News

Occupancy Tax Board appointments remain in controversy

Hyde County Government Center PS WP_20150730_005

The Hyde County services building in Swan Quarter.

By  Peter Vankevich

The appointment process and who will serve on the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board is beginning to look like a Mobius strip in its permutations.  The County Commissioners monthly meeting Tuesday did not add much to a resolution.

At the June 6 Hyde County commissioners’ meeting County Commissioner John Fletcher nominated two people —including himself—to the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Advisory Board.  After the meeting it was discovered that the positions are for the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association to appoint.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting and after the June meeting,  a letter from Rudy Austin, president of the OCBA was delivered to the commissioners stating it is the OCBA that has the right to recommend these two positions to the five-member Occupancy Tax Board.

The letter stated that John Fletcher was in error on June 6 when he nominated himself and Stephanie O’Neal to the board. It went on to note that the OCBA was not consulted prior to Fletcher’s nominations on June 6. Since then, Brown and Gaskill have agreed to continue with their appointments to this board.

According to the statute authorizing the enacting of an occupancy tax and an advisory board, the county nominates three and the OCBA recommends two.

“The OCBA respectfully requests the Hyde County commissioners to vacate/rescind Mr. Fletcher’s appointments at the June 6 meeting and reinstate Brown and Gaskill for another term of whatever term durations they had held previously,” the letter stated.

In addition to himself, Fletcher appointed islander Stephanie O’Neal, a native of the island who has had a nursing career off island but recently moved back.

The commissioners on June 6 approved both appointments pending a county attorney review of the legality of Fletcher nominating himself to the position.

Connie Leinbach, the OCBA secretary, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and said the association forgot to make the appointments earlier in the year.

Fletcher said he had contacted both Brown and Gaskill who told him they were not interested in continuing on the board which was the reason he made the recommendations. He said the OCBA wanted Brown and Gaskill to continue, then resign later and they would make other appointments.

“As far as I’m concerned (the positions are) appointed,” Fletcher had said earlier in June. “I mentioned it twice in public meetings that these appointments were needed by June 1, and no one said anything.”

The terms of these two members previously appointed by the OCBA are up July 7 and new appointments are to be made by July 30, according to the ordinance in the Board of Commissioners section of the Hyde County website. To view that section of the ordinance, click here.

The commissioners who spoke Tuesday said they were hopeful for a resolution.  Benjamin Simmons offered a compromise that Fletcher appoint one member and OCBA the other. This was not accepted since it appeared to be in violation of the ordinance that said the OCBA could recommend two members.

Fletcher also said there was no conflict of interest for him to be a commissioner and also be on Occupancy Tax Board that decides how Hyde County Occupancy Tax revenues are granted each year to various nonprofits on the island.  “A commissioner can serve on one county committee,” he said.

At the OCBA June 8 meeting, County Manager Bill Rich, attending via cell phone, noted that because of what the Occupancy Tax statute says about the OCBA making two nominations, “both appointments John Fletcher made are not valid.”

Tom Pahl, who beat Fletcher in the March 15 primary and is unopposed in the November election, said Tuesday during the public comment period that he has heard a tremendous amount of negative feedback about Fletcher appointing himself to the Occupancy Tax Board.

“I hope you will see the wisdom of walking it back,” he said of the tentative approval of Fletcher and O’Neal last month. “Because the ordinance that created the Occupancy Tax Board clearly states that two of the five board members will be nominated by OCBA and it happens that the two positions that came up were those two.”

Pahl also said that it just doesn’t sit right when a person who is on one board making a recommendation to another board that he also sits on. “The (OTB) is an advisory board and it should be separate people from the people who ultimately make the decisions.” 

 

The commissioners agreed to table any motions, let the OCBA come back with a recommendation and take up the issue at the Aug. 1 meeting.

Most of the five-member OT board’s work is in the spring when they review requests for money by various island nonprofits and make recommendations.

This year, $365,005 was distributed to 14 groups.

Note: Connie Leinbach, secretary of the OCBA, is editor and co-publisher of the Ocracoke Observer.

For Ocracoke news, click here.