Candidates tackle civility, congestion in Southern Shores

By on October 9, 2019

Last summer, Southern Shores experimented with a traffic trial. (Kip Tabb/File photo)

 

In a municipality often known for its combative politics, the Southern Shores candidates’ forum on Oct. 7 took on a different tone as the four town council contenders fielded questions from a standing-room-only crowd — often agreeing and backing each other on some hot-button topics.

Three seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 5 municipal election, including two being vacated by incumbents Gary McDonald and Chris Nason. Vying for the spots are incumbent Fred Newberry, former Council Member Leo Holland and two newcomers — Elizabeth Morey, chair of the town’s planning board, and Matthew Neal, owner of Neal Contracting.

The election comes as the council has been wrestling with how to maintain the municipality’s low-density natural aesthetics and regulate large single-family dwellings. The new council will also be charged with launching a search for a new town manager to replace Peter Rascoe, who retired earlier this year.

Morey highlighted the recent development challenges during her opening remarks, commenting that when she first was appointed to the planning board eight years ago, “It was kind of a sleepy snooze fest of a group. In the last couple of years, needless to say, it’s been nothing like that.”

Laughter and applause broke out several times in the council meeting room as voters posed questions on topics that ranged from beach nourishment and development to affordable housing and the town’s deer population. But several issues — including civility and communication among council members and summer traffic congestion — appeared to be among the top priorities for constituents and candidates.

“Divisiveness and incivility unfortunately seem to be hallmarks, at times, of Southern Shores politics,” audience member Lorelei Costa said in questioning the candidates. “If elected, how would you work together positively with your fellow councilors, even those who you sometimes disagree?”

Saying that the issue is a theme of her campaign, Morey said that she makes it a common practice to call planning board members on the phone to talk about the issues at hand, and they can call each other.

“Why can’t we use the same model for the town council?” she asked. “Good decisions are going to come about from leaders who are in communication with each other. It’s not hard, you just need to start talking to each other. You need to not make it personal.”

Neal said he “echoed” Morey’s sentiment, adding that, “Talking to council members on issues, especially hot topic issues, before the board meeting is going to be critical. I don’t think there is anyone up here that would probably get into the baring the teeth that we might have become accustomed to.”

Holland said he too was a proponent of picking up the phone and talking over issues. “You don’t always have to agree, but at the end of the day you can still shake hands and be friends, and not ignore each other,” he said.

For his part, Newberry challenged the notion of a volatile political climate in the town. “I don’t know the perception of incivility is always the case,” he said. “Disagreeing to me is not incivility. It’s everyone’s right to speak for themselves.”

Acknowledging that he’s often been in the minority on the council over the past four years, Newberry noted that, “Just because I don’t vote with the majority doesn’t mean I am being uncivil. It means I am trying to present a different perspective.”

In response to an audience question, the council candidates also weighed in on the cut-through traffic congestion that clogs neighborhood streets over the summer weekends and has become a major sore spot with many residents.

“I think it is inexcusable that we haven’t addressed it properly,” asserted Newberry, who earlier this summer sponsored a citizens committee to examine the issue. That group is expected to come back with recommendations in December.

“People have been complaining and speaking up for many years,” Newberry continued. “This is nothing new and there are options, there are things we can do. Our streets are private.”

Holland suggested that while the council was waiting to hear about the citizens committee’s recommendations, it should consider contracting out a traffic engineer.

While acknowledging the common sentiment that since the roads belong to the town, the town should be able to control them, Neal cautioned that, “It’s a much more nuanced issue than that.” It all comes down to “budget, cost and what are you willing to sacrifice to control it,” he stated.

Morey suggested putting NCDOT “flashing signs out there at the base of the bridge that say, ‘If you want to go to Duck, it takes thirty minutes to go straight and an hour and thirty minutes if you turn left at the next light.’”

Morey also floated the idea of approaching the Dare County Tourism Board to actively engage with cottage owners to increase the number of vacation rental turnover days.

The candidates also addressed the town’s potential plans for a roughly $14 million beach nourishment project that is on the horizon, as well as the process of hiring a new town manager and the estimated $1 million contract for the walking path along S. Dogwood Trail that council is expected to consider next month.

 

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