January 29, 2013

Atlantic Beach postpones hearing for interim town manager

A hearing for the ousted interim town manager in Atlantic Beach did not go as planned Tuesday night.

A hearing for the ousted interim town manager in Atlantic Beach did not go as planned Tuesday night.

Town Council instead remade decisions from its Dec. 13 meeting.

Mayor Retha Pierce said there was a typographical error on the agenda from that meeting that included the wrong date, so council needed to vote again.

Interim Town Manager Calvin Blanton was placed on administrative leave with pay and relieved of duties in a pair of 3-2 votes. Councilwomen Windy Price and Carolyn Cole were the dissenting votes.

The two women were not in attendance during the Dec. 13 meeting and both said they were glad to have taken part in the vote Tuesday, though the result was not changed.

Linda Cheatham has been the town’s acting, interim town manager since that meeting and was named to that position again Tuesday by a 3-2 vote.

The Town Council has not set a new hearing date for Blanton. Pierce said it will come after Blanton is served a letter detailing the reason for his removal. She declined to comment on the reasons for the hearing Tuesday night, but at a previous meeting said it was because Blanton did not communicate with Town Council regarding the resignation of the entire police force.

The other reason she previously cited was Blanton’s role in negotiating settlements with Cole and Tyson Beach Group without proper authority.

Circuit Court Judge Larry Hyman ruled last week that Blanton did have proper authority regarding the settlements.

Atlantic Beach has one police officer back in town. Sgt. John Jackson, who was injured on the job and left when he found the town did not have insurance for workman’s compensation, returned. Jackson said Tuesday he was in his fourth week back as an officer for the town.

The first two hours of Tuesday night’s meeting were filled with arguments over the hiring of an attorney for the hearing.

Price and Cole asked repeatedly for a copy of the contract for William J. Barr before a vote to hire him as counsel for the town in Blanton’s hearing. Town attorney Kenneth Davis said it wasn’t a conflict of interest, but he recommended that Town Council hire a different attorney to give a “fresh look.”

“We want a visual contract of his services and how much this town is going to be paying him for his services,” Price said. “You can’t just go an hire somebody you don’t know what his standards are.”

Pierce called the questions from Cole and Price an attempt to stall the vote.

The question from Cole and Price never was answered by another council member or Barr, and Mayor Retha Pierce, Councilwoman Charlene Taylor and Jake Evans voted to hire him.

Price questioned whether Barr had already been hired before the meeting.

“It seems that we’re trying to hide something from the public of an action that’s already been taken and now we’re trying to backtrack and act as the action has not been taken,” she said.

Town Council then deferred discussion about Barr, but never rescinded the vote to hire him.

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