OAK ISLAND — Former Oak Island Councilwoman Dara Royal is running to be elected for a seat on the town’s board.
Author’s note: Port City Daily’s candidate interviews are largely unedited. Edits have only been made to correct spelling or grammatical errors. Candidates were not given word or character limits to answer each question.
What is your campaign platform?
Let’s use our revenues to invest in people, equipment, and facilities to provide basic services at the level our residents need and deserve for enforcing codes, maintaining facilities, recovering from hurricanes, providing recreational activities, clearing stormwater drains, repairing streets, and collecting yard debris.
What makes you qualified to serve on Town Council?
Oak Island has been part of my life since my parents bought a lot in Long Beach in 1958 when I was two years old. I now live in a house later built that lot, and I’ve been a full-time resident since moving here in 1992. As a citizen-volunteer I have served our community as a consolidation facilitator, the first chair of the Beach Preservation Society, and as a member of the Damage Assessment Team, Erosion Control Committee, Stormwater Advisory Board, and Street-end Committee. As an appointed or elected official, I have served our community as a Town Council member from November 2003 – December 2013, and again briefly from October 2017 – December 2017 to fill a temporary vacancy. In addition, I served as a Coastal Cities Representative on the NC Coastal Resources Advisory Council (CRAC) to the NC Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) from August 2003 – June 2012 and chaired the CRAC from January 2008 – December 2010. So, I will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the council table. I will do my homework and come to meetings prepared to take care of business, operate within the established procedural and regulatory framework, provide fair representation to diverse community interests, strive to keep all stakeholders informed and engaged in the process, genuinely consider all sides of an issue during deliberations, evaluate the short-and long-term fiscal impact of decisions,
promote efficient, cost-effective, and reliable basic services, maintain a customer service focus with a common sense approach.
What are the top three issues Oak Island is facing right now and what’s your position on these issues?
1. Hurricane Preparedness, Evacuation, Re-entry, and Recovery Plan – Implement a post-
hurricane re-entry system for the 2020 hurricane season with decals for residents, property
owners, business owners/employees, property managers and contractors. Make sure interested parties have all the information they need to consider well in advance of the next storm. Prepare and distribute detailed information to utility customers about what to do when sewer and/or water is cutoff in advance of, during, and after a storm. Formally revise the complete official plan during a regular meeting after a thorough public discussion to incorporate recommendations from lessons learned during recent storm events. Then publish the plan on the Town’s website where it’s easy to find and search.
2. Rights-of-Way Maintenance – (a) Accelerate street maintenance, repair, and resurfacing with an annual program rather than waiting for three years before contracting out work to be done. Postponing recommended street maintenance leads to pavement failures and major rehabilitation or reconstruction costing much more in the long run. (b) Catch up and keep up with repairing, clearing, monitoring and extending our stormwater drainage system. Require monthly reports with a list of problem areas, proposed solutions, timelines for completing work, and progress made. Work with NC DOT to eliminate standing water from rainfall on E. Oak Island Drive since repaving this summer. (c) Once every two months is not an acceptable level of service for collecting yard debris from our rights-of-way. Fees have not increased to match increases in operating expenses. And fees do not provide for replacement of heavy equipment that is 75% depreciated and costing an average of $45,000 per year in maintenance and repair. Carefully consider the short- and long-term costs involved in sustaining the service in-house vs contracting it out to provide a minimum of once a month collection.
3. Facilities Maintenance – (a) Rebuild the Recreation Center on the current site before it’s
condemned without borrowing money or raising taxes to include a weight room, aerobics room, meeting rooms, bathrooms and showers, an office and adequate storage space – no pool or gymnasium. Design a building footprint that will preserve our existing trees. Pay for it with fund balance in General Fund supplemented with funds raised by the newly created 501(c)3 for Parks & Recreation. (b) Develop a facilities maintenance plan with a routine maintenance, repair, and replacement schedule for every type of public facility including not only buildings but also fences, bulkheads, docks, boat ramps, stairways, walkovers, sidewalks, parking areas, dog parks, athletic courts and fields, picnic tables, bike racks, benches, gazebos, bathrooms, and signs with realistic cost estimates for doing the work. Provide the resources needed in each year’s budget to stay on schedule.
Oak Island bungled its choice of parking company consultants this spring. What’s your take on what happened? Could it have been prevented?
It could have been prevented by not wasting time asking for and going through the motions of considering paid parking proposals for the 3rd time in less than 5 years. Our unique system of public beach access with free parking serves the needs of our beach-going residents and second homeowners along with their families and friends. It is fundamental to the character of our community and our way of life. It should not be for sale to anyone at any price for any reason at any time.
Some island residents continue to air grievances, one year after Hurricane Florence, that town officials unreasonably kept people from returning to their homes in a timely manner. Do you agree with this perspective? Why or why not?
Island residents continue to air grievances because council did not hold public meetings last winter and spring to listen, acknowledge, and respond to all problems, issues, concerns, and suggestions. Nothing has changed except to clarify during a manager’s report in August that after the next evacuation every adult in a returning car will not have to have a valid driver’s license with an Oak Island address. Revisions to the general hurricane information posted on the Town’s website in late August are a significant improvement. But these tweaks are not enough. See my first answer to the top three issues question above.
Should the town work to attract new business opportunities?
The best way for the Town to attract new business opportunities is to build a solid reputation for supporting the businesses we already have in our community. The Town can do so by providing efficient, cost-effective, reliable basic services; simplifying the permitting process; applying a reasonable code of ordinances; seeking and responding to feedback from our business owners to make improvements. With a reputation as a business-friendly community, we will be in a better position to promote economic development in our region by partnering with surrounding communities through the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce.
How do you define transparency? How can the town work to be more transparent?
Transparency means conducting business and managing resources in an open, straightforward, and responsive manner which obligates the town to provide all stakeholders with relevant, timely, and accessible information regarding policies, programs, and services. Organize and post information and supporting documents on the Town website to make them easier to find and search. Explain, discuss, and debate all council agenda items in open session. Expand the capabilities of our government access channel (Channel 8) by going Live Stream to enable viewers to watch all council and planning board
meetings from any device with internet access. Archive these meetings with links to individual agenda items and background documents for playback and review.
What is one action/vote Oak Island got wrong in 2017-2019?
Focusing on initiatives designed to attract more tourists at the expense of delivering reliable basic services to our year-round residents and second homeowners.
What is one action/vote Oak Island got right in 2017-2019?
After Hurricane Matthew severely damaged the Oak Island Pier, the Town demolished and rebuilt the pier to preserve our cultural heritage with grants obtained for that purpose in a series of actions over the course of two years.
Anything else you’d like to share with voters?
Eliminate the Sand Tax. Require a voter referendum to approve any financing plan for future beach nourishment projects beyond what can be accomplished with a combination of accommodations taxes, modest assessments on oceanfront property, and matching funds from the state’s Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund. It is absurd to expect all Oak Island property owners to pay $40 million for an initial “FEMA engineered beach nourishment project” followed by a $20 million re-nourishment project every 6 years without a voter referendum.
Learn more about Dara Royal and her campaign platform on her website.