Transparency

Letter | What’s really behind North Myrtle Beach tent ban

April 22, 2014 

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On March 17, 2014, the North Myrtle Beach City Council voted 4 to 2 to ban the use of beach tents between May 15 and Sept. 15. I question the rationale upon which the ordinance was made on two grounds: first, transparency; and second, perspective.

Let’s examine the transparency issue. The official rationale for NMB City Council making the decision was stated in The Sun News on March 18th: “The adoption of the new law was driven by public safety concerns. Over the past several years, the number of tents on the beach escalated to the point where it became increasingly difficult for public safety officials to respond in a timely manner to beach related medical and other emergencies.”

If I believed the second sentence in the rationale above were the real reason for the beach tent ban, you would not be reading this copy. No responsible, safety-minded citizen or employee would disagree with authentic and accurate public safety concerns. I simply question the accuracy of the second statement, and I question the ambiguous phrase in the first sentence, “driven by public safety concerns.”

If it has been “increasingly difficult for safety officials to respond to beach related medical and other emergencies”, why were no facts supporting the statement ever presented? For instance, how many times during the busy tourist season and during the past three years have safety officials had to respond? How many times were emergency personnel physically prevented from getting to a specific place on the beach due to the number of beach tents? In such cases, what were the outcomes? Answers to these questions would have made a more convincing argument in support of the rationale presented.

What were the other “public safety concerns” that drove the decision to ban the tents by the North Myrtle Beach City Council? “Concerns” become evident when one reviews comments recorded in the minutes of the Feb.3 NMB City Council meeting: “Lt. Guy Johnson stated that in his years of working and supervising on the beach that a lot has changed. It is very hard to manage the tents. They can’t explain the rules and keep them enforced now. Their job is to supervise and do rescues. He would recommend a complete ban on the tents.”

“Mr. Mahaney stated that with the changing tourist every week it would take at least 8 people to enforce the laws. He feels that for safety reasons that the tents must be banned in certain areas.”

At this Feb. 3 meeting, the NMB City Council voted 4 to 3 in favor of banning the tents from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The Council then planned to take its recommendation to the Coastal Alliance indicating NMB’s proposal to ban the tents. In the NMB City Council meeting of Feb. 17, Parks & Recreation director Bullard shared “problems that his employees have related to tents and arguments concerning territory on the beach.” “All Public Safety representatives stated that to enforce a partial ban it would take around $400,000.”

One of the primary drivers presented as a “public safety concern” seems to be monetary. It appears that the City of NMB does not want to provide the financial resources to assist with the challenge.

Another “public safety concern” that was likely another primary driver of the decision appears to be the inconvenience that personnel in Public Safety and Parks & Recreation experienced when they had to deal with some difficult people about beach tent issues. This leads to the issue of perspective. There have been numerous articles published in The Sun News between Feb. 5 and March 18. The overwhelming perspective in those articles has been a me-focus, an internal municipality-focus. With the exception of the reference to medical emergencies, there was no mention of the vacationer’s perspective, needs, comfort, health (sunburn), enjoyment, or wants in any of the published articles.

What happened to taking our customer’s/vacationer’s perspective? A customer is the reason for our business, not an interruption, and is certainly not a nuisance. Effective employees in public- and private-sector organizations are accustomed to frequent changes, adapt to them readily, and adjust to any new roles and responsibilities that might accompany those changes. Just give them the resources that will enable them to perform. It appears the North Myrtle Beach City Council took the easy way out and created a tent-ban ordinance, so that their personnel might not be “inconvenienced.” In its decision-making, NMB City Council chose expediency over doing the right thing by guests/vacationers/customers.

The City of North Myrtle Beach expends considerable marketing dollars to invite and encourage visitors to come to this area in droves. Then it does not assign funds or institute processes that would permit the delivery of first- class hospitality and experiences to our guests. Instead, they vote for a new, emotionally divisive, tent-ban law. North Myrtle Beach residents might want to be reminded that those Council members who voted for this ban were Mayor Hatley, Nicole Fontana, Terry White, and Fred Coyne.

With NMB’s decision to ban beach tents, it may have just killed the goose that lays the golden eggs. When the NMB City Council voted to ban beach tents on its beaches, it basically said to vacationers that they and their needs were not important. We, as leaders in any capacity, only win when those we serve win.

The writer lives in Little River.

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