ATLANTIC BEACH — An Atlantic Beach town councilwoman say’s it’s about time for the town start exploring the idea of dissolving, or merging with North Myrtle Beach.
Councilwoman Carolyn Cole made the comments Tuesday night, speaking during a public hearing session at the County Council meeting. Mayor Jake Evans, responded Wednesday by assuring residents that those views are not Town Hall’s.
“The month of August has been very interesting because we are seriously contemplating consolidation,” Cole said of the Atlantic Beach Landowners Association, which as been around for 14 years. “We seem a bit divided again, which is not unusual for the town of Atlantic Beach.”
During her comments she referred to a survey taken by the Association in the late 1990s that asked landowners what should be done if the town does not make it as a town and when it should take action. She said the group decided that 2012 would be the time to decide what to do.
“At every step of the way, we have done everything humanly possible to help Atlantic Beach with what it told us in 1998 was its goal, and that was to remain an independent municipality,” Cole told the council. “The Landowners Association, however, consists of people who were reasonable and had the foresight to ask the questions while we were doing the surveys. What if we don’t make it? What will we do next? In 2012, the Atlantic Beach Landowners Association said it is time now for us to at least responsibly look into all of our options. We have failed in a lot of things and we’re not proud of that.”
She said the options would be to return to unincorporated Horry County or merge with nearby North Myrtle Beach. Much of Atlantic Beach – chartered as an oceanfront town in 1966 and known as “The Black Pearl” – is surrounded by North Myrtle Beach.
The town settled two long-standing lawsuits involving Cole and the Tyson Beach Group in October 2012, with monthly payments it owed her of $7,763.20 that began in November 2012. The town missed two payments, prompting a hearing at the Horry County Courthouse in January, and the town complied with a judge’s order to catch up on past-due debt and made timely payments.
The S.C. State Ethics Commission will hear 10 counts, including one that Cole knowingly used her official office to obtain an economic interest for herself by signing a town check to herself and one that she signed a check to herself with an authorized signature stamp, according to commission documents.
The remaining eight counts said Cole used her office to influence a government decision in which she had an economic interest when she forced the town manager to issue checks to her for payment of a civil award of judgment against the town. A preliminary hearing for those counts is slated for Sept. 18.
While talking to County Council Cole referenced the March on Washington.
“Atlantic Beach is a dream deferred,” she said. “We’ve all witnessed what has gone wrong in Atlantic Beach and I think, in order for that dream to be realized, of cultural, historic preservation, which was the most important part the landowners association and the landowners expressed they wanted to see... We must put these issues on the table now and we must talk about it, because we can no longer function as a government that disobeys practically every law that the state of South Carolina has. That is not what the dream was about. No one ever said I have a dream to be a beach ghetto. Nobody ever said I have a dream to have taxpayers pay and spend, and be unaccountable as a government.”
She said the landowners association is “prepared now to do what is next.”
“It’s not going to be pretty,” Cole said. “It’s not going to be easy, but I do believe at the end of the day, the taxpayers of the state of South Carolina will be able to deliver for Atlantic Beach what we were not able to do, and that is probably one of the best heritage-based resorts this country has ever seen.
“We may not be a municipality, but we will be the proud owners of history and heritage.”
Evans, on the other hand, thinks the actions are something that is on Cole’s personal agenda.
“That’s just the renegade council member wanting her way,” according to Evans, who said he is close with North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley. “I am the mayor of Atlantic Beach and anything about consolidation is going to go through me and the citizens and the townspeople here in Atlantic Beach. And nobody has spoken with me about any type of consolidation.
“This is just one council member who wants her way,” Evans said. “What Carolyn Cole says is solely her own opinion and what she feels.”
Contacted Wednesday, Cole asked, “What would it hurt just to have a discussion? There comes a time in life when you have to analyze where you are. Sometimes it’s OK to say we have failed. We did not do what we were supposed to do. We need help. Real help. We’re just getting too old for the games we’re playing.”
As for being called the “renegade council member,” Cole said she does not want to reduce this to a personality issue and simply wants to allow residents to hear their options.
Evans said the issue is far from being on the town’s radar.
“I’m sure if she goes back to the county and says hey we want to consolidate, the first thing they’re going to ask is well how does the mayor feel about this and why is he not here?” he said.
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.