SBI investigates 3 Carolina Beach leaders; council members stand by their decisions

CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WECT) – The State Bureau of Investigation has been asked by District Attorney Ben David to investigate the mayor of Carolina Beach and two council members.

Several allegations against Mayor Joel Macon and council members Dan Wilcox and Pat Efird were sent in a 12-page packet to David and Attorney General Roy Cooper in February.

WECT has obtained an anonymous copy of the letter that sparked the investigation.

"Let the SBI do their job. This is election season in Carolina Beach and it's dirty politics," said Mayor Joel Macon.

The letter was sparked by concerns surrounding the purchase of property at 1710 Carolina Beach Avenue by the town of Carolina Beach.

According to New Hanover County property tax records, in March of 2004 residents Michael and Delores Kirkbride purchased the property for $150,000.

During a town council meeting in September 2009, Town Manager Tim Owens informed the council the Kirkbrides were offering to sell the property to the town for $270,000.  Wilcox advised the council to jump on the purchase or they may regret it.

Owens believed the land was a small space that could only be used for 2-5 parking spaces and would be more suitable for adjacent property owners to potentially purchase.  Councilman Alan Gilbert also voiced some concerns about the land saying the property had a lot to wash over.  Owens agreed and said maintenance would be a problem.

Macon, however, argued that this would be an excellent opportunity for the town to build a place for handicapped individuals, specifically those in wheelchairs, could sit under a covered gazebo and have a clear view of the ocean.

Councilman Jerry Johnson also said he did not see the need to buy the land since they just spent $4 million on a large parcel down the street for a pier which would have ample property to do all the different types of things being discussed.

Wilcox continued to push for the purchase of the property saying the terms of the deal could not be better. He had looked into other beach front properties and all other properties were four times the amount.

Gilbert questioned the value of the property, saying the price tag of $850,000 was strictly speculation. He also said he believed there was a conflict of interest between the council and some of the ordinances the town changed with respect to the situation with the Kirkbrides.

Mayor Macon, Wilcox, and Efird voted to buy the property for $200,000 with Johnson and Gilbert voting no.

The letter to the SBI claims that the members of council who voted for the land deal were financially rewarded for their vote.

"I voted for the property because we were planning to make a park for the handicap - a shelter and things where they could sit near the ocean," explained Efird.

The letter claims Macon accepted a $75,000 cash loan from the Kirkbrides less than two months after the mayor voted in favor of purchasing the real estate.

In July of 2010, Pat Efird bought a piece of property at 609 Rocky Mount Drive from the Kirkbrides for $60,000. According to New Hanover County tax records, the value of the property is $104,000, but the asking price was $80,000.

Efird, who is a real estate broker, said she only knew the Kirkbrides from attending council members and didn't know the Kirkbrides owned the lot.  She said she doesn't believe she purchased property at a reduced price.

"We did negotiate the price, that's what you do in real estate," said Efird.

Efird said she was unaware of the investigation until WECT contacted her before Tuesday night's council meeting.

The letter also alleges Macon, Wilcox and Efird voted in favor of giving a valuable fuel contract for town vehicles to Jerry Bigley, who according to the letter is the mayor's former father-in-law.  The town's clerk said the contract is for BP and Bigley owns a BP so most employees go there for gas.

"I just thought it would be a good idea," said Efird.  "Not because of Jerry Bigley. It's located right there, he has generators in case there's a storm. It was a good idea."

The letter goes on to state Macon has repeatedly voted on zoning ordinance changes that benefit his business interests and claims Wilcox abuses his power and voted on issues that would benefit his investment property.

Wilcox said Tuesday he was unaware he was being investigated by the SBI.

"It wouldn't surprise me, in an election year that something like this came around, I have nothing to hide," said Wilcox.  "If someone wants to investigate me, then let them do it. It's unfortunate people have to sort to these type of rumors."

Copyright 2011 WECT. All rights reserved.