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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Southport cleans house: Third time’s a charm for Dr. Hatem, all newcomers elected

(Clockwise from top right) Alderman-elect John Allen, Lowe Davis, Mayor-elect Dr. Joe Pat Hatem, and Alderman-elect Tom Lombardi all earned seats on Southport's Board of Alderman. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy John Allen, Lowe Davis, Dr. Joe Pat Hatem, Tom Lombardi)
(Clockwise from top left) Alderman-elect John Allen, Lowe Davis, Alderman-elect Tom Lombardi, and Mayor-elect Dr. Joe Pat Hatem all earned seats on Southport’s Board of Alderman. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy John Allen, Lowe Davis, Dr. Joe Pat Hatem, Tom Lombardi)

SOUTHPORT — Southport voters elected all newcomers Tuesday evening — unseating all incumbent candidates — signaling a major shift in the small coastal city.

Southport’s elections are slightly more complicated than some other neighboring town; the City has a six-person Board of Alderman, divided into three members from each of two wards. This year, three of the members were up for re-election, one from Ward 1 and two from Ward 2. Mayor Jerry Dove was also up for re-election. All four incumbents were defeated.

Kay Jones, a Southport resident who helped out her neighbor, Alderman-elect Tom Lombardi, with his campaign, said the wave of change was palpable Wednesday. “I was in the park this morning and you could just feel the vibrations,” Jones said. No one wanted to talk about anything else, she said.

Related: Brunswick County 2019 municipal election results: Leland, H2GO, and more [Free read]

Turns out, third time’s a charm for Dr. Joe Pat Hatem. Previously, Hatem lost two mayoral bids against the city’s sitting Mayor Jerry Dove; in 2015, Hatem was behind by just 13 votes and a 1% margin; in 2017, he was behind by a 7% margin.

As the city’s former Police Chief, Mayor Dove has served two terms as the city’s mayor, first elected in 2015. Tuesday, Hatem beat out Dove by a healthy 25% margin.

“After I lost the second time, in 2017, in 2018, people were already asking me, ‘Are you going to run again?” Mayor-elect Hatem said Wednesday. “As the year progressed, they kept asking. Yeah. I still have my signs. And besides, it’s like a hobby now,” he joked.

“13 votes was tough,” Hatem said. “This time, it was different. People were really ready for change.” As an ER doctor at Dosher Memorial Hospital, Hatem said he’s able to make his own schedule and will have availability for his upcoming governmental duties. Citing the city’s recent (but since abandoned) plan to build its own wastewater plant on Bethel Road in a residential area and the sale of the former wastewater treatment plant, Hatem said Tuesday’s sweep is a win for the city.

“The Board of Alderman sort of lost their way in terms of transparency and credibility. The town felt left out. I think it was just an uprising from the people,” he said. “I really am ecstatic and happy for the town.”

All incumbent candidates out, all newcomers in

Like Mayor-elect Hatem, newcomer Alderman-elects Lombardi, Lowe Davis, and John Allen all campaigned with a similar message: increase transparency.

Longtime Southport resident and political newcomer Davis easily secured the top spot in Ward 2, earning 30% of the vote with 939 cast in her favor. As a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist with a decades-long career, Tuesday’s victory marks Davis’ transition to serving the public from a governing position.

Behind Davis, Allen secured the second-most votes in Ward 2, safely earning the last spot on the Board of Alderman. Incumbents Rick Pukenas and Jim Powell landed in the second-to-last and last-place slots Tuesday, with newcomers Eric King and Nelson Adams ahead but with not enough votes to secure a spot on the board.

Reached Wednesday, Alderman-elect Allen said it wasn’t the decisions the current board made that caused the local political uprising. Instead, it was the process the board undertook to reach those decisions that unsettled locals.

“We feel like, and apparently, the citizens agree, that there’s been a lack of transparency and a lack of citizen involvement with the way the Alderman have been making decisions,” Allen said. A current Planning Board member, Allen said the voters’ will is loud and clear. “Myself and the other candidates who won yesterday have proclaimed over and over that we are prepared to make more decisions in a transparent manner.”

In Ward 1, newcomer and Alderman-elect Tom Lombardi said a series of not-so-public decisions serve as the backdrop to this year’s results. Incumbent Robert Tucker earned the least votes in Ward 1 by a wide margin, with just 8% of the total vote. Newcomer David Miller earned second-most, with 41%, but not enough to secure a spot on the board, which Lombardi accomplished with 50% of the vote.

“I think that the board caused a lot of suspicion amongst the people with some of their doings,” Lombardi said Wednesday. “I think people just got tired of it.”

All about transparency

Each candidate elected Tuesday responded in their questionnaire they did not think it was appropriate for the Board of Alderman to retroactively amend its Unified Development Ordinance in order to make right on a decision it already made in violation of the UDO.

All elected candidates also said they did not think Alderman followed proper process in the sale of the city’s former wastewater treatment plant (in both issues, all sitting Alderman but one, Karen Mosteller, voted in favor of the action).

Earlier this year, the City moved forward on an offer to purchase its former wastewater site from Southport Marina, which borders the property, without allowing its Planning Board to approve — in violation of its own UDO.

In February, Alderman voted 4-1 to submit a text amendment to repeal a section of its UDO that required the board to obtain Planning Board review of the acquisition or disposal of all publicly-owned property. At the same meeting, the Alderman then voted 4-1 to approve the sale of the former wastewater treatment plant property. By May, the Planning Board denied the city’s request to repeal the UDO stipulation that requires the board’s review prior to public property sales. Regardless, Alderman voted 4-1 to change its UDO.

Incumbent Alderman Jim Powell wrote in his candidate interview regarding the appeal, “There was no improper action. The fix of the UDO was not retroactive.” Mayor Jerry Dove had a similar response: “There was no improper Board action. The Board removed an antiquated section of our ordinance that most cities removed years ago.”

This key issue was one of many that caused a rift in the community.

For Planning Board member and now Alderman-elect Allen, it will take time to recover from this year’s issues. “Job one is to heal the rift and the distrust that has been created between the board and the citizens. That’s going to be a series of small steps that are going to have to unfold as issues come up.”


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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