January 20, 2016

Public turnout is low for town hall on freezing night


Freezing temperatures may have put a chill on public turnout at the Dare County Board of Commissioner’s second annual town hall meeting in Manteo on Tuesday evening, when more county employees were in attendance than members of the community.

Compared with last year’s gathering, which lasted 2 hours with about 20 people coming to the microphone, only a handful of people made comments to the board during a meeting that lasted about an hour.

“Wow! That’s a good feeling,” board Chairman Bob Woodard said, seeing no more questions from the audience after the fifth speaker. “We must be doing a good job.” 

Issues that were raised by speakers included concerns about water quality, the county libraries and the drug problem, as well as a poorly lit road and a county workforce that can barely afford to live in the county.

“Our libraries are a focus of visits from lots (of people),” said Bob Muller, a former mayor of Nags Head. “They need to look good. The Kill Devil Hills library’s carpets need to be replaced – and don’t take it out of the books’ money.”

Muller also encouraged the board to resume water quality monitoring in the county, and to develop strategies to better address wastewater and stormwater management.

On another issue, Charles Earley told the board that drug abuse and addiction in the county has “touched my heart.”

“It affects a lot of our families, our kids,” he said.  “I think we need to come together and really tackle this problem. We need to find a solution.”

Responding, Commissioner Wally Overman said that when he helped start a task force to address substance abuse about 18 months ago, he was told that there were about 120 school children in the county who were exposed directly and indirectly to drugs. 

“You are absolutely right,” Overman said to Earley.  “It’s a crucial issue for Dare County . . . There’s no simple answer.”

The task force was working on a list of laws that would address the problem, he said.  He said the county also needs additional resources for education, treatment, prevention and law enforcement.

Commissioners Jack Shea and Warren Judge also cautioned that abuse is not limited to illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine or marijuana.

“Prescription drugs are actually a bigger problem,” Judge said. 

In acknowledging that pain relief is an important concern, Shea also said that attention must be paid to where people are getting the prescriptions.

“Doctors need to prescribe drugs that are not subject to addiction,” he said.

Hatteras Commissioner Allen Burrus, who has long advocated for substance abuse programs in the community, said that the problem “takes a village” to tackle and requires education.

“It is about people helping people,” he said. “If you don’t do that, it ain’t going to work.” 

Woodard had Dare County employees stand to recognize their dedication to their work. He said that the county plans to do a salary study in the coming year “to help these folks. "

In closing, Woodard lauded the county’s accomplishments in the last year.

“Does this board have all the answers? Heck no,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing – we have tackled the tough issues.”

A second Town Hall meeting is scheduled on Hatteras Island on Thursday, Feb. 4., at 6:30 p.m. at the Fessenden Center.

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