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May 2024 Town Board Meeting
Statements called rumors, and how about an outdoor movie?
May 28, 2024

M
ay’s Town Board meeting was only about an hour long, but did have some excitement – without Commissioners present. During a closed session at the end of the meeting, several audience members got into a heated discussion about Commissioner Bonnie Crosser’s behavior toward town staff and current and former Commissioners.

Thirty residents attended. All commissioners and the mayor were present: Commissioners Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Frank Roe, Breena Litzenberger, Bonnie Crosser, and Mayor Sally Belangia. town hall sign

Also in attendance were Town Manager Diane Miller, Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox, Officer Nic Blayney, and Town Attorney Scott Davis.

This was the second evening meeting since Commissioners voted to change the meeting times to 6p. Commissioners are evaluating whether the time change brings in more attendees. If – after six months – it does, then the evening meeting time will remain.

TownDock.net records all meetings, and writes the report from that recording.

Public Comments lead to Public Quarrel
Three residents signed up to speak during public comments. Several more raised their hands to speak after. When Commissioners left the room for a closed session with the Town Attorney on other matters, a quarrel broke out between some of the speakers.

Roger Huth spoke first, reading from a prepared statement.

Huth has spoken at several prior town meetings. He’s a certified fraud investigator and has repeatedly questioned the validity of the financial liaison position, asking Commissioners to respond to his questions submitted via email. Only Commissioners Overcash, Roe and Litzenberger responded in full.

At the May meeting, Huth asked for:
• the Board recognize Commissioner Crosser’s actions should have been vetted by the whole Board, and they led to the loss of key staff.

• steps showing how the Board will hold Commissioner Crosser accountable and how they will keep this from happening again.

• acknowledgement that Crosser’s public admonishment of another Commissioner was inappropriate. At the end of April’s Meeting, Crosser had crossed the dais, confronting Litzenberger for questioning why Crosser had changed the financial format without consulting other board members. Crosser reportedly said “Listen here, young lady,” before attempting to scold her.

Huth said Crosser, “has demonstrated a pattern of behavior of repeated attempts to bully and disrespect fellow commissioners and shown an unwillingness to collaborate with some members of the Board.” It was his professional opinion that Crosser’s actions “appear to have been in retaliation against Tammy Cox for refusing to allow Mrs. Crosser to circumvent accounting and procurement policies.”

Prior to her position as Commissioner, Deputy Finance Officer Cox stopped Crosser from being improperly reimbursed for an unauthorized purchase, and from purposely putting funds into the wrong year of the Parks and Recreation account.

Huth closed his statements saying Crosser should resign, and the “Board has a responsibility to fix what is broken and keep this from happening again so this town can move forward.”

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At the podium, Richard Lambert (husband of Commissioner Bonnie Crosser) makes a pointed comment at Roger Huth. Huth has just finished speaking at Public comments on Crosser’s actions as an elected official.

Richard Lambert, husband of Commissioner Bonnie Crosser, spoke next.

“Commissioner Overcash initiated a meeting saying our roads were such a major problem for us, brought the town together, Kellenberger gave his third presentation on the condition of our roads. That was six months ago. Nothing has been done in six months.” Lambert said the coming budget needed to be used to repair the town’s roads.

Commissioner Charlie Overcash responded during Commissioner Comments. He said he and Commissioner Frank Roe have been looking into different contractors and options for repaving roads, including contacting the paver for the roads at River Dunes last year. That paver came back with a quote for $3.1 million dollars, Overcash said.

The town doesn’t have millions to spend. Instead, said Overcash, “we had talked about using some of the capital reserve for this, maybe $250,000.” He requested a scope of work for that amount. The paver has not responded after repeated requests. “We are actively trying to get our roads fixed. It’s just hard and expensive to get anybody to do the job.”

Overcash said he is still attempting to work with the paver, but not many will come out this far for a small job.

Manager Miller said the Town had been trying to work with Barnhill Paving to see if they had any jobs nearby that Oriental could piggyback off of, and save part of the mobilization fee (a cost of approximately $25,000).

Mayor Belangia asked if anyone else wished to speak. Several raised their hands.

Judith Smith expressed her disappointment that a letter sent to Commissioners after the April Board Meeting was not read aloud. That letter was from Martin Spratt about his denied rezoning near Dolphin Point.

Smith said Spratt had written that the meeting was out of control and his representative was made to feel unsafe by the audience.

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Judith Smith criticized the Board for not reading aloud an email sent by Martin Spratt, who was denied a rezoning request for his multi-acre site near Dolphin Point.

Smith then repeated statements she made at past meetings about Commissioner Litzenberger (whom she referred to only as Commissioner) spreading misinformation by meeting with the public. [Litzenberger met publicly with Dolphin Point residents about the potential rezoning to explain the rezoning process and hear their concerns.]

Smith ended her time saying “fraud is sometimes bad,” and “I just want to say that I’m for the financial liaison position and I’m against these people being whipped up with misinformation.”

Ann Rost spoke next. She said she attended the same April meeting as her neighbor (referring to Judith Smith). “I think that there’s a lot of people who have strong feelings, that there was a lot of strong feelings there, but I didn’t see this group of people or anybody out there do anything that I would think was anything other than express an opinion.”

Angie Propst co-owner of Mariner Realty, said she had been on a lot of different committees.

“There’s different voting groups that have gotten everybody in there. And my experience is, the more diversity you have, and you have people coming from different areas, the better solutions you’ll have. The worst thing you can have is everybody agree on everything without any discussion.”

Propst thanked Commissioners for “seeming to pull it back in together where everybody’s working.”

Joann Reid said Commissioners and the Town should thank Commissioner Crosser for the work she has done, launching into an anecdote about an unnamed municipality that did not have a budget. [Oriental has and passes a complete budget every year.] Reid thanked Crosser for planting flowers in the parks.

Towards the end of the meeting, Commissioners went into a closed session with the Town Manager and the Town’s Attorney.

When Commissioners left the room
Attendees were free to stay or leave. Several stayed in the room to talk.

Though Commissioners were gone, a recorder was still running. While there is cross-talk and noise on the audio recording, several statements could be heard clearly. TownDock was also in the room, taking notes in real time.

Judith Smith approached Roger Huth, along with Butch Rasmussen, Richard Lambert, Joann Reid, and Jennifer Pawlikowski.

Smith questioned Huth’s credentials as a Fraud Investigator, saying she and others could not find them.[Huth has since provided his credentials to both Commissioners and the Mayor via email.] Smith criticized Huth’s public comments about Commissioner Crosser’s behavior. Huth said, “I’m dealing with facts.”

Employees have quit, and stated why. Is that a rumor?
Huth added he was open to more facts if they existed. Lambert called Huth’s facts “comments, innuendos, rumors…” Huth asked for specifics and Lambert said, “like the rumor that the Coxes are leaving because of the financial liaison.”

The ‘rumor’, Huth said, came directly from Drew Cox – when he said why he was leaving. Lambert said, “why would somebody take [unintelligible] both jobs, and move their children to new schools because of the financial liaison position?”

Huth they were leaving because Crosser retaliated against the Coxes.

Drew Cox, in a February interview with TownDock, said the final straw was “the fact that I’m on a salary position and they have issues about me taking my son to school.” It was not the financial liaison position itself; it was Crosser’s behavior as the liaison.

Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox had remained in the room when Commissioners left, and was listening. When her family (Drew Cox is her husband) was discussed, she stepped forward to answer Lambert herself.

“When somebody has a problem with me taking my kid to school and I’m on salary – my kid gets dropped off at 7:30. Town Hall doesn’t open up until 8. I’ve not missed one meeting, one day. I live here most of the time.” Lambert raised his voice to talk over Cox. “No discussion,” she replied. “There should have been no discussion about me taking my kids to school.”

Cox was nearly in tears when Officer Blayney pulled her away, and did leave the meeting crying after Commissioners returned from closed session.

The encounter with Huth, Lambert, and the Finance Officer is here. Headphones are recommended.


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Ann Rost, accepting her newly appointed position to the Board of Adjustment.
New Appointee to the Board of Adjustment
Former Board of Adjustment member Pappy Khouri is moving away from Oriental, leaving a vacancy on the Board.

Commissioners unanimously appointed Ann Rost to the position. Commissioner Roe asked if, given her background and experience, she would serve on the Planning Board. Rost said she was happy to serve where needed, but there were no open position on the Planning Board. Rost has thirty years legal experience and managed a mid-sized law firm for twenty years.

The Board of Adjustment does not have a regular meeting schedule; they meet as needed.

Public Hearing set for changes to the Growth Management Ordinance
Oriental’s Planning Board forwarded a request to Commissioners to set a hearing for updates to the town’s Growth Management Ordinance (GMO).

Town is legally required by the state the update the GMO to language compliant with North Carolina General Statute 160D. The statute combines city and county statutes on development regulations (General Statute Chapters 153A and 160A) into one chapter, eliminating inconsistencies.

The Town hired the League of Municipalities to help with the conversion and language.

Changes to the Special Use Permit Process As the GMO is undergoing changes, Commissioners have also asked the Planning Board to revisit the Special Use Permitting process. As it stands, the process puts the burden of proof – to prove an SUP request should not be granted – on the neighboring property owners, rather than the applicant provide proof their request will not harm the surrounding areas.

Most municipalities in North Carolina put the burden on the applicant.

This is a sticking point where Short Term Rentals (STRs) are concerned. SUPs are required for short term rentals in R2 and R3 districts – mainly in the older parts of Oriental. STRs are allowable by Land Use Permit in Mixed Use areas, as those zones allow for both Commercial and Residential uses. There are no short term rentals allowed in R1 areas – single family home neighborhoods like Dolphin Point and the area around Link Lane.

Commissioner Allen Price disagrees with the change, saying it takes away the right of people to do as they want with their property. He argues it allows families to keep old homes even when they don’t live in Oriental. Commissioner Price lives in a Mixed Use zone and has a short term rental next door to his home.

Counter arguments offer that neighbors in R2 and R3 residential zones also have property rights, and purchased their property with the understanding they wouldn’t be living next to a property functioning as a nightly rental, as B&Bs and hotels are. Long term rentals – classified as any rental 30 days or longer, are allowed in all zones.

Commissioners set a public hearing for all GMO changes for their July meeting.

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Officer Nic Blayney presents an information packet to Commissioners for National Night Out: a community movie night in the park.
Potential Community Event – Movies in the Park
Officer Nic Blayney has been working on a Community Event for National Night Out – a nationwide community policing initiative.

He approached the Board about purchasing an inflatable screen and projector kit, and having a community night. His inspiration, he said, was seeing a similar event where community members watched the movie JAWS on an inflatable screen.

There is a cost to screen the movie: $350 for 50 or fewer viewers. Commissioner Frank Roe asked why Officer Blayney couldn’t just show a DVD? Blayney cited the copyright law – “If you read the fine print that nobody reads on the DVD when it first comes up – that FBI Warning – it details that the purchase … was for yourself for private views.”

Blayney was given the go ahead to pursue the project.

Commissioners Roe and Charlie Overcash also asked if Officer Blayney could set up another K-9 demonstration at the Dog Park. Blayney replied that he had already spoken with the K-9 officer and would be following up with him for scheduling.

Manager’s Report
Two volunteers are needed for the Flood Mitigation Update. They need only be residents and have the ability to attend “five or six meetings over several months.”
• One volunteer is needed to join the Bay River Sewer Metropolitan Sewer Board. Bay River is the entity that controls the sewer systems in Oriental and surrounding areas.
• The Coastal Federation is using the Large Board Room at Town Hall on June 11 for research on shrimp trawling research.
• The Town Manager attended the county leadership meeting and suggested Commissioners look at ordinances that have been forwarded for inclusion in Oriental’s ordinances: a potential increase in fire tax rates and a potential quarter-cent sales tax increase.
• The Town project to rehabilitate Hodges Street has been selected for funding by the USDA. The Town has been working on this grant for a year and half. The goal is to replace the seawall, fix the substrate under the road, and raise the road slightly so it doesn’t go under water as often.
• Commissioners agreed to move forward on a contract with engineering firm TRC for the $5.5 Million received to upgrade Oriental’s water infrastructure.

Manager Miller presented the financials saying town is at 62% of the year’s projected revenues, but she is not worried. “We don’t get a twelfth of our revenue every month, we get a considerable chunk of it in the summer months.” She said expenditures are running low.

Town is having a new pipe manufactured for the salt intake at the Water Plant – it took damage when it was overfilled by a contractor in March.

Manager Miller thanked Jennifer Pawlikowski and Sailcraft Services, John Deaton, and Sea Harbour dock master Jenny Jones who all helped deal with an abandoned vessel at town dock #2 by the public restrooms. The boat had to be moved to repair the docks. It cost the town $2,700 to get rid of the boat. “It could have cost us three or four times that, easily,” said Miller.

Commissioner Crosser thanked Manager Miller and staff for working with her as the financial liaison on internal controls. She said they were working on providing “guidance and guidelines on the proper use of a town’s credit cards” and setting up “best practices for payroll” to make sure more than one person has the knowledge to process payroll.

Auxiliary Board Reports
Parks and Recreation Board chair Vicki Rasmussen asked Commissioners to replace an old water oak in Lou Mac Park with a similar shade tree. The oak tree has become a safety hazard and must be taken down.

Harbor WaterFronts Committee liaison Commissioner Overcash commended his board for the maintenance and clean up they’ve been doing on the town’s waterfronts properties. Commissioner Litzenberger (also a Harbors and Waterfronts Committee liaison) joined them in repainting the docks and cleaning trash off the jetty in Oriental Harbor.

Closed Session
At the end of the meeting, Commissioners went into a closed session with Town Attorney Scott Davis. They returned about 30 minutes later.

Commissioner Roe made a motion for Mayor Belangia to execute a legal service agreement discussed in the meeting. They did not discuss what the meeting or the agreement were for. All Commissioners agreed to allow Mayor Belangia to execute the document, and the meeting was adjourned.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, June 4 at 6p.

Related Information
May Meeting Agenda
Consent Agenda
Manager’s Report
Board Appointments
Public Hearing Request for GMO & SUP
Police Report
Auxiliary Board Report
Roger Huth Written Statement

Posted Tuesday May 28, 2024 by Allison DeWeese


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