Atlantic Beach catches up on settlement payments

akelley@thesunnews.comApril 2, 2013 

— Two months after being found in contempt of court for failing to pay money owed in a settlement agreement, Atlantic Beach has caught up on past due debt and made timely payments.

Charles Jordan, with Thomas and Brittain P.A. – the firm representing Councilwoman Carolyn Cole and the Tyson Beach Group – said checks were received from the town on time in both February and March.

The town settled two long-standing lawsuits involving Cole and the Tyson Beach Group last October, with monthly payments of $7,763.20 scheduled to begin in November 2012. The first payment was made as scheduled, but the December and January payments were not made, prompting a hearing at the Horry County Courthouse in January.

At the hearing, Circuit Court Judge Larry Hyman gave the town 30 days make the two missing payments, plus $4,876 to Jordan – Cole’s attorney – for fees owed to him.

Jordan said the town has complied with the order since the court date without any issues.

Had the town not made the December and January payments within the 30 day deadline, Hyman said court would have reconvened and he would impose sanctions against the town.

Councilman and Mayor-elect Jake Evans said he’s glad the town has been able to make the payments, but still worries about the long-term financial burden.

“I’m still taken back on how that went down and we have to pay that money to start with,” he said. “But, the fact that we’re able to make the payments is good. Do I think we’ll be able to make them over the long haul? Probably not.”

Evans also said the upcoming Memorial Day Bike Fest will likely have a big impact on the town’s ability to pay.

“It’s very important,” he said. “If we play our cards right, it’s possible to actually profit at least $100,000. With all the debt we’re in, with all the lawsuits and all the monies going out, we could use every dime we get.”

One of the settled cases revolved around a $190,000 loan secured by Cole through Tyson Beach Group, a landholding company involving her former husband Gerald Montgomery and Catherine Aldridge. In 2002, while she was town manager on a volunteer basis, Cole secured the loan to the town through the Tyson Beach Group. That suit had been pending since March 2008 and had accrued interest totaling more than $450,000 before the settlement. The town saved about $225,000 in interest by settling.

Also in 2010, Hyman awarded Cole $83,333 plus $38,695.62 in interest in a suit over nonpayment for her services as town manager. Before the settlement, the town had partially fulfilled the payment, but still owed $90,127.24. Additional interest had accrued since the judgment. That settled for $105,794.36.

The suits were settled while Calvin Blanton was serving as the town’s interim town manager.

Mayor Retha Pierce said she still maintains her position from the court hearing that former Town Manager Calvin Blanton didn’t inform council of the required payments following the settlements. That’s one reason, Pierce said, Blanton was terminated. She said another reason was because Blanton negotiated the settlements without proper authority from the Town Council.

During the January court proceeding, Hyman said Pierce’s testimony wasn’t credible and he believed Blanton did have the necessary authority to negotiate the settlements.

Blanton was initially placed on administrative leave with pay and relieved of all duties in a special meeting Dec. 13 and a hearing was slated for Jan. 29. The day of the hearing, however, Town Council remade decisions from its Dec. 13 meeting. Pierce said it was because there was a typographical error on the agenda from that meeting that included the wrong date, so council needed to vote again.

Blanton’s new hearing is Monday at 6 p.m.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.

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