Monday, March 24, 2008

More Atlantic Beach Problems

Once again, the other cities and taxpayers are expected to pay this town's expenses and pick up the tab for "history"...

AB's mayor, salaries out
Charges at top sink in as town left in limbo
Posted on Sat, Mar. 22, 2008
By Kurt Knapek and Lorena Anderson -
kknapek@thesunnews.com
landerson@thesunnews.com

Gov. Mark Sanford issued the order after Thursday's indictment of Irene Armstrong on bribery and misconduct charges. The town manager, Marcia Conner, was indicted on misconduct charges. Neither woman was available for comment Friday.

City workers - including the five-member police force - did not receive paychecks as scheduled Friday, and the acting police chief said he will look to Horry County law enforcement to protect Atlantic Beach, at least for this weekend.

"I'm not even sure I'm going to work," said Capt. Randy Rizzo. "I, too, have bills, and we cannot have employees working for free. They missed payroll, and the funds are not there."

Mixed responses
Reaction to the indictments ranged from sad resignation to a commitment to move past the current problems.

"No, I'm not surprised," said oceanfront property owner David O'Connell.
"I think it's a shame, but change will be the best thing in the world for Atlantic Beach."

Sanford's executive order read

"I hereby suspend Irene Evans Armstrong from the office of Mayor of Atlantic Beach until such a time that she shall formally be acquitted or convicted."

"We're letting the legal system take its course, but it's not something we're proud of right now," said Councilman Donnell Thompson. "We're trying to move the town forward. We're in a crisis right now."

The four remaining council members couldn't resolve their dispute Friday on how to pay the police force. Retha Pierce and Thompson said they were in favor of paying the force, Mayor Pro Tem Charlene Taylor and Councilman Jake Evans refused to approve the spending.

"We need to make sure we have police protection," Pierce said. "We want the town to move forward and keep doors open and not shut things down."

Taylor and Evans would not comment.
"I need to hear from my lawyer," Taylor said. (HAHA!)

The whole situation is up in the air now, and Rizzo said he has no idea what might happen.
"It's going to be interesting," he said.

Resident Paul Curry said he wasn't surprised. Curry is suing the town, alleging officials have refused to notify him of public meetings - which state law requires - despite his requests.

"These are merely allegations, and I hope she is treated fairly in court," Curry said of Armstrong, "but that said, I think there is truth to these charges."

Disputed electionArmstrong lost the mayoral election in November by one vote to Pierce, but appealed the election, which allowed her to hold her seat until the matter is settled. A circuit court judge is expected to decide next week whether Atlantic Beach should hold its mayoral election again.

Pierce said Friday she's unsure how Armstrong's indictment will affect Judge J. Michael Baxley's ruling on the election.

"We're awaiting some information at this point," she said.

Pierce has her own legal issues to tend to after being charged with resisting arrest on Christmas night after a traffic stop. She told the officer she needed to use the bathroom, got out of her car and started to walk toward a nearby hotel.

"I'm not worried about that," Pierce said. "I'm not guilty of resisting arrest. I just wanted to use the restroom. I want us to get through this. I want us to keep a positive outlook and try to work together to move forward."

Conner, 50, faces two counts of misconduct in office and one count of violating an employer's obligations to police retirement funds.

Conner previously served as the city manager in Durham, N.C., where she resigned after council members there became increasingly dissatisfied about her tenure, which included two failed searches for a police chief and problems with project oversight and spending delays in the city housing department.

What's nextArmstrong and Conner have until Monday to turn themselves in to authorities at J. Reuben Long Detention Center or the State Law Enforcement Division will issue arrest warrants.

The women police say accepted the bribes from Armstrong will not be charged, 15th Judicial Court Solicitor Greg Hembree said.

"They came forward and fully cooperated," Hembree said. "Had they not, we would not have been charging the others. The offering of the bribe is the more serious offense. I wouldn't want to punish those who are doing the right thing."

Councilman Thompson said he "feels comfortable" the annual Memorial Day Bike Fest, a source of revenue for the city, will go on as planned May 23-26.

"I think things will be worked out by then," Thompson said.
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