The North Carolina State Auditor’s Office launched an investigation into the Brunswick County town of Ocean Isle after receiving several allegations. Following a review of meeting minutes, town statutes, examination of available documents, and interviews with private residents and town officials, the Office found that the Mayor of Ocean Isle used confidential, nonpublic knowledge to acquire property and benefit from that purchase. 

A town resident attempted to purchase property from the town in 2018. After appraising the property, the Town Administrator was instructed to reach out to the interested resident. The resident claims to have never received contact. The property was then withheld from the open market when the Town Administrator received an offer later settled from a real estate company owned by the Mayor and her brother. 

The report states that “the Mayor’s inappropriate involvement consisted of preparing the Offer to Purchase and Contract which included the price, due diligence period, and closing date.” The Mayor may not set aside her mayoral obligations to enter into a business transaction that would directly benefit her. State law prohibits public officials from deriving direct benefit from a contract they make or administer. The Town Administrator also lacked the proper authority to execute the contracts. 

Managing business in public life is cumbersome and requires both broad and local legal expertise. Thankfully, the State Auditor’s Office issued the following recommendations to avoid future chaos that undermines public trust: 

  • The Board, Mayor, Legal Counsel, and Town Administrator should take trainings at the University of North Carolina School of Government to help ensure an appropriate control environment exists throughout Town government.
  • The Town should ensure that its Legal Counsel is knowledgeable in legal matters relating to local government, including:
    • conflicts of interest;
    • closed sessions of Board meetings;
    • and local Town ordinances.