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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Municipal Elections 2023: Durral Gilbert runs for seat on Oak Island council

Durral Gilbert is running for public office for the first time, seeking a position on Oak Island’s town council. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — Durral Gilbert is running for an Oak Island Council position; it’s his first time seeking a public office. A retired former president of supply chain services for Premier, Inc., Gilbert is up against six other candidates for three open seats on council.

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.

Gilbert’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): What makes you qualified for a town council position?

Durral Gilbert (DG): I’ll serve my fellow Oak Islanders with honestly and integrity, and I know my fellow residents will come to regard me as someone who has a great deal of passion and determination for us to achieve our shared vision for Oak Island.

My experience as a CPA, chief operations leader and president of a large, public company gives me a unique background — one that would be incredibly complementary to our town council. My entire professional career has consisted of living in the details and then using those details to design and implement strategies that were consistent with the objectives of shareholders. Strategic planning and the implementation of those plans have been my life’s main work, and working with teams has been a big part of that.

In my leadership roles, I gained the reputation as having no patience for people who talk a big game but who can’t deliver. And that is why I’m running. With all my heart, I believe that my skillset and drive for action are EXACTLY what our town needs at this time … to get things done.

PCD: Why run for town council now?

DG: Oak Island has experienced a great deal of growth in the past several years, and we are confronting significant issues: on-island growth of residents and vacationers; large developments on the mainland that could collectively double the size of Oak Island; on-going funding of beach nourishment for our eight-mile-long beach; needed investments for our residents; and a Unified Development Ordinance that allows for a wide range of developments on the island.

I decided to run because we need additional intelligent and committed public servants who will give 100% of their efforts to our fellow residents and town. We need a vision and an action plan for delivering on that vision. We need committed leaders who will have the needed sense of urgency to tackle big problems by digging deep into the details. And we need community-minded council members who will work tirelessly to bring our town’s residents together as one community.

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

DG: The three biggest issues facing Oak Islanders are i) having a unified vision of how we want Oak Island to be in the future and then putting that vision into action, ii) managing our Island’s growth in ways that preserve and strengthen our community and iii) making the needed investments in our residents and Town that make us a resident destination.

Currently, there are divergent views from residents and property owners as what Oak Island should be. “Are we a residential community with a beach or are we a beach town that wants to attract vacationers and beachgoers?” Answering this question (a proxy for our vision) and then intentionally putting our vision into action eludes us, which contributes to dividing us as a community. We need a town council willing to build consensus and then empower the town and residents to make that vision a reality.

Oak Island’s growth also presents tremendous challenges. Increasing demand for living and vacationing here have driven up our property values and made Oak Island unaffordable to many. Moreover, many of our long-time residents are leaving, with new families and rental owners are taking their places. Vibrant coastal communities, however, need a healthy balance of residents and vacationers. In addition, our Uniform Development Ordinance (and included table of uses) may not align with our collective vision, and it needs to reflect the development that we deliberately want to encourage.

Our third issue is also an element of that solution. Oak Island needs to invest in our residents and community in ways consistent with what current and new residents need. For example, we need improved roads and pedestrian infrastructure, communal spaces that bring citizens together, coastline preservation, revitalization of our maritime landscape, and a revitalized Main Street corridor that supports our small businesses to prosper.

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

DG: My vision for Oak Island is a vision of Oak Island being an idyllic, coastal town that harkens residents and visitors back to classic, Southern coastal towns. Central to this vision will be groups of engaged citizens working along-side each other to create the momentum of change.

As I stated above, we are lacking the deliberate action steps for making our vision a reality, and addressing our vision will be multi-faceted. As components of that, our new citizens-oriented Community Center will an active connector for residents with various programs offered by the town and resident groups. Middleton Park will be transformed from a vast lawn to a tree-lined park with benches, small play areas, and crosswalks. Our Main Street will be revitalized and active with small businesses proudly serving the residents and visitors. Moreover, we’ll have residents and property owners engaged with the town in helping to seed new interests and activities that bring us all together (e.g., 5-K and cycling events, festivals, charity organizations, resident sporting tournaments, Town beautification projects, Town-wide tree plantings, senior support groups, young-family events, etc.). By engaging our citizens in these areas, residents will feel a renewed sense of energy and esprit de corps towards our Town and our future direction.

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

DG: Most of our residents consider Oak Island to be a small, family beach town. Unlike other beaches that have lost of their residents to rental and commercial-like development, Oak Island does not want to lose our residents or our sense of community to developments that don’t fit our vision.

Proposed developments, whether commercial or residential, should be scrutinized with a strict eye on enhancing our town’s family environment. Do proposed developments enhance our neighborhoods and way of life? Are they compatible with their neighbors, many of whom are a mere few-feet away? Do the developments reinforce resident living (e.g., via our noise ordinance, lighting, traffic, etc.)? Will commercial developments enhance and advance the services and products needed by residents and visitors, while also being compatible with their resident neighbors?

As a town council member, I’ll use questions like these to evaluate all proposed developments. Further, I commit that developments will only receive my support if they enhance and strengthen the small, family beach town environment that we want to flourish.

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?

DG: Our beach and shoreline sustainability are critical to Oak Islanders, and shoreline
erosion is a challenge being faced by most of the coastal communities across the state and nation. Yes, our beach is the main attraction for the tourism industry that we rely on, but it is also one of the top reasons that most of us chose Oak Island as our home.

Maintaining healthy beaches includes more than just sand renourishment and strong vegetation management. We have a responsibility to pursue long-term solutions that can protect our residents, properties, and infrastructure as well as reduce the burden of replenishing sand.

A terminal groin and/or protective jetties could be viable, long-term investment options that help us battle the erosion that occurs due to the strong tidal surges and storms. Moreover, both could be accretive to our shoreline by helping to add sand back to our beaches. I’ve had many discussions with leaders at Ocean Isle, Holden Beach, and the Lockwood Folly Preservation Society about the costs and benefits of terminal groins and jetties. Given the work that these groups have done, I would be highly supportive of furthering our research into the viability of these longer-term options as well as a possible partnerships with our neighboring towns to help strengthen yet reduce the cost of our shoreline sustainability.

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?

DG: Dosher Memorial Hospital plays an important role in the provision of healthcare in our broader community, and as a town with a median age of 60.3 years, Oak Islanders are entering the years when we’ll need more access to quality healthcare, not less. Further, small critical access and community hospitals across the state and nation are closing, leaving many communities with either limited access or no access to quality healthcare options. And, when hospitals close, communities often lose access to physicians and other healthcare providers.

When the Dosher Memorial Hospital tax was approved for Southport, Oak Island, Bald Head, and the broader Smithfield Township, it was to support the bond needed to underpin the hospital. With the need for that financing support gone, the 4% tax is in focus. Why is it still needed? Can Dosher Memorial Hospital survive without all or some portion of this tax? If the tax is still needed, why didn’t Brunswick County lower the 4% imposed tax in light of the massive (almost 80%) increases in property values following the County’s property revaluations? Is the hospital providing the services (and consistently) that are needed by Oak Island or the municipalities within the Smithfield Township?

While I am very supportive of Dosher Memorial Hospital, I believe Oak Islanders (and the other Smithfield Township communities) need to understand the direction of the hospital and review its plans for future services before each of our communities can opine on the tax itself, either individually or collectively. Ideally, Dosher Memorial Hospital will continue to exist and provide excellent healthcare to our residents. For Oak Island to continue its financial support of Dosher, we need to understand and agree that Dosher’s vision and services align with what Oak Island’s citizens need.

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?

DG: I am highly supportive of the town council’s recent decision to create paid parking. Like any new program, there were certainly implementation challenges; however, I believe with focus, the program can be augmented to lessen the negative impacts on residents.

Historically, vacationers come to Oak Island and enjoy our beaches and infrastructure, yet they have contributed very little toward their maintenance. Paid parking corrects that and is currently the only mechanism we have for having vacationers contribute to such funding support. When the paid parking program was approved, proceeds were to go towards beach renourishment efforts. Now that those proceeds are expected to well exceed $1M, we have the added option of putting those extra proceeds towards other potential investments for our residents.

Given the investments we need for our residents — investments like expanded road paving, pedestrian safety, Main Street beautification, a new community center, expanded recreational facilities, enhanced beach accesses for the disabled, and tree canopy expansion — I believe these excess paid parking funds should be deployed for OUR collective benefit outside the beach.

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