12/4/20: CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC COMMITTEE TO MEET DEC. 10 FOR PROGRESS REPORT ON STUDY. Plus MSDs, Streets, and More News and Views from the Town Council’s Meeting.

This photo depicts a typical scene on Hillcrest Drive, as vehicles travel north near the SSCA tennis courts, on a summertime Saturday.

The citizens’ Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic will hold a meeting Thursday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. in the Pitts Center to receive a progress report from J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning about the traffic study it is conducting for the Town of Southern Shores.

For background on J. M. Teague, a company located in Waynesville, N.C., which is outside of Asheville, and the $7,500 study authorized by the Town Council, please see The Beacon on 10/14/20.

According to a notice released today by the Town, the consultant was hired “to examine previously collected traffic data and to perform a review of roadways affected by cut-through traffic to determine recommended mitigation strategies.”

The consultant will describe the approach it is taking to its examination and analysis of the Town’s traffic data at next Thursday’s meeting, the notice states. It will not present any findings or recommendations, nor will public comment be taken.

J.M. Teague’s final report, which Town Manager Cliff Ogburn said in October would be delivered to the Town in January, is now expected to be completed in mid-February, the notice announces.

Mr. Ogburn advised the Town Council at its Oct. 6 meeting that the consultant would have 90 business days in which to “complete the project.”

J.M. Teague visited Southern Shores on Oct. 9 for the  purpose of “gathering geometric data, taking current turning movement percentages, and conducting observations of the current vehicular volumes and movement that can be translated into seasonal numbers,” according to the Town’s Oct. 9 newsletter.

The Town’s notice today does not indicate that the Dec. 10 meeting will be live-streamed. If we find out that a live stream will be available, we will advise you of that fact.

COVID-19 safety protocol will be observed at the meeting. Please wear a protective facial covering if you attend.

TOWN COUNCIL’S DEC. 1 MEETING: NEWS AND VIEWS

We had pre-existing work commitments this week and could not attend the Town Council’s meeting or view it in real time on the live-stream feed. We are belatedly catching up and will write a fuller meeting report as soon as possible.

If you see Warren Davis of Hillcrest Drive in the next two weeks, wish him a happy birthday.

Mr. Davis, an Outer Banks resident and active volunteer for 37 years, observes his 100th birthday on Dec. 16. The Town of Southern Shores paid tribute to Mr. Davis, who was a chief economist with Gulf Oil Co. when he retired in 1983, at Tuesday’s meeting. Mr. Davis attended, wearing a mask.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Davis, and thank you for all you’ve done for Southern Shores and the greater Outer Banks.

And now, a few snippets of news from the meeting, including:

MUNICIPAL SERVICE DISTRICTS: Mr. Ogburn said the Town Council will begin its consideration of what the “boundaries” of the municipal service districts “are going to look like” at its Jan. 19 workshop meeting. He also stated that the amount of money the Town can expect Dare County to contribute to its 2022 beach nourishment project is a “big unknown,” because the County is “weighing the need for a project in Avon”—a fact that County Manager Bobby Outten informed the Council in November 2019.

Mr. Ogburn said he expects to know the County’s funding of the Southern Shores project by Jan. 19.

The Town Manager also projected March 16 as the date for the public hearing on the MSD designations.

TWO NEW TOWN EMPLOYEES: Deputy Town Manager/Planning Director Wes Haskett introduced two new Town employees: Marcy Baum, who is the new Permit Officer, and Kevin Clark, the new Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer.

You may read the biographies that Mr. Haskett presented at the meeting for each employee on the Town website at Planning & Code Enforcement | Town of Southern Shores, NC (southernshores-nc.gov).

Ms. Baum, who purportedly has worked for 26 years in the customer service industry, has no permitting experience. Mr. Clark, who is a licensed electrical contractor, has been a building inspector since 2017.

Ms. Baum started work on Nov. 16, and Mr. Clark started on Dec. 1.

Mr. Haskett has previously announced that Buddy Shelton, the Town’s current part-time Building Inspector, would continue in his job to train his replacement and retire by February, at the latest.   

CODEWRIGHT PROJECT: Mr. Haskett also announced that the Town Planning Board will start working on the “public hearing draft” of CodeWright’s Town Code rewrite at its Jan. 19, 2021 meeting. The Planning Board typically meets on the third Monday of the month, but Jan. 18 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

And some of the Beacon’s views, including

CONFUSION/LACK OF TRANSPARENCY: There were times during the meeting Tuesday that it seemed to us like the Town Council was unraveling.

Mayor Tom Bennett’s holiday greetings to his colleagues at the end of the meeting, made after he said that the Council would not meet again in December, even though it has a meeting scheduled Dec. 15 that has not been properly canceled yet, was the icing on the upside-down cake.   

Unless we missed Mr. Ogburn’s protestation that he had no report to make—the sound quality on the live stream was poor when people spoke without a microphone up-close—the Mayor earlier skipped over the Town Manager’s report, which we consider the most important portion of the Council’s monthly meeting. We have emailed Mr. Ogburn to clarify what happened.

[UPDATE: Mr. Ogburn informs us: “I didn’t give a report on Tuesday, but I don’t plan for that to be the norm.”]

As he has at previous meetings, the Mayor had difficulty Tuesday keeping his place in the agenda. He also struggled with restating motions.

[UPDATE: In retrospect, some of the “unraveling,” as we termed it, occurred because the Mayor was not mindful of informing the viewing public and preserving a public record. When Mr. Ogburn said, inaudibly off-mike, that he had no report, we would have appreciated the Mayor stating for the record: “The Town Manager has just stated that he will not be making a report tonight.” Then: “Town Attorney Ben Gallop also has stated that he does not have a report for tonight.”]

We had expected to hear from Mr. Ogburn about J.M. Teague’s progress and were surprised to see the notice today about next week’s committee meeting. This is something that the Town Manager surely would have mentioned in his report.

Mr. Ogburn is obviously the glue that holds the Town’s operations together, and, if the public is going to be informed, we need to hear from him.

It was clear during the Council’s discussion about MSDs that individual members of the Council are meeting with Mr. Ogburn and that those members are not making their views known in public.

Mayor Bennett actually initiated the topic of MSDs, which was on the agenda as “Old Business,” by saying: “Most of us have seen the paperwork and talked with our manager on this,” and asking if any of the other four want to “share with the rest of us or/and with the manager” what they think now, at the meeting.

He was trying to move the agenda forward. The idea of the people’s representatives actually sharing views with the public at a public meeting did not come up.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey gently reminded the Mayor that the Town Manager had a presentation to make. Mr. Ogburn then gave a thorough report about MSDs, elaborating upon the statutory process for establishing them.

Earlier, the Mayor had said, “I’m keeping track of my mistakes tonight, and I’ve already lost count.”

To which Councilman Leo Holland replied: “Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

With the MSD designation and dramatic take-rate changes taking place next year, decision makers must be clear-headed and competent. The public deserves no less.

STREETS COMMITTEE/WOOD DUCK COURT: An extended discussion occurred among Council members about the value of having a town-wide street paving study done, after Councilman Matt Neal brought up the subject. Before this discussion, the Town Council unanimously approved spending $18,430 to make improvements to Wood Duck Court, which is a cul de sac off of South Dogwood Trail.

The former Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee, now known as the Streets Committee, met on Nov. 17 and apparently discussed a town-wide roads study, as well as funding a project on Wood Duck Court. Because neither Streets Committee co-chair gave a report Tuesday on the Nov. 17 meeting—which is customary in Town Council business—and no committee meeting minutes have been posted yet on the Town website, we were left to guess who on the committee did or suggested what and why.

Mr. Neal actually said he cannot “speak for the committee,” but, of course, he can, and he should.

The impression we received from the explanation given Tuesday by Streets Committee co-chairperson, Councilman Jim Conners, for why funds should be allocated to Wood Duck Court, and not another cul de sac or section of roadway that is in disrepair, is that two homeowners on the cul de sac met with him privately and convinced him of the need.

We have not inspected the court, but we have no doubt that it could use improvement, as can so many other town roadways. We saw the construction vehicles coming and going from that cul de sac this year—as yet another lot was clear-cut and another house was built—pounding the road surface.

But need alone should not, and cannot, determine how and when the Town Council allocates precious capital-improvement funds.

We found it very curious that Mr. Neal brought up the need for “objective” analysis and “objective” criteria to guide the prioritization of street improvements after the Council subjectively had favored Wood Duck Court.

We look forward to seeing the Streets Committee’s minutes online soon. Former Town Manager Peter Rascoe took the minutes at the CIIP Committee’s meeting and posted them within a day or two. Although they often seemed skewed to us, at least they were there.

More on Tuesday’s meeting soon.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 12/4/20; updated 12/7/20

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