Editorial: State Of The County Speech

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 04 February 2015 05:00

County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield delivered a "State of the County" speech Monday night, February 2nd.
He opened with a around ten minutes of recognizing leaders from the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, judges, county manager, attorney, clerk to the board, his pastor and the over 1,700 county employees. Even former county commissioners including his father.
He basically recognized everyone from the Board of Commissioners down to the new guy in the county parks and recreation department or janitorial staff, but didn't recognize elected council members from the beach Towns.
Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth said he caught up with Barfield at a luncheon on Tuesday and gave him a little feedback on the lack of recognition and said Barfield played it down and claimed he was reading from a prepared list.
Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox was sitting in the same row near fellow councilman Steve Shuttleworth. One row up was Kure Beach Mayor Pro Tem Craig Bloszinsky. They clapped their hands each time someone else was recognized.
Barfield then delivered an address that began with a history of the area's growth over the decades and talked about their efforts working - largely with Wilmington - to create job growth, improving education opportunities and preparing children for the future, managing landfill waste, construction growth, work on continuing film incentives, rebuilding infrastructure and other standard tasks commonly taken on by local governments.
He did mention the beach towns when referencing efforts to help fund beach nourishment and inlet dredging projects including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach.
Perhaps one of the evident 500-pound dragons in the room was a disagreement between Barfield and former Chairman Woody White. White has been critical about the County's spending policy for commissioners. Barfield doesn't think it's an issue. White wanted to respond to Barfield's speech via a video taped response on the County's TV channel, but was told that wouldn't be allowed.
Barfield talked about the County being accountable and good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, but immediately following the speech, he welcomed the audience of people who each earn a very comfortable annual income to dine on the taxpayers’ dime during a reception.
This follows previous reports of expensive dinners by both elected leaders and staff members which led to questions about addressing an overall spending policy.
Barfield initially said that issue wasn't on his radar when discussing budget planning. A new policy was presented late last month which included limits for staff, but not for county commissioners.
WECT News Channel Six previously uncovered situations where expensive steak dinners were charged to the County for the County Manager and Commissioners at high-priced restaurants while visiting Washington D.C.
Prior to Monday's speech, White issued a statement that appeared on the County's website. White explained, "I look forward to hearing the address from Chairman Barfield tonight at 6:00.   In drafting his view of the “State of the County” he sought no input from his colleagues about issues such as Commissioner spending, the travel policy, growing debt and spending.  And while I am sure that some of his comments will be shared by everyone, the issues of Commissioner spending, growth of our county budget and borrowing practices are important, and should be given attention.  I hope he will address them.   But if not, later this week, I will issue a videotaped message that addresses these fiscal issues important to our citizens’ future."
White explained, "There is tremendous value in elected officials speaking about issues important to the citizens.  But I do not agree that tax dollars should have been used  for private catering services and printed invitations for the Chairman’s speech.  The costs of this extravagance are likely to be over $1,000.   For money to be spent in such a manner is not responsible and reflects a larger disregard of fiscal restraint and good stewardship of the taxpayer’s hard earned money."
Towards the end of Barfield's speech, it was almost as if the beach towns didn't exist. Barfield's closing statement was, "May God bless the City of Wilmington. May God bless New Hanover County, the State of North Carolina and the great country of the United States of America. Thank you all for being here tonight" and, "Please joy us downstairs for a reception."
This lack of recognition follows a long-time perception by some elected leaders in Carolina Beach and Kure Beach that they aren't taken seriously by the County on equal footing.
Carolina Beach Mayor Dan Wilcox said Tuesday that, "It reinforces a mindset of many that we are not taken seriously by the County." Wilcox said he doesn't really care about the lack of recognition, but sitting in the audience in front of Barfield and signing in when entering the meeting just didn't make sense when none of those municipal leaders were recognized.
During the 2014 election season, local leaders from the three beach towns met with candidates for New Hanover County Commission seats and expressed a desire to improve the relationship with county leaders and staff explaining there were times when communication was an issue.
We appreciate what the County has done for the beach towns with regards to beach and inlet maintenance, helping to fund a new boardwalk in Carolina Beach, but perhaps they should remember we're down here paying county taxes, generating room occupancy taxes, rather high property values and rather than mentioning us briefly in the middle of the speech, next time we can be recognized in the opening and the ending of the speech.
To be honest, our beaches and waterways are one of the primary reasons people move here to begin with.
This is not simply an issue of hearing our respective leader's names called out with people clapping in the audience, it's about a larger theme, we're all part of what makes New Hanover County a great place to live. And don't forget, we've got some really nice pricey restaurants that serve up some wonderful steaks, so bring the county-charge card! (Joking...!)

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