Editorial: Town's Hiding Behind Legal Walls On Boardwalk Extension

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 16 September 2015 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

A couple of weeks ago I submitted a public records request to the Town of Carolina Beach.
That request stated, "Has the Town submitted a new application for a variance to construct the Boardwalk Extension? What is the deadline to file for the variance and at what time is a CRC [Coastal Resources Commission] meeting scheduled to hear the Town's request? If the Town hasn't filed, I would like to see the draft of that document to date."
Here's the response I received from the Town's attorney Charlotte Noel Fox who wrote, "In response to your request: the Town has not submitted a new application for a variance.  The deadline for filing any application is 6 weeks prior to the scheduled CRC. NCGS 132-1.9(h) (2) restricts access to materials that are generated in anticipation of legal proceedings before state administrative agencies. Therefore, if drafts existed, you would not be permitted access to them at this time."
All I asked to see was a draft of the variance request I already know they are going to submit requesting a variance from state coastal regulations to extend the downtown ocean front wooden boardwalk 800 feet to the north.
 They withdrew their last request for a variance when it became apparent the State Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) was not likely to vote in favor of it and they would not be able to return with the same request at a later date. They planned to return to the CRC on April 29th and 30th, to ask again. That didn't happen. So they waited and are now in the process of secretly composing another variance request to be submitted for consideration by the CRC at their  November 18th and 19th meetings.
I'm sure the public will be interested the Town has had numerous months to prepare the documents but still wishes to keep them secret. Is the Town worried about anyone seeing this information while they conduct the "public's" business? Evidently. Transparency in government is paramount and when a local government decides to hide something as simple as a request to a state agency to extend a wooden boardwalk, obviously the curtains have been pulled closed and the windows painted black at Town Hall to keep it a secret.
Someone needs to step in, open the curtains and the let the sun shine in.
Another person requested records of expenses related to this variance request and they were denied. The Town said they're not required to "create" a record that doesn't exist. Unless I'm mistaken, there are things called receipts and invoices. Those are created so other people can get paid. And I'm quite sure those records already exist at Town Hall.
Why the run-around?
I guess the Coastal Resources Commission looks fondly upon those governments that keep their citizens in the dark simply because a group of property owners disagrees with their request for a variance and are trying to use their limited resources to oppose that request. They don't have the same legal budget as the Town. 
It was not a problem getting information early before the first variance request. Why is it a problem now?
The Town Council should hold a public hearing and release the information to the public prior to filing the variance with the CRC and let the public weigh in on the issue. Let the public see the variance request and all supporting information in advance, schedule a public hearing and then let Council make a final decision by a public vote whether or not they wish to proceed.
Justify the expense and reasoning behind the request before moving forward. Let the public know how you're going to speak for them before you do it.

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