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Sunset Beach still seeking new town administrator

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH — Ten months after a majority of town council voted to fire the former town administrator, the town is still pursuing a search for a new permanent administrator.

Following a closed session to discuss the search at the start of council’s first monthly meeting for 2019 Monday night, Mayor Greg Weiss said “no decisions have been made about any of the candidates at this point.”

The town launched the search following the 3-2 firing of Susan Parker last March 5. Town planning director Hiram Marziano has been serving as interim administrator since March 13.

Last October, Parker filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the town and councilman Richard Cerrato, citing defamation and libel and emotional distress. The suit cites Parker’s effort to address workplace violence after a confrontation between Cerrato and then council candidate Charlie Nern at a town meeting Oct. 17, 2017.

In connection with that, Cerrato read a statement Monday night regarding the town’s proposed “workplace violence prevention and safety policy” and asked that the matter be deferred.

“Why do we have a policy to fix something that was never proved to be a problem or a recurring problem?” Cerrato read.

He said evidence needs to be determined to justify “what we are trying to fix without exposing the town to potential legal jeopardy.”

Councilman Charlie Nern responded, “This started with Mr. Cerrato’s outburst at a meeting and it carried on from there. We’ve gone over this time and time again. This is in the interest of our employees making sure they’re safe. I won’t go into all the past but I could.”

During public comment resident Bob Tone questioned the town’s proposed workplace violence and safety policy stipulating “an armed town police officer” to be in attendance at every meeting of Sunset Beach Town Council.

“I want to know if we employed any unarmed police officers in this town,” he said. “It seems redundant to say ‘armed’ and seems like a scare tactic. The assumption would be they are armed.”

He wondered who is going to do safety training for town employees and whether that person will be certified. He asked whether “violence” and “safety” are two separate animals and need to be addressed that way.

Weiss said council will look at the policy again in order to answer questions.

Police Chief Ken Klamar also responded the town does not have any unarmed officers.

Council members agreed to add the topic to the agenda for discussion at their next meeting at 9 a.m. next Tuesday, Jan. 15, and to vote on it at their Feb. 4 meeting, as suggested by Mayor Pro Tem Mark Benton. Weiss said there will be an opportunity to discuss revisions he made to the original draft, followed by review by Town Attorney Grady Richardson.

Councilman John Corbett favored addressing the issues Tone raised.

Main Street parking

Council voted 5-0 at the Jan. 7 meeting to have Marziano contact the North Carolina Department of Transportation regarding what the town “can and cannot do” regarding parking and swales on Main Street.

Marziano said, “We’re going to go to DOT and ask them to get rid of parking on Main Street, basically, is what people want to know if we can do.”

He said if that involves NCDOT performing studies to determine safety issues, “we may not have that information back, since they have to budget those kind of studies,” he said. “It may be too late in their year to budget for next year.”

He asked council to delay consideration on the matter until he can get information from NCDOT, which council agreed to.

“They may not allow us to do anything,” Cerrato said. “It’s their road.”

Bobinski dies

Nern noted former councilman Bob Bobinski died Dec. 25.

Bobinski also served as chairman and a member of the town Alcoholic Beverage Control board and was credited for his efforts in getting the town ABC store where it is today.

“He was a true gentleman and he will be missed,” Nern said.

Dogs and owners                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Nern and Corbett complained about people allowing their dogs to freely roam Sunset Beach Town Park and the beach.

“Please do not let your pets do their business in town flower beds in the town park,” Nern said. “I’m a dog lover. There are no bad dogs but there are inconsiderate owners.”

Corbett said the beach is “wide open” with lots of dogs running loose and “doing their business” with owners not picking up behind them.

“Probably 90 percent of people who take their dogs out there do so responsibly, but still a good 10 percent by my estimate are letting dogs go loose and not picking up after their dogs,” he said.

Town audit

Cerrato expressed concern the town has not yet had an audit review of its budget. Marziano said “one is coming” but was delayed because of Hurricane Florence and auditors dealing with other customers.

Town finance director Tara Eatman confirmed that and said the town got permission from the Local Government Commission to extend the deadline to Jan. 31. She said the actual audit won’t be done before February.

Cerrato said his anxiety is having the audit done before council launches into the annual budgetary process for fiscal year 2019-20.

“We have to understand what the reserve balance is,” he said, citing an additional $700,000 for sidewalks and undetermined stormwater costs next year. He said the town also has to be mindful about money set aside for the dredging program and whether it will be financing payments for impacted owners.

“We need to make sure we have all things wrapped up and know where we stand financially,” he said.

“We’ll know where we stand going into all of that,” Eatman said.

Jaguar’s Lair

In response to Cerrato, Marziano said infrastructure delays in Jaguar’s Lair include permit delays for the work.

“As far as I’m concerned, as long as it took the state to get them the permit, they didn’t get the permit at the time they were hoping to get it,” he said. “It took six months.”

He said it’s the same with the county regarding the unfinished development’s sewer system.

“Certain dates allow extended periods not defined in there,” Marziano said. “They should have the same amount of time it took to get the permit for the (town’s) deadline. If they fail it means we go back to court.” 

“They have delayed this for years,” Cerrato said.

Living shoreline project

Marziano cited progress on the town’s living shoreline project. The deadline for grant money is February and the town finally got its Coastal Area Management Act permit Dec. 19, he said.

Oyster domes were to be delivered this past Tuesday, Jan. 8, and the area will be staked off with surveyors to follow by Jan. 16. Construction will begin Jan. 17 for oyster shells placement by volunteers.

Marziano said the North Carolina Coastal Federation will announce it’s waiting for CAMA and work has to be done at low tide.

“The Coastal Federation believes (work) can be done in the next few weeks,” he said. “Hopefully it will make our report for the grant.”

Weiss said recent research is promising.

“It shows living shorelines are stronger than traditional use of bulkheads and other methods, so it’s exciting we’re on the ball with that one that may have great future promise,” he said.

FEMA, recycling expense

Marziano said he’ll be meeting soon with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to “hopefully get reimbursement for all expenses from (Hurricane) Florence,” he said.

During her report, Eatman said Waste Industries recently had to change its contract with a recycling source and rates are going up March 1, which will cost the town about $1,200.

Corbett wondered whether the town should absorb the increase, which Marziano said is “up to y’all.” He said rates will be re-evaluated by the town in August and proposed into the year going forward. Eatman said the pending increase amounts to about $1 per customer.

Dredging costs

Eatman outlined an expense analysis of dredging.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, the town has spent $155,374.13; received $221,912 from the grant and is due to receive $28,932 in grant funds with the next requisition for a total of $406,218.13.

January expenses so far are for design feasibility and not construction, Eatman said.

Access, sidewalk work

Town public works director Dustin Graham said repairs to the Second Street beach access is nearly complete.

He met last Friday with a contractor about Main Street sidewalk construction. He said the town is looking to get started with a surveyor this week. Once that’s done, work will get under way and proceed west.

Anyone with a driveway where work is proceeding will not be able to drive across for seven days while the concrete is curing, Graham said. Benton said affected people need to be notified. Graham said he just found out Friday and they will alert homeowners, a number of whom are absentee.

In response to Cerrato, Graham said the contractor is responsible for moving and replacing mailboxes if necessary. Marziano said mailboxes are in the parking lane and not the sidewalk area. The only reason for moving them would be for equipment, he said.

In response to Harris, Graham said work will not affect swales.

Lights, stormwater, break-ins, appointment

Graham said work is under way painting light poles on the island and that Brunswick Electric Membership Corp. will change LED lighting at its own expense.

Town stormwater manager Rich Baker said the town is moving forward with stormwater projects with assistance from the public works department. He said work on Japonica Lane has been delayed due to rain and saturation.

Klamar said during his report there have been reports of break-ins, including an island owner who discovered entry at a home while away.

“If you see something, say something,” Klamar said. “Call 911 about anything suspicious.”

Council voted 4-1 to proceed with hiring a company to replace town lights with LEDs. Benton, who did a survey, said the cost with the G&G company is $3,000 less than his company and that lights will last about 19 years without having to be replaced. If there’s a problem he said the company will do repair work for free.

Cerrato voted against the measure after saying he thought the issue should be addressed during council’s annual budget review process. Harris had an issue with only one contractor bidding.

Council voted 4-1 to appoint John Cook to a vacant seat on the town fireman’s relief fund board with a term expiration of January 2021. Marziano said Cook has close to 40 years experience in fire service and also serves as fire marshal for the town. Cerrato asked why the town eliminated the interview process with council.

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.