“Good morning Dare County,” declared Dare County Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Woodard as he opened his State of the County 2020 presentation before a jam-packed breakfast-time crowd at Captain George’s Restaurant on Jan. 15.
“Dare County, one hundred-fifty years old.” Woodard continued before turning his attention to the audience and quipping: “You don’t look a bit over one hundred.”
To mark the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Dare County, Woodard donned a period-piece suit that reflected the sartorial trends of 1870 replete with a pocket knife that was not quite in working condition. In addition, the chairman is now sporting a commemorative beard that he will maintain at least through this anniversary year.
The State of the County presentation — co-sponsored by the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce and featuring a who’s who of Dare dignitaries, business leaders and elected officials in the audience — has, under Woodard’s stewardship, become something of a red-carpet event around here, a don’t-miss occasion.
Content wise, it is a combination year-in-review, history lesson and planning document that includes a nostalgia-inducing array of old black and white photos and a healthy dose of kind-of-cool stats. (There were, for example, 886 marriage licenses issued in the county last year; there were 204,122 items borrowed from Dare County libraries last year; and Dare County Sheriff’s Department officers drove a total of 1,276,032 miles in the line of duty in 2019.)
But what is most notable about the event is the presentation itself. Walking around the dining area and speaking almost non-stop for about an hour, Woodard tells jokes, name checks people in attendance, passionately touts the county’s achievements with a barrage of superlatives, chokes up at certain points, and triggers some snappy repartee with members of the audience. (On this occasion, State Representative Bobby Hanig and Assistant Superintendent of Dare County Schools Arty Tillett both responded to Woodard lines with comebacks that inspired laughter in the room.)
Some, but not all of the key topics touched on during the chairman’s remarks included:
- The county’s close relationship with the College of the Albemarle and the $250,000 in scholarship funds for Dare County students who enroll there. To applause, Woodard noted that one Manteo High, one First Flight High and one Cape Hatteras Secondary School student graduated with a high school diploma and a COA associates degree.
- The need to expand and modernize the Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo, which projections say would add $77 million in local economic impact.
- A review of bridge projects in Dare County, most notably last February’s long-awaited opening of the Basnight Bridge at Oregon Inlet, a $252-million dollar and 2.8-mile-long project.
- The local battle against the opioid crisis, which featured the introduction of a Dare County Recovery Court program as well as the Saving Lives Task Force’s creation of a response team designed to provide immediate support to overdose survivors.
- Efforts to create more essential housing in Dare County, which has included changes in zoning rules as well as an initiative that pairs the county with the UNC School of Government on the issue.
- The response to the ravages of Hurricane Dorian, with Social Services and relief organizations helping more than 500 affected families in the county on various recovery-related projects.
- The discussion of Dare County beach re-nourishment efforts featured the 10 miles of Nags Head shoreline that was completed last August and a $20 million project in Buxton that is slated for 2021-2022.
- Plans to build a much-needed Dare County animal shelter on Roanoke Island to replace the current outdated facility at a cost of $4.5 million. This past week, there was a pre-bid meeting to acquaint interested subcontractors with the elements of the project.
- And no other topic earned the sustained applause that followed Woodard’s discussion of offshore energy drilling. Speaking passionately of the Dare County Commissioners’ long-standing opposition to that idea, the chairman alluded to concerns about the potential impact of an oil spill on the local tourism industry by declaring: “This is our economic engine.”
At the end of his remarks, Woodard tried a bit of group social dynamics, asking everyone in attendance to grab the hand of the person sitting next to him or her and thank that person “for everything you do for Dare County.”
In some circumstances, that could have been a high-risk gambit with only scattered participation. But it seemed like pretty much everyone inside Captain George’s gamely complied.