With Election Day just around the corner, political signs are posted along roadsides and in yards throughout Swansboro … nothing new there.

And, as usual, with the signs come complaints about the signs. Again, there is nothing new about complaints.

But normally, the complaints are of the theft or vandalism variety, and the Swansboro Police Department has had no complaints of either so far, according to Lt. Dwayne Taylor.

But this election is different.

Jennifer Ansell, town planner, said complaints about signs, specifically signs placed by Mayor John Davis, have been lodged.

Ansell said that she and Paula Webb, interim town manager, have fielded “several” complaints concerning Davis’s signs. The signs violated the ordinance in two ways, according to Ansell. First, they were used to create a mobile display and, second, they exceed the area allowed for a political sign.

Laurent Meilleur, a Swansboro commissioner who is nearing the end of his first term and did not choose to seek reelection, said that Davis not only violated the town’s political signs ordinance, but that following complaints about the violations, the mayor continued to violate the ordinance in what could be described as an attempt to be skirt the rule.

Davis attributes the violations to a misunderstanding. In an email to the Tideland News on Friday, Davis said the signs have since been brought into compliance.

Meilleur said he became involved when he emailed Ansell about the possible ordinance violations. She replied by posting the town’s rules. (See related item.)

Meilleur said Davis, who is in his first term as mayor, had employed a sign on a trailer – creating a mobile sign – that was in violation of the ordinance.

Ansell said complaints about the mobile sign resulted in Davis removing the sign from the trailer and placing it and an similar sign on the roadway.

According to Meilleur, they were placed along N.C. 24. But, Meilleur explained in an email, the signs exceeded the maximum size allowed.

Ansell said complaints about the size of the signs came in from the public.

Signs exceeding 15 square feet are allowed only by special-use permit, according to town ordinances.

Meilleur, said such a permit would require a structural engineer’s inspection.

“So, he cut the signs,” Meilleur explained, in an apparent attempt to claim that neither of the two parts of the signs totaled more than the allowable 15 square feet.

In an email to Ansell, Meilleur said that if the signs were cut as a means to claim that each panel is under the 15-square-foot maximum, “That would be flawed logic as 152.267 B accounts for multiple modules being counted together.”

In his computation, Meilleur said the signs – when the sections are put together – are 6 feet wide and 4 feet high and they are two-sided, which equals 48 square feet of area for each sign.

“These signs exemplify why towns need ordinances and why they should be enforced as, in my opinion, these signs are not becoming to the town of Swansboro,” Meilleur told Ansell in an email. “Worse, town employees should not allow a politician to run amuck and imply that town ordinances don’t apply to him (or her). Rather, I believe the thing is to make sure the playing field is level by properly enforcing our ordinances. Please consider this email as a formal complaint and that I ask that the signs be removed until they meet our local ordinances.”

In his emails to Ansell, Meilleur said that he believes it is apparent Davis, after being made aware of the violations by the town planner, chose to find a way around the rules rather than comply.

“John Davis either doesn’t seem to know how to read an ordinance or actively works to get around them,” Meilleur said in an email to the Tideland News. “No wonder he wants to do away with such rules and let (developers) do whatever they want and allow others to add blight to our town. My concern is that he will drag down our property values as a result.”

In order to settle the issue, Meilleur, Ansell and Webb teleconferenced with Cliff Parson, attorney for the town. That took place on Thursday, Oct. 14.

“We spoke to Cliff this morning, and agreed that per the definition of Political Sign under Section 152.016, the four individual signs could not be considered political signs, thus were not allowed,” Ansell said. Parson agreed to give the news to Davis.

Meilleur said that Davis’s response – or lack of response – to requests to comply with the ordinance, put undue pressure on the town employee.

Meilleur, who has been a vocal critic of Davis’s relationship with town staff during his two years on the board, said to Ansell, the mayor is “basically ignoring your professional responsibilities and our town ordinances, and creating difficulties and wasting endless hours of time for our town staff. I think Mr. Davis’s activity here demonstrates why he is unable to build trust with other elected officials – and why there has been such an increase in staff turnover since Davis became mayor.”

In his email, Davis indicated he was merely following past precedent.

He called the matter a “misunderstanding of how the rules have been applied over the past several elections (local, state and federal). I have immediately corrected any violations, as directed by the town staff. They have been very patient and supportive, as I have corrected to meet their interpretation and new level of enforcement. I even had an approval by the town withdrawn and I was asked to make additional corrections and the corrections were completed with due haste.”

Commissioner P.J. Pugliese, in the midst of his first four-year term, referred to allegations that the mayor has not been a “team player” as he decried the episode.

“The mayor’s unwillingness to work with the board is bad enough, but disregard for town ordinances is concerning,” Pugliese said in an email. “It is very unbecoming of a town leader to work that hard to try to skirt our own town rules. “

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy at tidelandnews.com.

For more on this story purchase a copy of the Oct. 20, 2021, Tideland News.

(13) comments

David Collins

What is right is right , what is wrong is wrong . Misunderstanding is an age old excuse but seldom carries merit . Strange that he did not read the rules of fair play . Scheming to get around the rules tells one volumes about character . Just does . But just like Harry Ried said about his false claims about Romney and taxes , hey it worked , didn’t it ?

Swasnboro_Native

Just because is a character doesn't insinuate that he has any.

drewski

The board and the mayor at odds? Again?

Seems like the town is who suffers from this fractured relationship.

David Collins

Come on . Everybody has character . Just different types for different situations . Men/women and anything in between should be qualified to run for mayor as write ins , are they ? Has the Boro ever had a non binary mayor or commissioner ? How about a black candidate ? Good golly let’s get this town jumping . Stuff all those ballots and get things humming .

David Collins

PS , old white guys are really over rated . Time for a new day dawning ?

David Collins

Yes , the folks that pay into this town do suffer from lack of proactive leadership . A few actually do profit from it but the rest , 90% more or less est. , just want to be left alone with streets that won’t destroy your automobile , waterlines that do not constantly leak time after time and seemingly forever , sensible traffic patterns in the downtown horse and buggy streets and assurance that they will be able to safely traverse the Hy 24 corridor without being run over from behind by drivers that think it is a race track . There is more but just a few of the highlights . So many issues have been “tabled” over the years , never to see the light of day again , that things are piling up . Sooner or later that pile will come home to roost .

noitall

... the original intent of this Swansboro Gateway project was to "and per the consultants own words - make Swansboro more like Havelock" Look it up. By any measure we are not yet there. and more like Cove City with water.

(Edited by staff.)

Swasnboro_Native

They don't let black people in Swansboro, only to pass through. Also, average income white people and 99% of black people can't afford to live here. Tough to find mayoral candidates when they can't afford to be here.

noitall

Not true!!

David Collins

OK , what is not true here ?

noitall

Black people can afford o live here So can other minorities including NA Indians like me. Does that answer your question??.

David Collins

Thanks . Confirmed what I thought due to still having functioning eyes . No problem , no problem at all .

noitall

It happens that I employ several black people and some LBQ whatever s in the past.and they are paid well enough to afford to live in Swansboro. Swansboro is NOT the Paris of eastern NC. That title belongs to Havelock

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