Sunday, July 5, 2015

County Installs New Security Measures

Dare County has recently initiated new and stricter security measures in order for people to gain entrance into the county courthouse. Anyone wishing to go inside the building now is met by a sheriff's deputy and metal detector immediately upon entering the front door. Previously, those security measures were placed well inside the building and applied only to those wishing to go upstairs were where the courts are held
As before, all persons entering are required to empty their pockets of all metallic objects, place them into a container and pass through the doorway style detector. If a single penny is left in your pocket, the machine will detect it and the deputy will pass a hand held detector around your person.

Sheriff Doug Doughtie told EyeonDare that county manager Bobby Outten plans to institute the same security precautions over at the Administration Building sometime within the coming months or year.

In fact, the attached photos may hasten Outten's decision, given that, apparently, no one man's his own personal suite at all hours of the day. Upon leaving the Sheriff's office around mid-day last week, EOD strolled over to the admin building and took the elevator to the second floor. It was around lunchtime, and the aroma of good food permeated the air. Some office doors were closed, some open. There was one person sitting in the employees' fully equipped snack/break room, and strolling the entire second floor areas, EOD found only one office with the door open other than the empty five room county manger suite. All doors were open in the suite and no one was around. After a few "Hello's?" and "Anybody here?'s", followed by a few snapshots, taken at the doorways of various suite quadrants, EOD left and was able to find the nearby Human Resources office open and fully manned. It was a social visit, so no important time was lost.

However, maybe Outten is correct. Perhaps the county office buildings do need more security, or better yet, someone sitting at important desks at all times during the day, or staggered lunch breaks, or even a few sticky tabs on the door saying, "Be Back Soon".  For a complete visual tour of the Dare County Manager's 5 room suite, click here.  https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0Bx9gLPhbn5YHfkFjZkNIdDJNYnJfY0kwS3l4X1BGT3NxcmJjWFM1X2VWMnZ4TmU4TDJiVUk&usp=sharing

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Outer Banks Restaurant Association Files Back Tax Returns

Data obtained by EyeonDare indicates that one of the Outer Banks' most influential business organizations appears to be having tax troubles with the Internal Revenue Service, while another local organization may not be exactly what the public perceives.

 The Outer Banks Restaurant Association and the Outer Banks Hotel/Motel Association have long been power players in Dare County, both in promoting the tourism economy and in flexing their muscle in the local political arena. Also, both organizations hold seats on the board of directors of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, which controls nearly $7 million in public expenditures every year.

Currently, the restaurant association's representative is Donny King, owner of Ocean Boulevard Restaurant and the hotel association is represented by Tonya Cohen, an employee of a hotel company owned in whole or in part by county commissioner Warren Judge. Judge has also served many terms as a board member over the years.

Data obtained by EyeoneDare indicates that :

The Outer Banks Restaurant Association

The Outer Banks Restaurant Association, while a sitting board member, has been receiving annual grant funds from the visitors bureau for the past nine years totaling $134,950, and was set to receive a $33,000 grant three months ago when the visitors bureau discovered that the association had lost its federal nonprofit status for failure to file tax returns.

Visitors Bureau Director, Lee Nettles, told EyeonDare that the bureau only issues grant monies to local governments and qualified nonprofit organizations, the latter of which are required to submit proof of their current nonprofit status each time they apply for a grant. EyeonDare spoke with the restaurant association's accountant, Rick Straub, CPA who said the organization had recently filed back federal 990 tax returns for the years ending 2011 to date. Straub said he did not know who may have been the association's previous accountant or if earlier returns had ever been filed. EyeonDare has made a public information request for copies of the tax returns.

While the question of how the matter was not caught by the bureau years ago has gone unanswered, information available on the  N C Secretary of State's website shows the association was incorporated as a nonprofit in February of 1995, nearly four years after it was first appointed to serve on of the visitor bureau's board of directors, and it is no longer on their current list of nonprofit organizations.

Calls to the association's president, Ben Sproul, were not returned, however, EyeonDare spoke with King, who, while serving on the board, said he did not know that the $33,000 grant request had been denied back in March. Asked if the loss of nonprofit tax status and the association's tax delinquency would affect the restaurant association's seat on the board, Nettles said he didn't think so. EyeonDare has also questioned the propriety of  the restaurant association receiving grant monies, while serving as a member of the board.

The $134,950 given to the restaurant association for the past nine years have been used to promote the annual, off season, Taste of the Beach event. In fact, the restaurant association's official website is actually the Taste of the Beach website, where the association states...."As you might expect, the OBRA is a 501-C-6 non-profit".

The Outer Banks Hotel/Motel Association

The Outer Banks Hotel/Motel Association was also given a seat on the board of directors of the visitors bureau in 1991.  However, the Secretary of State's website indicates it was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1985 and suspended in 1989.  In addition, it is not shown on the site's 2015 list of nonprofit organizations.

 EyeonDare asked the association's current president, Jamie Chisolm about the matter, and after conferring with Cohen, she said they had never been a nonprofit. Chisolm was only able to give EyeonDare the name of one other officer in the organization, that being Cohen whom she said was the secretary and treasurer.

 Eyeondare then talked with Judge who said he attended meetings of the "organization" but he also was not able to name any other officers or board members.  When asked where they met, he said "different places".  Judge acknowledged that the organization did collect membership fees, and when asked, said no one had ever told them they had to file any kind of tax returns.

EyeonDare was able to locate a Face Book page for the Outer Banks Hotel/Motel Association, however it has no businesses listed as being members, and only had photos two Outer Banks Hotels, both belonging to Judge.

Perhaps it's time the Dare County Commissioners took a hard look at the makeup of the board of directors of the visitors bureau and also the manner and method by which it doles out grant monies, all of which are provided by county occupancy and food taxes.  The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau is a public authority, established by the state legislature in 1991.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Damn Republicans! -No brainer", says Woodard (R)

The Dare board of commissioners is currently experiencing some of the worst leadership in many years, and it needs to get better, much better.
Increase sales tax, said Woodard
Use Occupancy tax, said Woodard
"It's a no brainer" said Woodard

In November, the Dare voters gave the local GOP a clear mandate that they wanted a change in the worn out way of local politics in the county . With a new 5 member GOP majority and a new chairman and vice-chairman, hopes were running high in many segments of the community.

It was time for long time chairman Warren Judge (D) and vice chairman Allen Burrus (D) to step aside, and most felt that board member Bob Woodard (R) was the obvious choice to take the leadership role.  However, a rumbling quickly began coming out of the local GOP that Woodard wanted Judge (D) to remain chairman.  The local GOP was stunned. Privately, even Senator Bill Cook advised the Dare GOP that such actions would go against the wishes of the voters and be nothing short of political suicide. So, Woodard was pressed into accepting the chairmanship, and to this day, will not acknowledge in public, what most GOP leaders still talk about.  Fast forward to today.

Woodard has gotten himself embroiled in the heated controversy of how to balance the budget, how to please the school board, and how to fund dredging at Oregon Inlet, and has found himself caught between the beach business community, the fishermen, the Hatteras people, the northern beach people, and Senator Bill Cook and Representative Paul Tine, just to name a few.

And, unfortunately, his way of handling all of it has been to flip and flop, depending on whom he's speaking to and which way the wind blows. Backed, off and on by his vice chairman, Wally Overman, who has a charm of "ticking off" about everyone he talks too, the end result is that board leadership is waning.

To wit: During a board meeting in March, Woodard made no bones about letting everyone know that he was in favor of raising the sales tax and protecting the occupancy taxes, in order to appease Warren Judge and the business interests on the beach. His comments can be heard in this video, where, unaware that the camera audio is still turned on, Woodard states..."I wanted to make sure those damn Republicans understood"...Earlier in the video Woodard had called his support for the sales tax a "no brainer".

Now, in yesterday's article in the Outer Banks Voice, Woodard is quoted as saying that support for using the occupancy tax is a "no brainer".   The article quotes Woodard as saying ..."borrowing funds from the occupancy tax plan would make the most sense...to me, it’s a no brainer,” “so for the life of me, I can’t understand, with the amount of money that’s being spent on beach nourishment, that there’s reluctance for us to spend $3 million of our own money.”

EyeonDare believes that Dare citizens deserve better leadership than they are getting right now. And, whether Woodard is a true GOP member or a RINO (Republican In Name Only), he and Overman have until November of 2016 to get their ship in order.  Let's hope they do, for right now, the Good Ship Lollipop is sinking fast.

The video of the March meeting where Woodard curses the GOP, is attached here.

Click here if above video does not open

Unaware that their microphone is still open, the conversation goes like this:
Umphlett says...I would be delighted...I will smile all the way..
Overman says...I forgot that you are a real estate magnate..
Umphlett...oh, there's another word...remember the woman with the dog....we won't talk about it up here, it wouldn't be nice..(laughing)
Next, Woodard says..."I wanted to make sure those damn republicans understood."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Visitors Bureau Doesn't Want Tar Baby

 The chairman of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau thinks that requiring a "statement of need" in order to receive grants is a "weighty" matter. "I can see this quickly becoming a tar baby," said Tim Cafferty, board chairman, in an April 13, 2015 email to county commissioner chairman Bob Woodard. (EyeonDare can find no record of Woodard responding to Cafferty)

Cafferty wrote, that during the April 6th meeting of the Dare board of commissioners, he and director Lee Nettles were "caught flat-footed" when the commissioners turned down a previously approved bureau grant of $30,000 to Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) for windmill repairs at The Island Farm on Roanoke Island. The commissioners told Cafferty and Nettles that the OBC did not appear to have a real financial need for the funds.

Cafferty further wrote that neither he or Nettles were "given a heads up" by the commissioners about their concerns prior to the meeting and that "the concept of requesting grant applicants to show need" would be a complicated matter. In the past, the practice of the bureau has been to approve grants to various organizations based upon the perceived merits of a project, rather than on the financial needs of the organization. Apparently, Cafferty was in no hurry to change that method.

Cafferty told Woodard that before he proceeded to appoint a task force or committee to discuss revamping grant requests, he wanted to get together with Woodard and other members of the bureau.
He mentioned the Outer Banks Sporting Events (OBSE) group as a specific organization where the matter could become a "weightier issue" if current procedures were changed.  EyeonDare recently examined bureau data showing the OBSE has received over $700,000 in over 20 grants from the bureau, and continues to get money on an ongoing basis, despite being a highly solvent organization.

EyeonDare does not know if the meeting requested by Cafferty was ever held or whether the bureau has changed its procedure for vetting grants requests.  And, to the knowledge of EyeonDare, the matter has not been discussed in any commissioners  meeting since April.

Given the fact that the visitors bureau has a highly qualified finance officer on staff who is paid $90,000 per year, and an assistant finance officer, EyeonDare  believes "grant applicants" for all the various grants should be required to provide nonprofit tax returns and other statements of financial condition in order to quality.  To dole out hundreds of thousands of public tax dollars in any other way is simply not acceptable. It's time for the visitors bureau to get its house in order.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tourism Board to Give Dare County $1,000,000

Concerned about their public image, the Outer Banks Tourism Board made a "stewardship report" to the full board of county commissioners on June 17th, one week after their steering committee voted to give up $1,000,000 in excess cash reserves held by the organization.

County Commissioner Chairman Bob "Rooster" Woodard
told steering committee his full board was aware of his actions
Data obtained by EyeonDare indicates that the Dare County Tourism Board (DCTB) is set to approve a one time grant of $1,000,000 towards helping to pay for dredging in Oregon Inlet.  The DCTB’s steering committee voted, unanimously  on  June 9th to recommend the grant to the full board at its upcoming meeting  this week.  However,  the affirmative vote did not come without question and some reservation on the part of the steering committee.
Tourism Board member
Ervin Bateman

The committee was acting upon a letter  written  by commissioner chairman Bob "Rooster" Woodard on June 4th, asking specifically for the $1,000,000 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.  He wrote that it would be a “one-time” request,  and also stated at the meeting that “I, as chairman or commissioner in Dare, will never come back and ask for additional funding.” 

Woodard was asked by the committee if his board was aware of his request, and the minutes show that Woodard said that “all the members were aware of the (his) request”.  However, EyeonDare has confirmed that “all members” of his board were not aware of his actions. Furthermore, Woodard’s letter was not copied to any member of his board, and when EyeonDare spoke with Gary Gross, clerk to the board of commissioners, he said he had no memory or knowledge of the matter or copy of the letter. EyeonDare calls to Woodard went unanswered.

Tourism Board member
Sheila Foster Davies
In voting to grant the request, the committee expressed concern about “the perceived public opinion” of the tourism board, to which Woodard responded by saying he “has consistently and publicly stated his support of the (board) and Visitors Bureau and will continue to do so”.
The committee was also concerned that:
(1) The county had no written “memorandum of understanding” with the Corps of Engineers for the dredging.
(2) The county had no formal, written plan for the dredging project.
(3) Woodard said the amount requested would not be enough to help with dredging for Hatteras  Inlet.

However, upon a motion by Sheila Foster Davies, seconded by Ervin Bateman, the committee voted to send  their recommendation for approval to the full board.
The tourism bureau has been under fire and criticism in recent months by members of the public and EyeonDare who charge that the organization has become too rich and too political and has drifted too far away from it legislated mission of promoting tourism by spending too much money and time on grants and local politics.  An independent audit of the bureau for the year ending June 30, 2014 showed it has in excess of $12,000,000 in unexpended funds. The bureau is funded by a 1% occupancy tax and a 1% food/ beverage tax.
Copies of Woodard’s letter and the minutes of the meeting can be read here.
Woodards Letter is shown here, below the Minutes.

UPDATE: EyeonDare received an email, timed at 6:57 a.m.  (Monday) this morning from clerk, Gary Gross, who now says he wrote the letter for Woodard and has a copy on file in his office. It is good to see that Gross's memory improved over the weekend.  EOD spoke with Gross, at length on Friday afternoon, specifically asking him if he wrote the letter or knew about the letter.

Related blog posts:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gobbling Money - The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

This is the 3rd part of an EyeonDare public information request/look into parts of the financial records of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, because of an increasing outcry from the general public that the organization has become too rich and  political.
 The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau has been the go-to place for free money for nonprofit organizations and local municipalities ever since it began receiving occupancy tax monies back in the '90's. And, the demand on it for handouts has increased even more in recent years as the county board of commissioners have slowly closed their own checkbook to many of these same organizations due to public outcry that people are tired of local government choosing charities with their tax dollars.
However, the well-heeled visitors bureau has always had money, and plenty of it. Besides spending millions of dollars on printed ads, television and Internet each year, it also doles out hundreds of thousands of dollars to about any group that can complete a four page application and convince its board that what they want to do is going to help grow the tourism economy on the Outer Banks.  For example, the bureau recently doled out a cool $8,000 to a group calling themselves, Go Far, with the funds to be used for an event called a Surfin' Turkey 5k and Drumstick Dash.
But the real gobbler of the visitor's board money has to be, hands down, a group that is organized under the name of Outer Banks Sporting Events (OBSE). In the past five years this nonprofit has gobbled up $442,000 in visitors bureau money, and a received a grand total of  $757,000 since it began about ten years ago. The OBSE organization, a.k.a. the founders of the Outer Banks Marathon and other run/race related sporting events has, indeed, become the perennial favorite for getting a lot of everyone's tax dollars here in the county.
Now, all of this information is not intended to put down the value of this organization and the events it sponsors.  For, surely marathons, etc. have proved to be highly popular among locals and visitors alike, and they do bring people into the county. In fact, the OBSE says it contributes one-half of their annual profits to two other local nonprofit organizations, The Outer Banks Relief Foundation and the Dare Education Foundation. And this too, is good
Well, how much does political influence have to do with getting big money from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau's tax coffers? It's a tough call and readers can form their own judgment. However, let's take a small peek inside the makeup of the various boards of the visitors bureau and the OBSE.
First, we see that Kitty Hawk mayor-pro tem, Ervin Bateman sits on the visitors bureau main board and its steering committee board. And, Bateman, an avid runner, currently is, or has been a Director and Vice-President of the OBSE, and the Outer Banks Relief Foundation.  And, of course, county commissioner Warren Judge, who sits on about every other board that exists in the county, is, or has been a Director of OBSE, and we find Judge's spouse sitting along side of Bateman on the Outer Banks Relief Foundation. Finally, the paid Director of the OBSE also sits on the board of the Dare Education Foundation.  And, speaking of Judge, the OBSE also received $10,000 from the County of Dare in each of the years 2013 and 2014.  And, the bus goes round and round.
Now, if there is insult from any of this to the people of Dare County, they might be furthered injured when EyeonDare throws in that the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau has, in the past couple of years, established a new grant program called the Established Event Developer Grant. This program apparently was designed to keep some nonprofits onboard, such as OBSE,  when they had worn out their welcome getting money from the other grant funds such as Special Project Grants and Tag Award grants.

And, the first one to get in line there was, you guessed it, the OBSE, to the tune of $75,000 in each of years #1, #2, and #3.  And, now, they are back at the start of another 3 year grant period and will be getting another $75,000 for the current year, and year #2 and #3.  And, all that comes to $300,000 in the last four years...and heading towards $450,000, not yet counted.

Well, is the OBSE organization all that needy? Apparently Joseph C. Coors of  Colorado must have thought so. Public records show that in 2012, he gift deeded a house and lot, located in Marshes Light, Manteo, valued at nearly $500,000 to OBSE.  Again, it all depends on one's perspective.
After all, its only tax dollars that are mostly involved here.

At any rate, EyeonDare has uploaded a public information copy of OBSE's most recent nonprofit tax return, available online (2013) here.
If you have a problem interpreting any of the financial data on the return, simply give them a call.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Visitors Bureau - Following the Money

Two of the 20 ads in this years Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
Travel Guide
What we know so far is that the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau has no problem publishing over 425,000 copies of its yearly Travel Guide at annual losses exceeding $100,000 as long as it comes close to garnering most of the printing fees from its advertisers. So, who pays for these huge losses? Who pays for the shipping freight and the postage to mail this large load of magazines? The answer is that the Dare County taxpayers pay it, by the grace of excess monies in occupancy tax collections sitting in the bureau coffers.

So, this raises another serious question.  Why can't the bureau garner more advertising to help foot this big bill? Why don't they lower the ad rates and get more advertisers?  Well, the answer just may be that they don't care, or even don't want more advertisers. Why, you ask?

This year's 108 page magazine has only 20 advertisers, made up of  18 of the county's largest hotels and rental agencies, the Outer Banks Wedding Association and the area's largest kite rental company.
This select group pays upward to $8,000 for a full page ad and less for a half-page ad. And, they can afford it, and this is something smaller businesses cannot do.

Imagine this. For the paltry sum of $8,000 or $4,500, Commissioner Warren Judge and other leaders in the hotel/motel/rental agency industry is able to get into 425,000 households around the USA, for the tiny sum of less than two-cents (.018 cents) per magazine.  And, they don't even have to help pay postage with their ad fees, because it is paid for by the taxpayers of Dare County. Does anyone think that these political business interests really want more advertising in that magazine?  Probably not, otherwise, they would encourage the bureau to lower its ad rates, get more advertisers and publish the magazine in the black. Meanwhile, EyeonDare assumes that Judge and the other advertisers know the difference between a 49 cent postage stamp (to mail their own brochures) and a 2 cent magazine.

It's the reader's call....however, EyeonDare cannot imagine why the board of directors of the Visitors Bureau is allowing this to continue.

Up Next:  Following More Money

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is the Visitors Bureau too Rich?

Wally Overman
As Dare County, its municipalities and its people struggle to make ends meet, is our Outer Banks Visitors Bureau giving us our money's worth?
"We count on you to get us our share of the tourism dollar", said Dare Commissioner Wally Overman on Wednesday. Overman was speaking to tourism board Director, Lee Nettles and board chairman, Tim Cafferty, following a mid year report on the operations of the largest and most financially secure quasi governmental body in Dare County....The Dare County Visitors Bureau.

Overman was correct, and no one can dispute the importance of the visitors bureau and its assigned mission on behalf of the people and the economy of Dare County. And, when it comes to visitation figures and the amount of tourism dollars spent on the Outer Banks each year, the bureau is able to present quite a slide show which shows it does do a great job in many respects.

However, a lot of people in the county are beginning to question whether the bureau has grown too rich and too politically active for its own good. This topic has become so controversial that EyeonDare decided to make a public information request for a copy of the bureau's 2014 financial records, including its last annual audit and detailed transaction journals for its general operating and special funds.

Cafferty and Nettles
The bureau, of course, is funded by the proceeds from a 1% occupancy tax and a 1% food and beverage tax, which accounts for almost $7 million of its annual operating budget. A few tidbits from the bureau's financial records show that :
  • As of their June 30, 2014 budget year, the bureau had net assets over liabilities of $22.5 million...of which $10.3 million was in capital assets (land/buildings/equipment) and $12.2 million was in bank funds.  
  • Of the above $12.2 million, $7.6 million was restricted in use, and $4.6 million was unassigned.
  • The bureau's fund balances grew by $778,000, or a rate of 6.6%  just in the year ending 6/30/14 over the previous year.
The question then arises, "Is the bureau using all this wealth wisely?" Well, it all depends on your perspective.  However, the first to raise an eyebrow for EyeonDare was the organization's annual Visitors Travel Guide. For the year ending 6/30/14 the bureau paid $176,090 for printing/freight charges, along with postage expenses of $156,406, while collecting only $156,600 in ad revenues.

For the current 2015 year, the bureau has budgeted a total of $186,300 for printing and freight for 425,000 copies of the magazine, along with postage expenditures which are budgeted at $231,000.  Ad revenues for the magazine are only expected to be $158,645.

This raises a serious question.  "Why is the visitors bureau printing this magazine and not charging at least enough in ad revenues to cover costs?"  Perhaps, the answer lies in who advertises in the magazine and how much they pay.  EyeonDare will look at that tomorrow.  Stay tuned.
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