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Councilwoman’s resignation over dredging project, other concerns shocks Sunset Beach

Reaction after Sunset Beach councilwoman resigns
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 5:49 PM EDT
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SUNSET BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - The sudden resignation of a town council member has left a seat open on the board in Sunset Beach, But it’s not the first controversy leaders there have had to deal with.

Jan Harris announced her resignation and then immediately walked out of Tuesday’s meeting citing a number of concerns about Town Council. Some of the main reasons she says led to her decision to resign were the lack of transparency, ethics and respect. The announcement took other council members by surprise as Harris only had about two months left on her term.

This is just the latest of the town’s leadership woes. The town’s current mayor was elected in 2019, becoming its fourth mayor in a matter of two years. Just months prior to that, a councilman had to be removed from two council meetings for repeated interruptions and accusations.

Mayor Pro-Tem John Corbett tells me despite the town’s history, he believes neighbors are in good hands.

“I think the council for the last two years has done a great job,” said Corbett. “The meetings have been civil, they’ve discussed the issues and we’ve worked on solutions to help the town. I think the town is in great shape to continue to go forward and handle the issues that we have.”

That’s much different than how one could describe town council meetings just a few years ago when one council member had to be removed from the chambers twice. Still, Harris says she’s concerned about the hands she’s left Sunset Beach in.

“Actions by some council members regarding the dredging of a rare, natural, tidal creek that has never been dredged before for their own waterfront boating has caused many taxpayers to question their ethics,” Harris said in her resignation announcement.

That’s just one of the many reasons Jan Harris says she’s stepping down from her seat on Sunset Beach Town Council. One of her main grievances is what she says taxpayers aren’t being told.

“They’re being kept in the dark,” said Harris, talking about the dredging project. “They’ve never been told a cost. They’ve asked what it’s going to cost and the reply they get is ‘we don’t know what it’s going to cost, we’ll tell you when we know.’”

Other council members say that simply isn’t true. Corbett says the town council has discussed cost, timing and impact during its public meetings and the public can easily find updates and documents on the project on the home page of the town’s website.

“If you want transparency, spend about three or four hours looking at our town page and the over 130 documents that we have on every step and stage of the dredging project,” said Corbett.

That includes information on funding. Documents and recorded meetings show bid offers for the dredging project, including the awarded bid for the phase starting next month, costing $1.5 million.

“We have made every effort to ensure, one, that the people that are paying for the dredging outside of the state grant that we have would be the people that live on the water,” said councilman Tom Bormann.

That prompts another claim from Harris: that the project is the self-serving product of waterfront owners like Corbett. Corbett denies those claims as other council members agree that isn’t the case.

“The council of governments looked into it,” said councilman Charles Nern. “The town attorney looked into it. There was no conflict [of interest].”

Both Corbett and Bormann say they don’t understand why Harris chose now to step down from her position. She’s missed the last several council meetings for various reasons and only had two more meetings before her four-year term was set to end.

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