CAROLINA BEACH — The next iteration of town council took their spots Tuesday evening after outgoing Mayor LeAnn Pierce and council members JoDan Garza and Steve Shuttleworth shared their final remarks.
Former Mayor Joe Benson and resident Mike Hoffer won seats on council in November. Lynn Barbee, who was elected to council two years ago, ran for mayor this cycle and won. Rep. Charlie Miller attended to swear in the newly elected politicians.
The new guard, accompanied by Mayor Pro Tem Jay Healy, who still has two years left on his term, then expeditiously moved to nominate Deb LeCompte to fill the vacant seat on council left by Barbee’s ascendence to mayor.
There was little discussion. LeCompte — the recent planning chairwoman and head of the police advisory committee who placed third in the town council election, trailing Hoffer by only 18 votes — was the board’s favorite pick. Miller swore her in on the spot.
Other than approving a brief extension to the town’s contract with federal lobbyist Mike McIntyre, the meeting was reserved for ceremony and storytelling. Miller brought along an oversized check for $4.15 million to celebrate Carolina Beach’s winnings from the recently signed state budget.
Pierce, who will run for a seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in 2022, recognized Garza and Shuttleworth for their years of service to the beach town.
“You know, I met JoDan about four-and-a-half years ago, and I thought, ‘Wow, he is really going to be an addition to our council,’” Pierce said. “And he has been.”
Garza opened Wake N Bake Donuts on Carolina Beach four years before his election to council in 2017; his candidacy was marked by an “outsider” presence and devotion to transparency. Pierce credited JoDan with helping to spearhead the town’s new tree ordinance: “He’s always been a lover of the environment.”
“We went through a lot of crazy shit the past four years,” Garza told the crowd. “We’ve had a handful of monster storms. We’ve had a handful of town managers, and two years of Covid.”
From a prepared statement directed to town residents, Garza then vowed he had always acted in the peoples’ interest during his term.
“I was always honest,” Garza pledged. “I was never shiesty.”
Shuttleworth’s recognition came next. A land developer and real estate broker with a decade of council experience, Shuttleworth was credited by Pierce as being both a budgetary wizard and a chief advocate for Carolina Beach’s renourishment needs.
Shuttleworth and Pierce had been working together to mediate a series of lawsuits tied to the access of Freeman Park — a mission that recently concluded with a settlement agreement that will allow the town to buy and preserve 300 acres on its north end.
“I’ve served under six mayors, 15 different council people, six managers,” Shuttleworth said. Riffing off the beach town’s previous struggles to hold down a manager, he added, to laughs from the crowd, “five managers. Four-and-a-half.”
“It’s really been a humbling experience to serve on Carolina Beach Town Council,” Shuttleworth said. “I really appreciate the citizenry of the town, all the input that they give. No one’s hesitant to tell you their opinion.”
Once the changing of the guard was complete and the new members took their post, Hoffer spoke on the circumstances of his own election, positioning himself as a continuation of Garza’s legacy by pushing back against the status quo.
“I was elected because I brought a vision,” Hoffer said to fellow council members. “Lay down the gauntlet now, fellas. I do plan to pursue the dream. I’m not going to get up here and then just change my mind about it. So just beware.”
“We’re on the same side,” Healy responded.
The new Carolina Beach Town Council will hold its first full meeting next year on Jan. 11. In late November, the outgoing council approved a staff recommendation to begin charging for parking year-round starting after next year’s summer season. Pierce and Garza both protested the move.
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