Tar Heel Tattler - July 2007

He's selling along on moonlight bray
By Mark Kemp

Dick Sears doesn’t understand why people care so much about his moonlighting. “Every mayor I know has another job.” Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is a law partner at Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein; Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is a Duke Energy executive. So why the fuss over the Holly Springs mayor’s part-time job?

Maybe because those guys had their jobs before they were elected. Sears, who has held office since 2001, was hired in March as a “community consultant” for Raleigh-based Wakefield Development Co.’s 12 Oaks subdivision. His job: talk up the 1,300-house development, set to open later this year in Holly Springs. “We typically need to invest a significant amount of time in helping a candidate learn about a project,” says Wakefield President John Myers. “Mr. Sears was already very familiar with 12 Oaks.”

Sears works about two days a week, tracking prospects, preparing reports for sales staff, being a go-between for builders and brokers and acting as a community spokesman. Distantly related to Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s founder, he retired in 1993 as its national group marketing manager for women’s apparel and accessories. He took his new job after his financial adviser told him his town pay wouldn’t sustain his lifestyle. “You can’t live,” he says, “on $15,000 a year for the rest of your life.” What does Wakefield pay? “They are paying me in a similar nature to all their part-time consultants, which is slightly more than my 15K a year as mayor.”

Regardless of the amount, it’s too much, some community activists complain. Complicating matters is that one of five Holly Springs councilmen is an architect who designed 12 Oaks’ tennis clubhouse and fitness center. It spurred another councilman to recommend updating the town’s ethics policy.

Sears bristles at the suggestion and says he has taken pains to avoid any appearance of conflict. “I’ve recused myself more times than I even should.” He has another solution for those who don’t like his job: “Some day,” he says, “the state’s going to catch up with the rest of the world and say, ‘If you have a town that’s growing at the rate ours is, you’d better start thinking of making the mayor full time and paying him a decent salary.’”

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