The only new business on the agenda for the Cape Charles Town Council regular meeting was finding a way to scuttle the contract for the Cape Charles by the Bay website, which was awarded to The Wave, LLC last month. Although the contract was not entirely killed, the stop work order that was put in place by Town Manager Manuel was not lifted. Instead, council voted to table the item, and take it into a work session, where they could ‘explore more options.’ One of those options involves a somewhat dubious interpretation of Section 2.2- 4303 of the recent Virginia Acts of Assembly, where Assistant Town Manager Panek is attempting to provide this option as a way to ‘competitively negotiate’ a contract for ‘non-professional’ services. However, what the town is referencing seems to apply to Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) contracts—whether it actually applies to, or trickles down to local municipalities may require a much more granular interpretation if Cape Charles thinks it is going to be able to leverage it for these purposes. How much the Town spent for this legal analysis was not presented to Council.
“First, there were all these complaints,” said Councilman Wendell. “That the Southerns were not qualified to perform the work. Now you want to use this law, to competiviely bid for ‘non-professional’ services; seems computer work is pretty professional.”
“I don’t make the law,” said Panek. “But the law has changed. This is a political decision. If you feel that you have heard enough from the public, that you feel the vendor cannot do the job, you now have the option to use the competitive bid process.”
“I’d like to see it suspended,” said Councilman Bannon. “I’d like to see a non-profit take it over. The merchants are very unhappy.”
“We don’t know exactly what to do here,” said Proto.
“Business owners feel the Town should fund the website,” said Councilman Bennet. “Because they pay transient occupancy tax, meal tax, all these taxes, they feel they’ve already payed for it.”
During Council comments, Wendell added, “About this law for non-professional services, how did this impede our Assistant Town Manager’s decision to award and sign the contract in the first place? The contract was only stopped because of the Wave, LLC’s unpopularity with a few people. They obviously have the computer skills, so you are setting a precedent here. When fifteen people are unhappy, you do this. You’re changing the way the town has been doing business for some time now. Let’s not kid ourselves, if you change it, you are only doing so based on popularity. Also, I have been reading the Virginia Conflict of Interest Act. I wonder if Mr. Bannon feels any of this applies to him?” Wendell passed a copy of the Act down the table to Bannon. “Maybe you should read this, so next time, you’ll have a better idea of what you are talking about.”
Wendell was alluding to Bannon’s Bed & Breakfast business, and whether the Conflict of Interest Act is relevant when voting on issues that would directly affect him or the rest of the B&B Association. The B&B’s open disdain for the award of the Wave, LLC’s contract is a case in point.
Opinion: It appears this entire charade was the Town’s way of getting back at The Wave for accurately reporting their actions over the last three years, especially the behind the scenes maneuvering to gift wrap the old school for Echelon Services. This smells fishy, like a setup–Panek awarded the contract to Wave, LLC, the Southerns were then subjected to public ridicule at the hands of the Cape Charles Business Association as well as the Bed & Breakfast Association, and now the coup de grâce is to slowly take the contract away.
After discussion, it was consensus that the item should be tabled, and the Town would then attempt to form a citizen committee which would work with staff to find a way forward. Confusingly, it was also decided that Town Clerk Libby Hume would take over what Mr. Panek termed the ‘simple task’ of updating the Cape Charles by the Bay website with more current content. Which begs the question, why are they spending more tax dollars on this when they don’t need to? It should be noted that the CC Mirror did not submit a formal bid to provide services for the website, but a recommendation that the town pay for simple hosting, and have Town staff update the site. The social media portion, which has been completely over emphasized, should be crowd sourced. That is, stream the public’s Instagram or Flickr vacation images right into the site, and allow anyone to post to Facebook or Twitter (that’s the real power of social media). The Cape Charles Mirror was willing to perform these basic tasks free of charge.
During public comments, Hank Mayer (member of the Cape Charles Bed & Breakfast Association) spoke in favor of rescinding the Wave,LLC contract, “A lot has been invested in this web site.” While Mayer was present in the audience, Councilman Wendell took the opportunity to try and get more details on what Mayer meant by ‘investment’, specifically, how much did the town already ante up for this endeavor. Before Mayer could answer, Bob Panek said, “Not on the web site.” Mayer attempted some form of a response, however, a nervous Mayor Proto, in an effort to recreate Councilwoman Natali’s ‘Don’t answer that!’ moment, jumped into the fray, “Stop. We are not..we are not taking comments from the public.” This seemed inconsistent, since he had just let Mr. Panek speak from the audience without rebuttal.
There were three letters read into the record by Clerk Hume:
(LETTER FROM DORIE SOUTHERN)
Dear Cape Charles Town Council,
On June 10, a contract between the Town of Cape Charles and Cape Charles Wave LLC was executed to provide maintenance, support, and social media marketing for the Cape Charles By the Bay website.At the June 18 Town Council meeting, objections to the contract were voiced by 14 members of the local business community.On June 22, the town manager issued a stop work order to Cape Charles Wave LLC. A town memo states, “The complaints question the firm’s ability to effectively market the Town as a tourism destination, given the negativity often displayed in their on-line publication Cape Charles Wave and lack of familiarity with happenings around town.”
Our first reaction to the reason given for the stop work order was disbelief. “Lack of familiarity with happenings around town?” This is being said of me and my husband, who for three years published a newspaper expressly devoted to happenings around town? During those three years the Wave has reported nearly 2,000 local events – far more than any other news media.
“Negativity often displayed”? Yes, news is often negative. But our detractors are cherry-picking the Wave. There was plenty of good news reported. For example:
– “Here’s the Scoop on Brown Dog Ice Cream: Grand opening was a ‘wild success,’ with lines of customers ‘from the dipping cabinet to the door,’ reported a staff member. The five regular employees weren’t nearly enough to serve the crowd, and Elton’s friends and family members found themselves pressed into service.” The story ended by saying: “Thanks Foster (the brown dog). You and your family are going to make a lot of folks happy!”
— “Bay Haven Inn Remake Reflects Town Pride. The transformation at 403 Tazewell Avenue is one of the most dramatic examples of what is being played out all over the Cape Charles Historic District. Houses are getting coats of paint, new roofs, new plumbing, electrical work, shored-up foundations, and years of overgrowth are being trimmed from yards. Houses like Bay Haven Inn are surely promoting confidence in the Historic District.”
— “Business has been so good at the Shanty Restaurant at the Town Harbor that they plan to expand next year. The restaurant, which leases land from the Town of Cape Charles, has applied for permission to enclose the front entrance, add a market to the right of the entrance, and enclose the rear deck.”
We have concluded that the indignation expressed at the Town Council meeting by those 14 individuals was less about the Wave and more about the fact that the Kohlers did not receive the contract renewal. Cape Charles By the Bay would not exist today were it not for the Kohlers and the Bed & Breakfast Association.
(LETTER FROM KEARN C. SCHEMM)
Dear Town Council,
I am the Southerns’ friend and business partner in the operation of Southern Breezes, a vacation rental duplex at 104 Monroe Avenue. We resent seeing tax dollars go to support a website favoring the Bed & Breakfast Association in exclusion of the vacation rental sector, which dwarfs the B&Bs. We started our vacation rental business five years ago, when only two B&Bs operated in the town and there were no hotels, and I reject Mr. Brinkley’s claim that my business partner “does not have a solid background in tourism.” George Southern has designed and maintained tourism websites on vrbo.com,homeaway.com, vacation rentals.com, tripadvisor.com, and the state of Virginia’s own tourism web page. During the two years the By the Bay website has existed, we were never approached to advertise. And even had we been asked, we would have declined, given the website’s idiotic prohibition against linking our rental to our advertising in vrbo.com andhomeaway.com, for which we pay $1,100 annually. More than 100 town vacation rental properties are featured on those two websites, and it’s no surprise that not a single one is shown on Cape Charles by the Bay. Why spend money on a website that refuses to link basic information at the advertiser’s request?
As to the allegations that the Wave lacks “familiarity with happenings around town,” this is laughable. I have been approached by about a dozen people (neighbors and local business people) since the Wave stopped publication, and the common thread of their remarks was, “I would know nothing about what is going on in town if it weren’t for the Wave.” No one in town knows the happenings here better than the Wave. Given their work ethic and experience, a Wave-run Cape Charles by the Bay would improve in quality and better serve our community. The Stop Work Order should be rescinded.
(LETTER FROM GEORGE SOUTHERN)
Dear Cape Charles Town Council,
As my business partner notes, the By the Bay website was designed to promote B&Bs. Our goal is to double the number of ads on the website. That should not be too difficult once vacation rentals are allowed to advertise without the current restrictions. When prospective visitors Google “Cape Charles,” they are looking primarily for a place to stay. The majority of visitors are families for whom a B&B or a hotel room is not adequate. They want rental houses, and Cape Charles is full of them. But you would never know it from looking at the town’s tourism website.
A purported reason for cancelling the contract is that disgruntled businesses would not advertise in By the Bay if it were managed by Cape Charles Wave LLC. But most businesses are not advertising in it anyway! Following is some information reported by the Kohlers to the town on June 7 and passed on to me upon receiving the contract:
— Ellen Moore Gallery never responded to a request to advertise.
— Cape Charles Water Sports (the Heywards) never responded to a request to advertise this year.
— Sea Grass Floral (Cynthia Dempster) never paid for their ad.
— Eastern Shore Signs (Andy Buchholz) moved to Cheriton and could not therefore be listed.
— There was no record of any advertising this year by the Baldwins.
— And there was no record of any advertising by Cape Charles Boat Tour Co. (David Lee).
That accounts for 7 of the 14 individuals who spoke against the Wave LLC. Another three individuals (Tammy Holloway and Bruce and Carol Evans) represent B&Bs and therefore have a strong reason to support the B&B Association. That leaves only 4 other business representatives who spoke and who actually had paid for ads in the website. They are Brown Dog, the Shanty, Hotel Cape Charles, and the Boardwalk. All four of those paid ads were removed by the Kohlers before they ceased managing the website on June 30.
The fact is that the town’s tourism website lost four paying ads, plus two B&B ads, as a result of awarding the contract to the Wave LLC. If you allow me to manage the website as contracted, I will replace those 4 cancelled ads with 40 new ones, and if I cannot I will not charge for my services. In fact I already sold 2 ads before getting the stop work order. Please allow me to perform the services you have contracted for.
Assistant Town Manager Panek updated the council on the status of the PSA. He noted that the Board of Supervisors, on June 22nd, voted to suspend the PSA until further notice. Of issue was Cape Charles demands for an overlay district, surcharge pricing and an upfront payment for connection fees. Panek withheld information regarding Exmore’s request that the PSA be disbanded.
“Was there any discussion of how these issues can be resolved?” asked Proto.
“No,” Panek said.
“I read an Eastern Shore Post report,” said Councilman Bennett. “It had some inaccuracies. I don’t recall us saying anything about $750,000 in upfront connection fees. The Post wrote that Lemond said it was too expensive, but there was no mention of any issues with Cape Charles. There are more inaccuracies in the Post than I thought.”
“There often are,” Panek said.
Note: The CC Mirror also reported on the events Mr. Bennett is referring to as inaccurate, however the Mirror pretty much concurs with Ron West’s Post report. As far as not reading anything negative about Cape Charles, the Mirror quoted Mr. Lemond exactly in this story , “I have a very big problem with the Cape Charles contract. The cost, the profit (for Cape Charles), and the way they want to hold zoning over our heads. I’ve got a big problem with that.”
Opinion: This is the Town’s modus operandi. When they don’t like what is being reported, they call it ‘inaccurate’. We saw the same plan employed by CCBA when they attacked the Wave, LLC contract. Unable to argue against the Southern’s technical ability, they instead used ad hominem personal attacks. Here, Bennett and Panek are using Ron West to deflect criticism which should rightly be directed towards them.
Kiss Me Deadly: Charon’s Sweetheart Deal
Council once again took up how to pay Charon Ventures $41,073.91 in insurance proceeds related to the old school purchase. “Completion of the project was initially projected for June 2015. The insurance proceeds were in the General Fund Balance but the expenditure was not included in the FY 2015 budget because of construction schedule uncertainty. Council appropriated the funds and amended the FY 2015 budget at the April 16, 2015 meeting to pay the above amount to Charon Ventures”—Staff report.
“Just to be clear,” said Proto. “This is only to amend the budget, not appropriate the funds.”
Although Proto had previously stated that Council was not taking comments from the audience, Bob Panek interrupted the Mayor, “No! Appropriate and Amend.”
“My mistake,” said Proto. Council voted 4-1 to approve the motion, with Wendell voting against.
300 Mason: No progress?
Patrick Hand’s application for a Harbor Development Certificate for his 300 Mason Avenue project was rejected by Council once again.
“ It still doesn’t meet the requirements of the Harbor District Review Board,” said Bennett. “There’s still some inaccuracies in the height of the buildings, there’s no landscape plan, and this bell curve thing isn’t working for me.” Council voted to reject the application, and move the issue into a future work session.
Mayor and Council Comments
During Council comments, Councilman Brown voiced concerns that the Town has an ordinance for reverse angle parking, yet fails to enforce it, “When you are in violation of the reverse angle parking, a citation should be issued by the police. We have an ordinance on the books. If you are not going to enforce it, take it off the books.”
Wendell countered, “A lot of work went into promoting tourism for the downtown of Cape Charles. Of course, we wound up with reverse angle parking, where staff can’t even come up with a name, or who they even talked to. There are only a handful of places in the state that have tried this in the first place. Giving somebody a ticket because the sign is ten spaces down and they can’t see it when they try to park, this undermines the greater effort to promote Cape Charles.”