Confusion reigns in Atlantic Beach ahead of Nov. 12 election

akelley@thesunnews.comOctober 23, 2013 

The Sun News file photo: Poll worker Ralph Whitener (right) comes to the aid of voter Larrita Moore as Syrus Walters, 4, tries to scramble off at Atlantic Beach on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com

Election Day is a few weeks away in Atlantic Beach, but confusion abounds, with two groups claiming to be the Municipal Election Commission.

One says the election will be held Nov. 5, which coincides with most other area elections; the other says Nov. 12.

Town Manager William Booker said voters should heed the Nov. 12 date. That’s what is on file with the state according to a list of all elections on scvotes.org.

The confusion, which Booker said started this summer, has the Town Manager worried residents in the town could have trouble selecting their representatives. It is the latest in a stream of election-related controversies in the four-block community.

“Whenever there’s someone creating confusion there’s always a chance that someone is not going to get the right information,” Booker said.

One election commission was created in February with Patricia Bellamy as chair.

Booker said the Bellamy-led group asked town council to schedule an election to fill a seat that had belonged to Josephine Isom, who won a seat in the contested November 2011 election, and managed to retain it during the governor-ordered election in May 2012.

Isom never took her seat and in August 2012 the Town Council voted 3-1 to order her to give up her seat, citing her failure to participate and accept the duties of a council member, and her failure to communicate why she hadn’t taken the oath of office.

Booker said the Town Council couldn’t force Isom to forfeit the seat.

“She was never on [council],” Booker said. “How can you vote her off if she was never on? There’s a rule that Town Council governs its members, but in terms of the advice that we were given, you have to be a member to be voted off. They voted that she couldn’t take her seat.”

The council voted against having an election to fill that seat. But, the Bellamy-led election commission scheduled an election for July 30 and put notice in The Sun News.

“When the council became aware that there was an election posted in The Sun News for July 30, they voted to ... dismiss the (Bellamy) election commission,” Booker said.

Shortly after that, a new election commission was created, with Joe Montgomery as chair. Booker said that is the group recognized by Atlantic Beach.

Bellamy does not accept the council’s appointment of a new commission. She said Wednesday there shouldn’t be any confusion.

“There’s only one [MEC],” she said. “That’s us. We will never be removed. You have to have a public hearing.”

Bellamy also said Josephine Isom’s vote to remove the commission shouldn’t count because she is not a “legitimate council person.” Isom took her seat this summer after Jake Evans claimed his seat as mayor.

Bellamy couldn’t say who the candidates would be in a Nov. 5 election or if they were the same as the Nov. 12 election, adding “Nov. 12 is not my concern.”

Seats held by councilwomen Carolyn Cole and Windy Price are expiring. Booker said neither woman is on the ballot. Both have declared their intent to run as write-in candidates.

On the Nov. 12 ballot, candidates for the two seats are Lenearl Evans, Kenneth McLaurin and former Mayor Retha Pierce.

Atlantic Beach’s most recent election problems include the November 2011 election, which was overturned and lead to the May 2012 special election in which Evans won the mayor’s seat. The state ordered Horry County to intervene and help with that election, which came with a $45,000 price tag that was half funded by the state.

Horry County has declined to help Atlantic Beach with the upcoming election, whether it is held on Nov. 5 or Nov. 12. Booker said commission members are working hard to prepare for a Nov. 12 Election Day.

Town officials have placed signs around Atlantic Beach alerting residents to the Nov. 12 date, and Booker said letters will be sent to all voters clarifying the date.

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

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