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Nothing conservative about Steinburg contract

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By Peter Thomson
Columnist

Sunday, August 5, 2018

It is always disappointing when a respected senior legislator’s probity becomes in doubt, and its worse when it’s one of ours. The Daily Advance covered it extensively: Rep. Bob Steinburg owns a firm that received a contract from Currituck County to promote a basketball tournament in Asheville. It was a single source contract that he asked for and got. Some folks in Currituck knew about it and some didn’t. It’s all legal, and according to Rep. Steinburg he got an ethical opinion from the General Assembly staff before entering into the arrangement,

So the contract is legal and pronounced ethical by staff, but it sure is troubling. The political “optics” are all wrong and Steinburg should have known it. Here you have a Republican representative in a state with a Republican supermajority proposing an initiative to one of the counties he is paid to serve. It’s an idea that’s kind of unusual: promoting a basketball game in Asheville, with one of the participants being from Wilmington, a competitive beach town.

You can look at this a couple of ways: either it is an interesting attempt to open up a new and unusual market for Currituck County tourism, or that Asheville is so far from the usual Currituck Beach market of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania market that it is money down the drain. Mr. Steinburg’s firm is to be paid $50,000 to promote this tournament with as yet no details on what that promotion entails and how much of that money is going to be spent on third-party costs or to become profit. It’s also unclear whether, after the event, Mr. Steinburg’s firm will be making a contribution to Rep. Steinburg’s senatorial campaign. One can speculate, but we just don’t know.

What’s disturbing is that a legislator who can influence grants, awards and help enact bills leading to a county’s prosperity — or lack of same — would pitch this contract. It means that the Currituck folks have been asked, by a man whose actions can have a huge economic impact on the county, to have his firm paid to promote a basketball game in the mountains, a competing tourism region. Was this an offer the county couldn’t refuse? Should Currituck worry about what costly proposal will come next from their representative?

The flip side of the coin is this: what example does it give to the rest of the counties that Rep. Steinburg serves? Currituck hires his company $50,000 for an unusual promotion; should Chowan hire it for $60,000? Is this the new price of admission for a county to be in its serving representative’s good graces? Though the legislative staff considers it ethical, an experienced legislator should understand that this kind of dealing creates its own odor. It does not pass the smell test

Rep. Bob Steinburg’s has said “I have never backed down from the opportunity to defend our conservative values, because the good people of northeastern North Carolina deserve nothing less.” Conservative values do not include asking the people you are paid to serve for what appears on the surface to be a coerced handout. Mr. Steinburg should not sell his company’s services to counties he serves but should get out of the promotion business as long as he is a legislator. That’s what the people of northeastern North Carolina deserve.

Peter Thomson is a resident of Elizabeth City.

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