Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Municipal Elections 2023: Bob Ciullo is vying for a seat on Oak Island council

A registered Republican, Ciullo last served in a local government position in Manalapan, New Jersey, before moving to Oak Island. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — Bob Ciullo, self-employed consultant in the wealth management industry, is running for one of three open Oak Island council positions.

A registered Republican, Ciullo last served in a local government position in Manalapan, New Jersey. He was elected to one term of the school board and also served as vice-chair of negotiating committee, assisting with contract renewals for teachers, administrators, support staff, janitors and five different unions.

Ciullo is up against six other candidates — Terri Cartner, Bill Craft, Niki Cutler, Mark Dolak Jr., Durral Gilbert and Randy Moffit.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to their municipalities, covering issues such as balancing growth and infrastructure, traffic and tourism, and climate change impacts.

Ciullo’s answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity. 

The paywall has been dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots can be requested through Oct. 31 and must be returned Nov. 7 (or post-marked as such).
  • Registration to vote will be open until Oct. 13; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration will be available only during one-stop early voting.
  • Early voting begins Oct. 19 and remains open through Nov. 4 (3 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 7, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

In Brunswick County, voters can cast ballots early at the Brunswick County Cooperative Extension (in lieu of the Board of Elections) at 25 Referendum Drive, Building N, in Bolivia.

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their registration cards, verified here.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

A photo ID is required to cast a ballot in 2023; more information can be found on the state board of elections website.

The candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. 

Port City Daily (PCD): Why run for town council now?

Bob Ciullo (BC): Oak Island is my cherished home. My wife, Carol, and I fell in love with Oak Island’s sense of community, our community’s vibrant atmosphere, fellow residents, and the endless outdoor activities our island offers. After an extensive search, we found our perfect community in Oak Island and made it our home in 2019.

Over the years, I have been deeply involved with town council, attending most meetings, along with planning board meetings. We have built so many close friendships and consider Oak Island a near-perfect beach town.

Oak Island is a community of 9,000-year-round residents, which supports a large tourism industry. Unlike many other North Carolina beach towns, we are not a tourist town. However, our community is undergoing significant changes, with challenges arising from rapid residential and commercial development. We must adapt and find a balanced path forward, neither rejecting growth initiatives outright nor blindly accepting every developer request.

It is crucial to bring together the residents of Oak Island, small businesses, developers, the hospitality industry, and town leadership to collectively shape our future.

Oak Island should be run more like a business, with effective governance. After all, we are a $70 million business, with 150 town employees. I aim to change the makeup of our town council, establishing more accountability and improving communication between town management and the town council.

Updating our UDOs and zoning regulations is a priority; simplifying and modernizing them to better serve our community. We must make protecting our tree canopy as one of our top priorities.

As a candidate for Oak Island Town Council, my objective is to identify solutions that
work for the majority of residents. While I have my personal ideas and suggestions, I
believe in an inclusive approach that incorporates input from the community. By
listening, gathering input and data, and considering what is best for our residents, I will work toward balanced decision-making that aligns with the financial, environmental, and legal mandates of Oak Island.

The voices of our residents matter. I will actively listen and take action based on your
input. Building trust takes time, and I am committed to earning your trust as a council member who genuinely represents you. Electing me to town council presents an opportunity for a majority of council members that prioritize residents’ interests. I will host regular town hall meetings, providing a platform for residents to ask questions and receive answers. This will be a transformative experience, giving you a voice and making sure your concerns are heard. Together, we can bring our community together, hold town management and town council accountable to residents, and shape a future that reflects the desires and values of Oak Island’s residents.

Length of time living in Oak Island is not a criteria voters should focus on. Instead, I
recommend voters focus their time on meeting with candidates and understanding their depth of knowledge with what is working right now and what changes need to be made. Ask candidates how long they have regularly attended town council and planning board meetings. Ask candidates why they are running for Town Council and beware of responses such as, “I want to give back to the Oak Island community.”

Let’s seize this momentum with engaged residents and vote for change. We will have a council majority that will unite our community and guide us towards a future designed by and for the residents of Oak Island. It will be an honor and a privilege to serve you on Oak Island Town Council.

PCD: Name three issues you think are most affecting the town currently and describe how you would work toward tackling them.

BC: Fix our UDO / Zoning Problem: Our current ordinances and zoning regulations are ineffective and it is crucial that we take action to fix this issue. We have witnessed firsthand how these loopholes were exploited by the 106-room hotel developer and we cannot allow external forces to dictate the future of Oak Island. It is time for us, as a community, to reclaim control over our destiny and shape the vision of our town.

By fostering a spirit of cooperation and open dialogue, we can collectively update our
UDOs and zoning ordinances to ensure a future development plan, which is appealing to all stakeholders, including residents, builders, the hospitality industry, small businesses, and our town council. Through this exercise we will develop new and improved tree ordinances that are both effective and appealing to our town residents, not only focusing on tree regulations for new home construction, but educating and encouraging existing homeowners to retain and maintain their existing tree canopy.

Some builders are keenly focused on maintaining as many trees as possible and are willing to change the building envelope or reconfigure a home layout to accommodate these trees, and other builders clear-cut lots. We need to cease clear cutting lots and our UDO should change accordingly and remove the loophole. It is imperative that these regulations strike a balance between preserving our natural environment and promoting responsible development. Our goal should be to create regulations that not only protect our natural resources but also contribute to the aesthetic appeal and livability of our town.

By tightening our zoning regulations and implementing well-crafted tree ordinances, we can safeguard the character and integrity of Oak Island and continue to shape it into a better community which we call home. We are blessed with a tree canopy most beach towns would be envious of. It is what defines us and makes us a more livable, vibrant and safe community.

PCD: What is your long-term vision for development in Oak Island? What is lacking and how would you address it?

BC: My vision for Oak Island is to maintain the essence of who we are — a small town, family-friendly, dog-friendly community of 9,000 year-round residents, which supports a large tourism industry. We are not a tourist town. We are committed to mom-and-pop business and restaurants.

We must protect our tree canopy for our health, safety and way of life. We must protect our beautiful beaches wetland and waterways. We must protect our existing residential and commercial zoning and encourage smart commercial and residential growth.

We should run our town more like a business, with vision, goals, and accountabilities. Presently we have none of these, other than our Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which was released in January 2017, and our town is run haphazardly with no stated plan. Town leadership is therefore reactive rather than proactive and we are unable to make progress.

I will bring a business mindset to town council and help our town management operate the town more like a business. Mindful growth or smart growth starts with a plan. I will bring together all stakeholder: residents, small businesses, restaurants, vacation industry, town council, town management and builders to craft a plan for growth, centered around our vision for who we are in Oak Island and what we aspire to be.

Without a stated plan, we are growing haphazardly and reactive rather than proactive. We will lose the essence of why all of us moved to Oak Island. Running our town more like a business will give us the opportunity for the residents of Oak Island to be in charge of our future. A vote for me is a vote for change, to put the future of Oak Island where it belongs, in the hands of the residents of Oak Island!

PCD: Are there any types of development, residential or otherwise, you think will not fit in OKI?

BC: Through a smart growth approach towards commercial and residential development we will ensure that we will grow the types of residential and commercial structures which are desired by the residents of Oak Island.

Residents tell me they abhor the mega-mansions, which have popped up on the west end of Oak Island. These residential structures are built for a rental-only market, owned by investors, with no interest in protecting the vision of Oak Island. They are motivated by money, rather than love, desire to continue to build these mega-mansions across the island and as the owners frequently do not live on Oak Island, they often are not even eligible to vote for town council and mayor.

When elected to town council, I will propose a motion to make 4,000 square feet the
maximum residential size for new builds. I will seek to remove the special use permit so that 4,000 square feet is an absolute maximum.

Protecting the residents of Oak Island from additional 106-room hotels is very important to each resident I speak with. By limiting the size of new hotels and motels to, say, 30 rooms, we can attract new commercial housing developments, which are attractive and harmonious with adjoining residential structures.

Protecting our community from Myrtle Beach-like attractions, such as a two-story mini golf structures with laser lights, volcanos, canons and garish lights. These types of attractions do not belong on the island. Some island residents say these attractions should be on the mainland, but some mainland residents are not in favor of them at all. If and only if the mainland residents support them on the mainland we can consider them being built on the mainland. We must strike a balance here.

PCD: As evidence shows, climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of storms and hurricanes, along with sea level rise. What should the city do to protect residents, property and infrastructure?

BC: We should anticipate that future hurricanes will be more frequent and more intense, and that sea rise is a reality, which must be dealt with. We should investigate investing in hardened structures, such as groins and jetties to augment dredging and enable us to protect the dredging we are doing.

Currently, our town engineers tell us we lose 2 feet of our beautiful beach each year due to erosion. With more frequent and intense storms coupled with sea rise, our fragile beach will become more in jeopardy each and every year.

We should investigate altering our beach accesses to cut in at a diagonal rather than perfectly perpendicular to the ocean. This minor change could be a major game changer to lessen beach erosion and protect our dunes so that the dunes are not washed into Beach Drive. We should review options such as hay bales and sand fencing to help protect our dunes.

Our emergency preparedness plans need to be updated and include resident input.
Presently, town staff is responsible for all emergency preparedness plans and
communication, with no resident input. This needs to change, as resident input is critical to crafting a plan which makes sense to our town residents, not just to town staff.

PCD: What are your views on ending the Dosher Memorial Hospital tax? Do you think just Oak Island should be removed, or the entire tax be repealed? Do you have any concerns that removing the tax funding will jeopardize the hospital’s current operations?

BC: I agree with Councilman Bach that this vote could send the wrong message to Dosher and the Oak Island community. Instead of voting to ask Brunswick County to eliminate the Dosher tax, the vote should have been to enter into substantive, transparent conversations with Dosher Hospital and its board of directors. The correct process should have been a deep-dive into Dosher’s budget and capital improvement projects, as well as sources of funding.

Magical things happen when people enter into conversations, and this vote should have instead been a conversation. I believe it was premature and poor timing to take this vote. I am awaiting a meeting with several Dosher trustees to begin this conversation, one which should have begun months ago with our town council. It is possible that after my meeting I may also recommend we end the Dosher tax, or
alternatively recommend we do not end the tax.

I believe the sticking point for our town council was not that there is a tax, but that Dosher Hospital and the Brunswick County Commissioners did not reduce the tax rate to 50% of last year’s tax rate, thus having the tax be neutral from last year. It’s not too late for our Oak Island Town Council to begin this conversation. I will share my
findings with the Oak Island Town Council.

PCD: Do you agree with the council’s recent decision to create paid parking? What do you think the town should use the revenue for, aside from covering parking expenses?

BC: Moving forward on paid parking was a great move, which will produce more than $1 million in next revenue to our town. Right-of-way parking is no longer a problem on the south side of the Davis Canal, and this has added to the safety of our island as well as a much more attractive appearance.

A positive $1 million revenue windfall for paid parking validates the importance of having a paid-parking program. Coupled with eliminating ROW parking on homes south of the Davis Canal, we were highly successful in our inaugural year. Due to the last-minute haste of implementing the paid parking program, a number of things were overlooked, such as allowing non-Oak Islanders to secure an unlimited number of the 1,000 season passes, eliminating parking decals for residents, and no strategic plan to increase the number of parking spots.

I propose we appoint a qualified resident advisory committee, including two council members and several members of town staff, once the parking vendor has shared a data analysis of all pertinent parking information. This committee will parse through the data and make educated recommendations for the 2024 parking season. I do not believe town council should make a decision on 2024 paid parking parameters without the input and support of a resident advisory committee.

We should remove unlimited passes for non-residents. We saw how several golf cart
rental businesses purchased dozens of annual parking passes for the 2023 season and this should not happen again. We abandoned our neighbors in Brunswick County in 2023 and opened up season passes to anyone in the US.

In 2024, I propose limiting all season passes to Brunswick County residents, one per household. If at the end of the initial two-week season pass purchase period there are still passes available, then we can open to others. I advocate for a televised lottery system for annual passes, to ensure a fair and transparent process, and to eliminate the 5 a.m. lines of interested purchasers, which we had this year. Our guests of Oak Island will appreciate this approach, as will our town staff and police department.

I suggest we eliminate the same-day discount for paying fines. The parking violation should be $50 for day one through 30 and then follow our existing process. By discounting a $50 fine to $25 if paid same day, we are actually encouraging guests to skip paying for parking and hope they do not get caught. And if they do get caught, they simply pay an extra $5.

I would like to bring back resident parking stickers. This makes it easier for both the
parking vendor, as well as police officers to identify town residents. Additionally, this will help with a return to island after a hurricane. Residents have asked for this and the town should deliver. It is simple and effective.

As far as uses for parking proceeds, I advocate we invest a large percent of the proceeds into beach amenities such as portable restrooms and showers. Let’s reward those who pay to park at the beach with amenities which they expect to have with paid parking. We should evaluate how many mobility mats we need to add and the cost of making some of our beach accesses ADA compliant. We should consider using some of the proceeds for beach nourishment. I look forward to being part of the conversation about the 2024 paid parking program.

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