By Richard Taylor and Peter Vankevich
A second Hyde County commissioner will not seek reelection in 2020. At the December monthly meeting Monday evening, Board of Commissioners Chairman Earl Pugh Jr., Lake Landing Township, announced he will not run again.
Pugh’s announcement follows that of Ocracoke’s Tom Pahl, who on Sunday said he would not seek reelection. To read Pahl’s full announcement about not running for reelection, click here.
The commissioners made the early announcements because the candidate filing period for the 2020 general election began at noon Monday (Dec. 2) and ends on Dec. 20.
One other commissioner, Benjamin Simmons III (Fairfield Landing), is up for reelection. He made no indication at the meeting of his intentions. The other commissioners, James “Little Brother” Topping, Swan Quarter Township and Shannon Swindell, Currituck Township, are not up for election until 2022.
Pugh, a Republican, was elected commissioner in 2012 beating out incumbent Sharon Spencer (D) 1,274 to 1,037. He was reelected in 2016, beating Thomas Midgette (D) 1,219 to 841.
Pugh has served as chairman of the commissioners since 2016. Prior to his commissioner service, he served on the Hyde County Board of Education.
At the beginning of the meeting, both were unanimously chosen to continue their leadership roles on the board, Pugh as chairman and Pahl vice chairman until December 2020.
“I consider this an honor,” Pahl said after his selection to continue as board vice-chair.
The board also reappointed County Attorney Franz Holscher and Board Clerk Lois Stotesberry to serve another year. Justin Gibbs, Rosemary Johnson, Donnie Shumate and Teresa Adams were also reappointed and sworn in to serve as deputy clerks.
Tax Administrator Linda Basnight reported that tax collections were about $200,000 ahead of last year’s collections for the same time, due mainly to mortgage companies prepaying end-of-year assessments, and from more efficient collections with the new tax collection software.
In public comments, islander Kelley Shinn, in reference to HB 200, a disaster aid bill that was recently signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper, said, “As the $1.7 million for the Ocracoke School comes into play, as well as the nearly $20 million for rebuilding and individual assistance begins to come into Hyde County, transparency and public input are crucial to the vitality and continued trust in elected leadership.”
She was among a group of islanders who traveled to Raleigh in mid-November to lobby the N.C. General Assembly to approve disaster relief aid to Ocracoke.
Shinn said Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Hendersonville) told her in Raleigh that “the guidelines for dispersing these funds would be left vague so county officials could best serve the needs of their community.”
Shinn, a substitute teacher at Ocracoke School, said, “Today I subbed for the middle school science class. The students and I engaged in research on how best to rebuild their school — by raising it up and utilizing the renewable resources we have at the ready on this barrier island.
“If our children are willing and eager to participate in the best ways to rebuild this island for sustainability then surely our elected leaders can also participate — perhaps by inviting Rebuild North Carolina to host a citizen input [here] on the way we spend the funds pouring in now. It is feasible to think that these large amounts will not pour again if a disaster like this were to occur again.”
Shinn suggested it might also be feasible to call in experts from the Island Institute located in Rockland, Maine, which she said has been researching island sustainability since 1983.
“Dorian has been devastating by-and-large,” she added, “but it has also given Ocracoke and Hyde County an opportunity to be a paradigm in self-sustainability and strength in these changing times.”
Shinn promised to follow up her requests with an email to the board.
Darlene Styron told the board how hard it had been for vendors to get construction materials to the island using the sound-class ferries and the long Silver Lake-Hatteras run.
She asked the board to urge the Ferry Division to add more Pamlico Sound runs if the South Dock-Hatteras route does not reopen on Dec. 6.
“I think that will be crucial if the north end does not get open,” she said. “I had conversations today with several suppliers, and they are about a month out (getting supplies here) and they are having a real hard time trying to get here and work. I just ask that the county look further into that.”
County Manager Kris Noble said her daily updates from the Ferry Division still indicate N.C. 12 should reopen Dec. 6, at which time the Silver Lake-Hatteras runs will end and tolling on the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter routes will resume.
Another commentator urged the board to work with the Ferry Division to issue replacement priority stickers to islanders who lost them when their flooded vehicles were towed away.
“Believe me, there are lots of vehicles on this island which don’t have those new stickers yet, as well as ORV beach permits [issued by NPS],” he said. “That will become an issue later on.”
Noble said N.C. Ferry Division Director Harold Thomas and Cape Hatteras National Seashore Superintendent David Hallac would be at the OCBA Civic Affairs meeting on Wednesday where this subject could be raised.
After hearing from Emergency Services Director Gibbs and Pahl concerning the long line of derelict vehicles piled up on the west side of N.C. 12, Noble asked for the commissioners’ input on language to amend Hyde County’s abandoned vehicle ordinance to give the county “the authority to remove such derelict and abandoned vehicles.”
“There still remain a number of vehicles that are on Park Service and public property, as well as in the village,” Gibbs said. “This (amended ordinance) would lead to contracting with a (towing) company to render those services. It also talks about absolving us of liability issues, which weren’t covered in the previous version of the ordinance. And it specifically talks about junk motor vehicles that were placed in the right-of-way on the side of the road.
“We rely very heavily on the state statute that gives us this authority,” Gibbs added. “We hope to bring a final version of this amendment to the board at your January meeting, before you bring it to a vote.”
Pahl asked that the revised ordinance also include abandoned vehicles on property owned by the Ocracoke Preservation Society. Noble said it would.
As for Ocracoke three months post-Hurricane Dorian, Pahl said the island has been busy and that there are a lot of changes.
He’s had the opportunity to talk to people who had been off the island since before the hurricane and have not been back since.
“For those of us living here, the progress is day-by-day and it’s hard to see the bigger picture,” he said. “It was nice to hear from some folks from off the island, and hear them comment on the amount of progress that’s been made.
“I think on good days, a lot gets done. On bad days, just looking at the size of the tasks ahead of us, we just wonder how we’re going to get all this done. But, we’re going to get it done. It’s one day at a time. it’s one cleanup project at a time. Overall, the island looks really good.”
While the island reopened on Monday to visitors, there was not a huge influx of visitors.
“We’re coming into the Christmas season now, and people are busy with their own lives,” he said. “I expect we’ll hear from some who are surprised at how much progress we’ve made, and from others who are kind of overwhelmed with the devastation.”
“Our spirits are good,” Pahl concluded. “I hear from people all the time who comment that ‘We’re going to get through this and we’re going to be better than ever.'”
The Pony Island Motel, he said, is lit up with an image of the lighthouse and the words “Ocracoke Strong.”
“I think that says everything,” he said.