOSED FY 2020-21 BUDGET AMENDMENTS:

*$5800 for redesign and modernization of the Town website: Mr. Ogburn said at the workshop that the current website design dates to 2011, but we can tell you that until former Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald lobbied for a search engine on the site (some time in 2016-17), it did not have one. The site was ridiculously difficult to navigate. Mr. Ogburn described the relatively new search feature on the website now as “narrow” in its reach and not providing a very “thorough list.” It has been inadequate from its implementation. Many features on the website are deficient. It needs an overhaul.   

*$250,000 as an initial deposit into a Town “Beach Fund” to finance beach nourishment: Approval of this fund, which is being set up at the suggestion of financial people to underwrite future beach nourishment projects, will transfer $250,000 from the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance to its Capital Reserve Fund to establish a line item for beach nourishment-related expenses. 

*$8,000 from the Town Cemetery Fund: The Town Public Works Dept. has requested $8,000 to pay for cemetery maintenance, including replacing the stone in the existing driveway, repairing markers, and grinding tree stumps, according to the Town Manager’s summary. (Speaking as someone who visits a grave in the cemetery, I see no reason to replace the existing driveway or to grind stumps, a process that leaves behind tree roots, which would seem to pose the most interference. This seems like unnecessary “make work” to me.) 

IN OTHER BUSINESS . . .

BEACH NOURISHMENT, WHAT ELSE?

The Town Council will vote Wednesday on a resolution to reimburse itself for “capital expenditures incurred in connection with a beach nourishment project from the proceeds of tax-exempt obligation.”

According to Mr. Ogburn’s item summary, the 2022 beach nourishment project is estimated to cost $16,196,500, and to date, the Town has spent $537,000 for permitting and design ($435,000), legal work ($32,000), and financial planning ($70,000).

The resolution states that the Town will not pay anything for the project, despite its flush general fund. Increased taxes will finance the Southern Shores project exclusively, it would seem. We have to make assumptions because the Town Council has yet to take a vote in regard to beach nourishment and its financing except general ones to “pursue” the former and consult with a consultant, who is biased in favor of special obligation bonds, about the latter. (The Town of Duck contributed monies from its general fund to pay for its 2017 beach nourishment.)

Although not yet announced, the Town Council previously discussed dedicating its Nov. 17 workshop to municipal service districts, which must be designated for purposes of levying taxes to pay for beach-nourishment special obligation bonds.

PLANNING BOARD APPOINTMENT

Planning Director and Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett is expected to recommend that Janis Collins of Chicahauk be appointed to the Town Planning Board as the second alternate and that current second alternate, Robert McClendon, be appointed to the first alternate’s spot. Former First Alternate Lynda Burek was appointed on Aug. 18 to serve out the term of Board Member Don Sowder, who resigned Aug.1. Both Ms. Collins’s and Mr. McClendon’s terms will expire June 30, 2021.

AND FINALLY . . .

The live-stream videotape of the Oct. 20 workshop clearly showed two Town staff members not wearing protective masks. One of them never put on a face covering. The other intermittently wore one.

A Town Council member also removed a face covering during a break in the meeting and stood very near Police Chief Kole, whose back was to the camera, during a conversation with him.

These lapses are unacceptable.

We also are compelled to point out that during the break, Town Council members and the Police Chief continued to converse, but the sound on the live-stream feed was muted. Their postures suggested they were still talking Town business.

Regardless of what they were saying to each other, we see no reason for the video or audio of a live-streamed open governmental meeting ever to be turned off.     

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/1/20

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