Pine Knoll Shores, N.C.
May 15, 2020
TO THE EDITOR:
On May 14, Pine Knoll Shores lost a good man. For Mayor Ken Jones, the campaigns are over, the difficult decisions are in the past, the contentious meetings are in the rear view mirror, and it’s time to reflect on what he did for Pine Knoll Shores. The message I hope to convey here is that there simply wasn’t a person who cared more about the people of Pine Knoll Shores than Ken.
In describing the mayor, I would often tell people that he was 10 miles wide and one inch deep—and going 100 mph doing it. That was my way of saying that Ken was involved in everything, and he was. He knew how to repair a water main leak because anytime he knew Sonny Cunningham was out on Highway 58 late at night, Ken would be there. He knew how to put up a tent at Garner Park because each year at the time of the annual Kayak for the Warriors race he was at the park helping do this. He knew how we ran our annual Turkey Trot because he and his bugle were there each Thanksgiving.
Ken could walk into the North Carolina General Assembly and make a beeline for a legislator’s office to see someone who needed to be convinced that municipalities needed the authority to protect trees. He knew how to plan our annual Arbor Day celebration because he counted that among the most important events of the year and because he knew it was so meaningful to the ethos of Pine Knoll Shores. I think Ken’s impulse in all of this was to do something for the citizens in town, whom I believe he genuinely cared about.
Ken believed strongly in leader-ship-by-being-present. He wanted to be in the mix, taking the occasional shot for making a tough call. I saw this more times than I can count. Whether it was establishing a new beach tax, buying water meters, installing new public beach accesses, taking actions during storms, or presiding over a tough zoning issue, Ken did what he believed was right for the citizens of Pine Knoll Shores. I know this sounds like campaign talk—it isn’t. Ken simply did what he thought was right for the town and was willing to accept criticism for it.
To provide an example of this, I will share some observations from an experience we all shared together in 2018: Hurricane Florence. Ken always took pride—and took occasional grief—for being the first town leader in Carteret County to declare a State of Emergency for a storm. Ken said then, as he said to me every time he did this, “Kramer, it’s free! And if it helps protect our people, we’re doing it!” Several days after the rain ended, the east end of Pine Knoll Shores was under many feet of putrid, septic-infested water. On a ride through this area, a biologist told Ken that it was imprudent for people to be in that water. So the mayor, in a move that infuriated many, kept the town closed. Ken was everywhere in town from mid-September to mid-October 2018.
On more than one occasion, I had to force him to stop what he was doing (again, at 100 mph) to make him drink a bottle of water, as his skin was as red as his hair. Late one night about a week after the rain ended, I received a call from the CEO of Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative: Ken had made arrangements for electric linemen from Tennessee to stay at the Hampton Inn in Pine Knoll Shores. Ken later told me he told the Hampton Inn manager, “You want your power turned on? Let these guys stay here.” As a result, and Ken knew this would happen when he made the arrangements, power was restored to the east end of town much faster than it would have been otherwise.
Ken took pride in being Mayor of Pine Knoll Shores, not because of beaches and trees, but because of the people. He truly believed, I think, that this town attracted a certain type of person, and he took pride in representing this individual. This person was funny, opinionated, strong willed, was incredibly generous, volunteered his/her time, loved his/her country, and wanted to live in a beautiful natural setting. If you saw the excitement in Ken’s eyes when a generous donor provided funding for the beautiful massive flagpole in front of the public safety building, you saw classic Ken. He thought this demonstrated the very best of Pine Knoll Shores. He told me on many occasions that when he drove west on Highway 58 toward the red light and saw that massive American flag flying above the tree line, he was proud to live here. He said the same thing, by the way, about the flag flown at Ocean Park, which he said is visible when riding south on Mimosa Boulevard. (By the way, Ken was not a bumper-sticker patriot. I don’t know if I have ever known a person prouder to be an American. Ken was a descendant of Ulysses S. Grant and would let you know it. He was also a dyed-in-the-wool Re-publican . . . but he kept a life-sized cutout of John F. Kennedy in his home because he thought JFK defined American leadership.)
Ken loved, and I mean adored, the volunteers and staff of Pine Knoll Shores. As a staff member, I would sometimes be a bit embarrassed as Ken lauded us following an event. I feel guilty about this now as I know he was doing his best to show us appreciation. As to the volunteers, Ken saw no greater examples of service to the community than the people who put time into Pine Knoll Shores for nothing more than a thank you.
For 12 years I watched Ken, in meetings of Carteret County mayors and managers, tell his peers that we had an event that raised tens of thousands of dollars for wounded servicemen and women—and that we did it all with volunteers. Ken would get teary-eyed each Christmas at the fire department’s annual party when he saw the men and women who might be too old to fight a fire, but could organize a nice barbecue dinner to thank our fire department personnel. Last year, when we had a breakout 500-person turnout at the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, Ken called me immediately afterwards and was shouting into the phone with excitement at the number of runners. “Did you hear about the turnout for this morning!?! Isn’t this town great!?!” You would have thought I was talking to a brand-new mayor at his first civic event, but it was Ken, 11 years into his time as mayor.
In my outline for this tribute, I have several other examples of Ken as a100-mph advocate for the town: the time he stood up at a county commissioners meeting and argued to protect our sales tax revenue, the time he spoke in front of a North Carolina General Assembly committee and explained why municipal service districts were needed so we could save for our next beach renourishment, the times he made difficult calls on very sensitive topics during board meetings, and the times he made sure the County Beach Commission made decisions that gave Pine Knoll Shores due consideration for resources.
The common denominator in all of these: Ken was going as fast as he could (100 mph), doing as much as he could (10 miles wide), and doing so with the best interest of Pine Knoll Shores in mind.
Looking back on Ken’s time as mayor, I think I can confidently say he was always acting in our best interest. We were all lucky to have him as our mayor, and we were even luckier if we knew him as a person.
Town Manager, Pine Knoll Shores