After lawsuit, Currituck removes CCA members from advisory boards

By on August 14, 2019

Commissioner Paul Beaumont compared the occupancy tax case to ‘suing your boss.’

On May 7, the Corolla Civic Association (CCA) and 23 other signatories filed suit against Currituck County. The suit alleges that the county had for years failed to allocate funds collected from occupancy tax “…only for tourism-related expenditures, including beach nourishment,” as specified in the 2004 law allowing the county to collect an occupancy tax.

At a May 20 meeting of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Paul Beaumont made a motion to remove any member of the CCA, as well as anyone had who signed the complaint and their spouses, from any county advisory board.

“I don’t know if it’s strictly applicable, but it’s like suing your boss. I’ve got a problem with that,” he said at the time.

County Attorney Ike McRee told the board that members of advisory boards serve at the pleasure of the commissioners, adding that, “Now you have persons who are serving on advisory boards…who have decided to take on litigation against the county and this very board of commissioners…The other concern is that to the extent that any of these advisory boards would be perhaps meeting with county staff, they perhaps have information that might be of assistance… to their litigation, I think that is something to be concerned about as well.”

The motion passed unanimously.

On June 3, Clerk to the Board of Commissioners Leeann Walton sent a letter to all advisory board chairs “…requesting each of you to reach out to your membership to inquire and notify me of any individuals who serve on their respective Boards that also belong to the Corolla Civic Association.”

The civil action filed by the CCA and others, and the subsequent response by the Board of Commissioners, is part of a long-simmering dispute over the allocation of occupancy tax funds to the Currituck Outer Banks. As the county has spent the revenue collected from the occupancy tax, the CCA has consistently called foul, citing the language in the 2004 law.

In the lawsuit the CCA contends that the county has taken a broad view of “tourism-related expenditures” using the funds to build the largely vacant Maple Commerce Park next to the Currituck County Airport, develop park and recreational facilities on the mainland away from tourist areas, and pay for police and EMS services. The complaint also alleges that contrary to law, occupancy revenue has been deposited into the county’s General Fund.

The county did not respond to a request for comment on its interpretation of the 2004 law concerning occupancy taxes.

While the board appears to have the legal authority to remove CCA members from county boards, some CCA members and plaintiffs in the lawsuit question the wisdom and the motivation behind it.

Although not currently a CCA member, Bryan Daggett was one of the 23 Corolla residents signing the lawsuit. Until recently, he had been a member of the Stormwater Advisory Board.

“My sense is that the commissioners were upset and tried to show their power and displeasure by removing people from advisory boards,” Daggett said. “Their actions however strike me as short-sighted and reactionary versus thoughtful, logical, rational.”

His view is echoed by Barb Marzetti, President of the CCA, who until recently was the Vice Chair of the Ocean Sands Water and Sewer District Advisory Board and the Ocean Sands and Crown Point Stormwater Advisory Board. She also sat on the Currituck County Land Use Plan Steering Committee as the Corolla representative.

She said that the commissioners’ actions have gutted the advisory boards, creating a vacuum that may have long-term effects.

“The four, out of seven total, Stormwater Advisory Board members who were removed had cumulatively spent well over one thousand hours working on this project,” she said. “It’s quite disheartening and discouraging to have spent countless hours on projects related specifically to the neighborhood we live in… and then be banned from seeing the project through to completion,” she added.

Her husband Al, who had been a member of the Stormwater Advisory Board, notes that the members of the CCA and advisory board members are often the people working hardest for their community.

During his remarks during at the May 20 commissioners meeting, Commissioner Beaumont stressed that the decision to remove CCA members and plaintiffs from the advisory boards “is not an attempt to squelch First Amendment rights and freedom and speech…as Americans, we have the right to criticize those that serve us.”

But Barb Marzetti asserted that the board’s decision does impinge on certain rights.

“This current ban sets an extremely dangerous precedent,” she said. “We believe that the county did not do a very good job of evaluating the potential constitutional issues entailed in this ban as it is not simply a free speech issue, although the county appears inclined to stifle the speech of those who take viewpoints opposing theirs. It is more an issue of impinging on the freedom of association in its effort to compel allegiance to the county point of view.”

Update: After the Voice deadline, the Currituck County Public Information Officer emailed this response from County Attorney Ike McRee to the question about how the county interprets the 2004 law regarding occupancy taxes. “The  Occupancy Tax Act provides that that ‘tourist-related expenditures’ are “expenditures that, in the judgment of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners, are designed to increase the use of lodging facilities, meeting facilities, recreational facilities, and convention facilities in a county by attracting tourists or business travelers to the county.  The plain language of the Occupancy Tax Act gives the  Currituck County Board of Commissioners discretion to determine what constitutes “tourism-related expenditures” and the Currituck County Board of Commissioners has exercised its judgment and discretion in accordance with law.”

Recent posts in this category

Recent posts in this category

14
Leave a Reply

9 Comment threads
5 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
10 Comment authors

Currituck was a poor county until the money started coming in from visitors.

Spoonyrae

All the more reason to use the money to provide services for the visitors

102

Folks, it ain’t rocket science. Call for a freedom of information to see where the money is funneled. The north beach has been funding the rest of the county for years

Spoonyrae

Why doesn’t some one actually post the legislation as written for the public to read? I think it is a good thing to use the tax to fund law enforcement, lifeguards, and EMS, just think what your tax rate would be if it wasn’t used to offset the added expense of providing the essential services without it. If they win lawsuit, that means huge property tax increase on everyone in Currituck.

Richard

I don’t think this will help in litigation. It seems retaliatory and might open the Board up to more trouble, not less. And does seem to be a blow against freedom of speech, which is protected speech when it comes to government. I don’t think government is only Federal, but I may be wrong on that.

Irate Pirate

Currituck County officials have a history of vindictive behavior against citizens who do not toe the line, or speak out against certain actions.

Nothing shocking here.

Island Style

The motion passed unanimously. Enough said.

vince manganella

just out of curiosity, how much money is at stake here?

Bonnie Schweppe

This is disgusting. Talk about biting off the hand that feeds you. Once the beach is eroded enough and tourists go elsewhere, you can kiss the revenue stream goodbye. Spend the money the way it was intended for chrissakes! Stop spending it illegally and there wouldn’t be a lawsuit!

Lee

So why is the commissioners so worried about the advisory board members meeting with county employees. They might have information that could help their law suit!! That tells me there is something very wrong here. So you are telling me our county employees have information that could prove right from wrong on this and you want to hide it as much as possible. I guess freedom of information is something county employees should not be involved with. My god my fellow Currituck county citizens we need to come together and drain the swamp and to our newly elected commissioners I… Read more »

Bonnie Schweppe

I agree. This is unbelievable

Czarina

What juvenile commissioners! They have now shown their true colors so hopefully voters can make good decisions at the next election.

Bonnie Schweppe

Exactly!

Island Style

Yes, we will vote for them again. They are doing what we voted for them to do. Protect the interest’s of the entire county. Not a few people that think everything is for them only. This is not the first time people from Corolla and Carova have raised this as an issue.