Wrightsville Beach town attorney retires after 36 years


Over the past three and a half decades, Wrightsville Beach has seen many changes to both its town staff and its political leadership through the board of aldermen. But through all of those changes, one constant has been the town’s legal representation, with local attorney John Wessell having served as the town’s lawyer for 36 years.

But that’s about to change, as Wessell retired after the October meeting.  The Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen hired attorney Brian Edes, an attorney with Crossley McIntosh & Collier who has represented the town as outside counsel on other cases. 

And while Wessell said that he has seen changes to Wrightsville Beach during more than three decades of work for the town, he said the development across the drawbridge in Wilmington has had a bigger impact on how the town operates.

“The houses are bigger and there are a lot more people here,” Wessell said. “But what’s happened right across the drawbridge has had a fairly significant impact on the number of people that have come to Wrightsville Beach. In winter, Wrightsville Beach would shut down. That never really happens anymore.”

When Wessell first started as the town’s attorney in 1983, the town hall was located on Waynick Boulevard, near where the water tower currently stands. One of the last major new developments, Shell Island on the North End, was underway and with the town being mostly built out after that, he said much of his work has been on zoning issues. 

Over the past few months, Wessell has been winding down his law practice, much of which involved representing municipal clients. Before representing Wrightsville Beach, he was an assistant city attorney for the city of Wilmington for two years. And about five months ago, he retired as the attorney for Leland, after having represented the town for more than 20 years. He has also represented the town’s of Topsail Beach and Surf City in the past.

And while Wessell will have more free time, he will only be semi-retired, as he will continue to serve as the attorney for the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority.

After spending summers on Wrightsville Beach while growing up, Wessell has lived in the town since around the time he started working as its attorney. He said that over the years, he has enjoyed working in municipal law, as it offered a wide variety of issues.

“I got to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to encounter in a more limited law practice,” he said.

The board of aldermen has advertised for a new town attorney, with six offers so far from qualified local lawyers, which will be narrowed down through upcoming interviews with the board of aldermen.

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