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It looks as if some officials in Calabash may have been trying to pull the wool over their constituents’ eyes.
First, the board of commissioners illegally went into closed session March 8, when it discussed the possibility of purchasing property from commissioner Bill Dixon, who was present for the discussion. The board failed to publicly identify the property location and who owned it.
Not only did the board go into closed session improperly, Dixon violated the town’s code of ethics by participating in the property purchase discussion.
If that weren’t appalling enough, the town went on to further aggravate the situation by refusing to release minutes from that meeting, and then when it did, the printed minutes were not a true and accurate representation of the full scope of what went on behind closed doors.
Further, town attorney Mark Lewis claimed in a statement the board “inadvertently became involved in a brief discussion” about acquisition of real property.
However, upon further investigation, the Beacon discovered board members knew in advance they were going to discuss property. According to a March 4 memo written by interim town administrator/town clerk Kelley Southward, board members were told, “There might be a prime piece of property coming on the market at a great price that the board should be made aware of.”
Calabash residents, are you seeing red yet? If not, you should be.
The Beacon filed a public records request last month for documents that should have included this memo; however, when pushed for an answer this week, Southward said she didn’t include it because she doesn’t “typically keep their closed-session memos.”
It appears Ms. Southward and other Calabash officials don’t quite understand N.C. General Statute 143.318.10(e), which she cited as a reason why she doesn’t keep those memos. The law indicates the minutes should be “released” once doing so no longer frustrates the purpose of the closed session. It doesn’t give an OK to destroy or dispose of them.
As a matter of fact, N.C. G.S. 132-3(a) specifically indicates that public records should not be destroyed except in accordance with state statute. Arbitrarily getting rid of memos doesn’t adhere to the law, and doing so is considered a crime.
This memo, we argue and our press attorney agrees, is clearly a public record—just like all others—and should not have been destroyed, deleted or discarded.
Ms. Southward may recall Linda Hercane, Carolina Shores town administrator, was taken to court when it was initially reported she had deleted town emails, also public records. Doing so, by state statute, is a misdemeanor offense.
Here at the Beacon we regularly go up against local governments, challenging them to be clear and transparent. While we can fill pages of newsprint on these issues, real change won’t come until you—the constituents—voice your concerns and outrage to the people doing these misdeeds.
We don’t think this property acquisition debacle is uncommon. Based on what we’ve found so far, we can’t help but wonder how frequently Calabash does business just like this.
Remember citizens, when they’re hiding behind closed doors discussing things they deem to be “controversial,” they’re hiding town business from you and using your tax dollars to do so.
Is that how you want your town run? We can’t wait until this November…