Land deal: Nature park or commissioner bailout?

Land deal: Nature park or commissioner bailout?

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The Holden Beach "nature park" purchase made by Brunswick County commissioners was controversial last December and residents say the odor surrounding it has only gotten worse as time has passed and new details have emerged.

When WECT noticed residents continuing to speak out against the $3.5 million land purchase months after the paperwork was signed, a formal request was made to the Board for interviews with each individual commissioner.

Only two commissioners responded to the request for an interview - coincidentally the only two who voted "nay" for spending reserve money on the park. Just three days later, the county issued a news release stating that the State Bureau of Investigation had looked into the acquisition and a state financial crimes prosecutor had found "no wrong-doing."

At that point WECT's Casey Roman started investigating what had allegedly just been a park purchase.

The SBI and the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office were asked by D.A. Jon David in January of 2015 to investigate two allegations made against former Board Chairman Phil Norris after the land was acquired in December of 2014.

The SBI says interviews and reviews of various records were involved in their investigation. However, commissioners Sykes and Thompson were never interviewed.

Moreover, WECT asked if the financial records were examined, given that the allegations were financial crimes. We were told that specifics of the case would not be disclosed, so it's impossible to know exactly what was considered in their exploration.

At some point, the prosecutor decided there was no conflict of interest and that the joint inquiry did not yield any evidence of a criminal offense.

Since the investigation was limited to the work that was done at the time of the prosecutors conclusion, the SBI called their investigation a "limited inquiry" and the case was closed. Despite their decision, the SBI has decided that no parts of their work will become public record.

While the news release about the findings was published across multiple outlets and laid to rest, WECT has kept digging as residents continue to give commissioners a piece of their mind at meetings.

"They threw the code of ethics out the window," said Jan Dale, a surveyor and Brunswick County resident. "[To] say it's a nature park? Unbelievable!"

See the two documents residents say proves there was a conflict of interest between the former chairman Phil Norris and the county's purchase of his one-time land investment as WECT Investigates, Wednesday at 11.

The two commissioners who were against the deal will also chime in as we reveal what months of combing through legal paperwork and meeting minutes has turned up about Brunswick County's newest "nature park."

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