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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials Editorial: Don't Assume The Worst When Involving The Public

Editorial: Don't Assume The Worst When Involving The Public

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

I recently wrote an editorial questioning the process used by Carolina Beach Mayor Bob Lewis and Council to form a Boardwalk Committee to help fashion the Boardwalk Improvement Project.
In short, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted August 19th, to approve of a $500,000 grant to the Town of Carolina Beach for a $1.6 million dollar Boardwalk improvement project. That project will replace and expand the existing wooden oceanfront boardwalk with wider walkways, new seating areas and many other park related amenities including a splash pad for the kids. That's excellent news, but the entire process has been light on soliciting public participation. I'm on the Town's email list and ran a search of emails notifying the public of meetings of the "Boardwalk Improvement Committee." I found two.
That was basically the opener to my editorial published August 21st. Later on the Town sent out a notice of a Boardwalk Committee meeting on September 5th. Lewis forwarded the email notice to me stating, "This would be good for the next accusation that we are leaving people out of the process."
I responded, "It wasn't an accusation. :-)  And I think it's great that you are sending out notices to candidates and the public.  I'll be there."
Lewis responded and the part that struck me as odd was his statement, "I am not talking about you in your editorial you clearly have a different philosophy than I do and what you consider the appropriate time for a public hearing is much different than mine. If I had requested a public hearing in February when we tossed around the idea your editorial would of said why would the Mayor and Council bring something like this forward.  They do not have a plan, they do not have funding, it sounds like they plan to push the town $1.5 million in debt or more, why not get the funding first. Because we took a different business oriented approach of get the funding first and then finalize an implementation plan you take me and the council to task.  I am fine with if I say white you say black it sells papers."
I'll keep this short.
Don't assume you know what other people think, especially what I may or may not write. Your assertion indicates you wanted to put together a project, get the funding and then ask the public for their input. That's your chosen approach. I'm not out to get you. I think the project is great. But in the spirit of engaging the public to participate in their local government, a hearing in February would have been nice. And by the way, your email just told us why you didn't request a hearing in February, because you assumed the worst with regards to public opinion.
As a businessman you should appreciate the practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance.
In public service it's called public participation.

The following is the previous editorial the Mayor was referencing...

Editorial: Boardwalk Improvement Project Excellent News, But...

The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted Monday morning August 19th, to approve of a $500,000 grant to the Town of Carolina Beach for a Boardwalk improvement project. That project will replace and expand the existing wooden oceanfront boardwalk with wider walkways, new seating areas and many other park related amenities including a splash pad for the kids.
That's excellent news, but the entire process has been light on soliciting public participation.
I'm on the Town's email list and ran a search of emails notifying the public of meetings of the "Boardwalk Improvement Committee."
I found two.
Just as with the proposed community pool, public participation is key to any successful government project.
Open house events, workshops and other outreach methods always serve to enforce a project based on the participation process.
This is an excellent project and holding more public hearings ensures that people don't look back on a project and feel left out of a process they would have appreciated being involved in.
And yes, the idea has been talked about at prior Council meetings, but the most notable was Mayor Lewis showing some ideas such as splash pads and boardwalks in other cities.   
And Mayor Lewis wrote to County Commission Chairman Woody White last week that, "Yes despite statements to the contrary this project has been discussed repeatedly and vetted at several past council meetings over the past 6-7 months. Council has formed an ad hoc committee that is comprised of 20 community residents. These residents come form a wide cross section of the community, business owners in the immediate boardwalk area, members of Step Up for Solider's, The Island Womens Group, residents at large, a local architect, Chamber of Commerce members and of course town Staff. The vast majority of feedback we have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive on the need to repair, replace and upgrade the existing structure.  Since February of this year council has been working with the State of North Carolina to secure Water Resources and CAMA grants to make this project a reality.  Since this project was not costed into our previous or the current town budget we did our due diligence working to secure grants before coming to the county for this request.  If we gain your approval we will hold a public hearing prior to moving forward with this project. This project is also important to those organizations who support individuals with disabilities.  For individuals with disabilities we will be providing 10' wide beach access at 11 locations and a 18' wide boardwalk promenade with recessed seating so individuals with wheelchairs and their families can now more easily utilize the boardwalk for their enjoyment."
The $3,000 renderings of the project will certainly be helpful at any future public hearing. Yet holding a public hearing at this point with an eye on starting and completing the project in the upcoming off-season will serve more as an informational meeting than a public participation process.
One question comes to mind; does the Town have accurate cost estimates? They are still finalizing the designs for the project. Still have to solicit bids for the project. The cost could be more than the $1.5 million that has been quoted by the Mayor.  
There's still work to be done to obtain permits from the Division of Coastal Management. That can take two or three months to complete.
Council should not rush to get it done, but rush to get it done right.