In an unbelievable move at the county commissioner's November 10 agenda briefing meeting, item #17 on the November 15th meeting of the New Hanover County Commissioners attempts to rush through a binding preservation easement between New Hanover County and the Airlie Gardens Foundation. Commissioner Ted Davis, Jr., did not mince words when he said that he thought it was important for the board to go ahead and pass this before the two new commissioners take their seat. "No offense to Mr. Berger or Mr. Catlin", Davis said.
Clearly acting in typical lame duck session form, Davis sees more of a chance of passing this resolution with Bobby Greer and Bill Caster, long-time proponents for taxpayer funding of Airlie Gardens. "This is what the citizens want us to do," said Davis.
What wasn't discussed was that Ted Davis, Jr. is cousin to Albert Corbett, of the infamous Corbett family, the same Corbett family considered to be Wilmington royal elite; and the original sellers of Airlie to New Hanover County.
Davis is acting as head cheerleader for the resolution, and did not issue any plans to recuse himself from the vote due to the obvious conflict of interest. In fact, when Commissioners Barfield and Thompson weighed in with reservations on the issue, Davis coolly replied that the Foundation would like to see this passed, and is requesting a unanimous decision of the commissioners.
The resolution, which can be found below, creates a binding deed of trust with the Airlie Foundation, in which gives complete control of the property to the Foundation. It also allows the Foundation to hold the county legally responsible for its funding. When the Airlie Foundation was originally constituted, the expressed intent of it was to seek out and obtain other sources of funding to sustain the gardens. http://www.nhcgov.com/AgnAndDpt/CCOM/Documents/Committees/Airlie.pdf
This current resolution attempts to remove any incentive for the Foundation to ever seek any alternative sources of funding, and ties Airlie Gardens to the taxpayer of New Hanover County indefinitely. State law prohibits a county commission board to bind future boards to anything, but being that this is actually a legal binding document, i.e. deed of trust, preservation easement, they may have found a loophole. The resolution also mandates that the county maintain the property and its resources at the same or better condition as they are now.
Ironically, several commissioners at the meeting kept repeating the sentiment that "this is what the citizens want us to do" - however, the citizens duly elected two new commissioners just over a week ago, and therefore it would seem that the public would rather the new board handle controversial issues such as this. This is a clear case of a lame duck session trying to force through a binding and lasting resolution that will tie taxpayer's hands to fund a project indefinitely.
Davis and the Airlie Foundation have a profound vested interest in the passing of this resolution. This would give the power completely to the Airlie Foundation (although the county purchased the gardens from the Corbett family) as to the fate of Airlie. In addition, the Foundation has complete legal authority to hold the county responsible for taxpayer funding. If the county decides it can't afford to fund Airlie in the future, there are legal repercussions that the Foundation can seek against the county.
This resolution is a bad deal for taxpayers, and a clear conflict of interest for County Commissioner Ted Davis, Jr. Commissioners Barfield and Thompson attempted to show some backbone and issued reservations, but were promptly put back in their place by Davis when he notified them of the Foundation's wishes. An air of reverence and fear descended upon the two dissenting voices, and collective support for the resolution was restored.
The public has expressed that it would like to see Airlie protected. But never has anyone in the public expressed the desire for a binding resolution and deed of trust that spans into the indefinite future, binding taxpayers forever. The public likes the idea of the Foundation constantly seeking alternative sources of funding, and there has been a loud cry for Airlie to become self-sufficient. For the commissioners to proclaim that they are doing with this what the public wants, without giving the public sufficient time to even become aware of the issue, or what is in the document is preposterous. It is obvious that Davis and the Foundation fear that the public would understandably not support this motion, would reject it outright, and that time is definitely not on their side. This why they seek to rush this through immediately, before the next commissioners meeting December 6, when Brian Berger and Rick Catlin take their seats as the two new commissioners.
The next meeting in which this resolution is to be voted on is scheduled for Monday November 15, at 2 PM at the old courthouse downtown, in the commissioner's chambers. Please write your commissioners and urge them to table this until the new board takes their seat, and the public has sufficient time to weigh in and issue their thoughts on the matter.
Email addresses for the commissioners are:
Agenda 2010 11-15-Airlie Easement