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Steinburg followed legal process in Currituck tourism sponsorship

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Holly Audette
Columnist

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Currituck Tourism is sponsoring a basketball tournament through a company owned by Rep. Bob Steinburg. Negative response is expected from those who politically oppose him. But the people with no political ax to grind deserve actual facts.

Taxpayers should always be able to know how expenditures are made and by whom. Consistent processes give people confidence in government. Processes equally applied to all that include transparency. The press has a role in accountability for this.

The North Carolina state legislature is part-time, paying about $13,000 per year. It’s very difficult for anyone to serve who is not self-employed, independently wealthy or retired with a substantial income. How many of us could leave our jobs for months at a time out of the year?

Rep. Steinburg is self-employed. His wife Marie works full-time as a secretary. Every elected official must disclose sources of income so that conflicts of interest can be vetted. State statute defines through conflict of interest definitions what work elected officials can and cannot do in their private life.

County’s involved in tourism collect tax from tourists as determined by local legislation. That legislation also mandates how those funds are spent. The county determines its process for complying with the law through its ordinances. Currituck state law mandates one-third of tourism taxes be spent on tourism promotion. The money cannot be spent on anything else and comes solely from tourists.

Currituck’s process for vetting every proposal for tourism promotion from a $50 ad in the local high school paper to the almost $500,000 they spend on Google ads is exactly the same. Tourism’s staff review a proposal, then provide it to the Tourism Advisory Board for consideration. If recommended it goes to the county attorney for legal vetting. Then it goes to finance to ensure it can be funded within the approved line item in the tourism budget that the commissioners previously approved. Next it goes to the county manager to sign for the county. All parts of the process are public record. This proposal went through each of those steps just like every other.

Some have suggested because the legal applicant was Steinburg’s company, a different process should have been followed. The process is designed to be the same to consider all legal proposals for their merits, not who the applicant is. A process that purposely avoids any, “special treatment” for anyone based on who the applicant is. How could a government process be legal and treat some legal applicants differently than others? If “we” like the applicant, it is approved; but if the same legal application comes from someone we don’t, it is denied? Isn’t that exactly the “cigar smoking back room deal” process that consistent processes for all ensure do not happen?

If you don’t think an elected official should be able to make a private living with any public moneys ask the legislature to change the law. But if the law allows a business owned by Steinburg to be a legal applicant, as in this case, the call for a different process for him is irresponsible and reckless, especially coming from elected officials who are proposing that the local government invite legal liability for treating legal applicants differently. It is also reckless for those to claim the consistent process was not followed here when they are uninformed as to what the actual process is.

As to spending $50,000 on tourism promotion? When the law mandates you spend on tourism promotion —  $2.5 million in this Currituck tourism promotion budget line item, some context about pricing is informative. $50,000 is not an unusual expenditure. $471,000 for Google click ads, $50,000 for Southern Living magazine and $10,000 for The OBX Sunny Day Guide make the million dollars to promote Dare Tourism in the Rose Bowl look like small potatoes.

Knowledge often exposes motives. Especially in politics.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.

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