|(Top row, left to right) Mayor Tom Bennett, Jodi Hess, Leo Holland|
(Bottom row, left to right) David Sanders, Larry Lawhon, Town Manager
Peter Rascoe (Source: Save Fairway Drive Face Book page)
At issue is the manner in which the town recently handled some of its capital improvement street paving projects. Citizens say the town did not adequately inform them of the magnitude of cutting down nearly 100 old trees from the projects currently underway on Fairway Drive and Dogwood Trail, which are/were, arguably, two of the most beautiful tree-lined streets in the 50 year old community.
|Town resident, Jack Sheehan told the board, "your job is to make sure|
we are informed so that we can be a public that can give you support"
As a resident of Southern Shores, this blog writer has more than a keen interest in the above matter, and based upon his observation and investigation(s), here is what he has to say.
Hands down, Southern Shores has less governmental transparency than any town in Dare County.
(A)...The most recent example of this occurred at the end of the above mentioned council meeting after 95% of the attendees had sat there for three hours, grew weary and headed home. With ten minutes left in the meeting, an item that was not on the published meeting agenda was put forth by the town manager, and clearly to no surprise of the town council.
The town manager, Peter Rascoe, asked the council to adopt a $90,000 budget amendment to the street paving program, by adding two new line items to the budget. He asked for $75,000 to be added in order to do a complete rebuild, with concrete slurry, for 1,260 linear feet of Duck Woods Drive (houses #28-#52), in order to fix a huge pothole problem, where, as councilman Leo Holland said, "we been pouring money into for a long time". Another $15,000 was requested and approved to repair the sagging pavement on the Juniper bridge. Oddly, the length of the Duck Woods Drive "repair" was far longer than the length of the Fairway Drive project (approx. 900 linear feet), which included tree cutting. The contract for Fairway Drive had just been awarded for nearly $200,000, when the earlier budget estimates had been only $116,000. The important questions to be asked here is "Why wasn't this item published on the meeting agenda for the public to read?" "Given the facts, why didn't a single member of the council ask any questions (in public) about the budget change request?"
(B) ...Unlike the other beach towns and Dare County government, the Town of Southern Shores refuses to publish its "meeting agenda packet" on its town website. In fact, when this writer recently asked the town clerk for a copy of the "agenda packet" she refused to acknowledge that one existed and even stated that the town council only got what the public got, which was an outline of the meeting called "Meeting Agenda". It was only after this writer complained to a council member about the matter that one was provided prior to the meeting. It is standard procedure for all other beach towns and Dare County government, to not only publish the full packet on their websites, but also give advance copies to the press and anyone else who asks for it.
(C)...Unlike the other beach towns and Dare County government, the Town of Southern Shores refuses to provide the "individual town email address" of each member, opting only to put on its website a single email address which requires anyone writing to send a copy to all members. No other beach town in Dare County does this. In fact, some towns, Kitty Hawk, for example, even provides each council person's telephone number on its website. The argument offered by the Southern Shores council goes like this. "We need to be sure each member gets a copy of all emails so we will know if we are on the same page"...Jodi Hess. "We need to be sure people don't get our email replies and 'cut and paste' and change our words"...Leo Holland. In other words, it appears to be clear the council wants a quorum decision before dealing with any resident on any issue. This is not transparency, and may not be legal.
(D)... Unlike other beach towns and Dare County government, the Town of Southern Shores refuses to put its full Adopted Budget out in the open on its town website. As this writer pointed out to the town manager, a "Budget Ordinance" is an outline, not a complete budget. All other beach towns and Dare County government publishes its entire proposed and adopted budget package in easy to find locations on its website. Southern Shores only publishes a four page "Budget Ordinance", when its entire budget package is still a scant 16 pages. By comparison, the town budgets, as posted, by the other beach towns runs from 82 to 105 pages of detailed matter (excluding the County of Dare which runs over 200 pages). It should be pointed out however, that this writer was able to find the 16 page document after the town manager told him he could search the past meeting minutes for a copy. Problem is, who would know to do that?
(E)...Unlike other beach towns, you cannot easily find "Town Ordinances" on the Town of Southern Shores website. The town has a linked marked "town ordinances", but all you will find there, if you have the patience to look, is 'new and/or amended ordinances' by date only, and without any title. Good luck with that. (Correction: EyeonDare notes that, in addition to the above, the town site does contain a Town Code link to Municode, an online publisher for municipal codes)
(F)...Unlike other beach towns, you cannot do an site "Search" on the Town of Southern Shores website. Why? To be blunt, it is the worse written and presented town website in the county, yet it is being run by the highest paid town manager and well paid staff in the county. Again, why?
(G)...Freedom of Information Act...Public Information Requests...This aspect of Southern Shores town government may be the worse of all. Getting information from the town office is not simple, and this writer knows it. Having gotten public information on many occasions from every single town in the county, including the county, this writer has never encountered the problems that exist in Southern Shores. In the other towns and the County of Dare, an email or a phone call gets quick and good results. In Southern Shores, you have to complete a printed public information request form, give your email address and phone number and go home and wait for a letter in the mail, as often as a week later, telling you to come and get the information and be prepared to pay 25 cents per sheet for it. In addition, the town staff will answer few or no questions without going to or directing you to the town manager, Peter Rascoe, who, by all appearances runs the office with an iron fist. Again, why?
(H) Social media...some, but not all beach towns have a social media Face Book page. Southern Shores has such page, but it also has a reputation of deleting comments and blocking readers who ask the wrong question. It recently deleted its own set of Face Book rules which were totally stern and has replaced them with milder guidelines, much to its credit.
There is little doubt that the Southern Shores town council and its town manager has fallen from grace with its town citizens. They have lost the trust of many people and will probably not regain it any time soon, if ever. The town, which has long been recognized as a quiet community where people got as much done by volunteering and working in community groups as it did through local government, is changing. Much of the community is getting older and most younger residents today have full time working families. The town has never been more in need of good government
Perhaps, the Town of Southern Shores really never has had good government, to begin with. Who can say? What this writer can say is, that in the 14 years he has resided in the town, it has gone through four or five mayors and four or five town managers and has proven that higher taxes and over paid staff don't necessarily get the job done. So, what will happen when election filing season rolls around next February is any body's guess.
And, will the town's streets look better after all the money is spent. If past record is any indication, the answer is "No'. Hardly a street has been paved in the town yet, where potholes and patch jobs didn't follow within months. For some reason, Southern Shores' leaders just can't seem to get capital improvement projects done correctly. History proves it. Just look at the recent canal dredging fiasco. Oh, but that's another story and the huge lawsuit hasn't even been settled yet. Ahem!