Conflict of interest: Legal vs. ethical - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Conflict of interest: Legal vs. ethical

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CAROLINA BEACH, NC (WECT) - The February letter that prompted an SBI investigation into three members of Carolina Beach Town Council includes several scenarios of potential conflicts of interest.

The council held a public hearing on January 8, 2008 to consider a zoning amendment proposed by Alfred Olivolo. Olivolo told WECT that the change would allow property owners to improve their damaged properties by more than 50% in a given year. Olivolo said the amendment would not affect him. 

Olivolo told WECT that Dan Wilcox built his house, but that's their only connection. Wilcox confirmed the relationship according to the January 8 meeting minutes. Wilcox also said he built a house for the Kirkbride's at another location, but there was no conflict of interest.

The January 8 meeting was recessed until January 23 when the public hearing continued. John Lebenich asked the board to make it public if any members were building houses for homeowners affected by the amendment, according to January 23 meeting minutes. 

Macon told WECT Thursday that he did not have a conflict of interested at the time because he was no longer a part of Bluewater Structures, the company listed as the contractor for the Kirk brides' 1710 Carolina Beach Avenue North property.

Dan Wilcox owns Bluewater Structures, but he told WECT in a brief phone interview Thursday that conflict of interest involves an apparent and readily available financial gain. His company is not listed as the contract for 1710 Carolina Beach Avenue North's building permit until April 2008.

Alan Gilbert served on Carolina Beach's Town Council in 2008. He told WECT Thursday that Macon and Wilcox should have disclosed personal and professional relationships. There may not have been a legal conflict, but Gilbert said it's a matter of ethics.

Even the slightest chance of a conflict of interest should have been discussed, according to Gilbert/ He said that would have allowed the board or town attorney to determine if someone should be recused from a vote.

"If Dan Wilcox and Joel Macon really cared about how Carolina Beach looks to the general public and the visitors," said Gilbert, "then they wouldn't have done this."

The amendment passed 3-2 with Macon, Wilcox and Pat Efird in favor. Gilbert said Efird is not to blame in the SBI's investigation. He said Macon and Wilcox convinced her to support their votes in order to appear unified for the community. A community that was wronged by the zoning amendment and later purchase of the Kirkbride's 170 Carolina Beach Avenue property.

"It's a violation of public trust if you don't consider beyond that you're doing favors for your clients and friends," said Gilbert.

Now that he's a regular, tax-paying citizen, Gilbert said this investigation is good for the community. He said transparency is vital to government, especially in a small town like Carolina Beach. 

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