Just a glance at the headlines in the more than two years since Jake Evans was elected mayor of Atlantic Beach will tell you he’s in for a battle to get the perennially troubled town on the road to prosperity.
Evans finally took his seat Monday night and on Tuesday morning, he expressed only optimism for the future of the town.
“I’m very happy for the citizens and taxpayers of Atlantic Beach,” he said.
Evans originally was elected mayor in November 2011 but machinations by then-Mayor Retha Pierce and Councilwoman Windy Price turned that election first into a special election in May 2012, which Evans also won overwhelmingly. That decision then was appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court.
Evans said his first goal is to convince the council to contract for a town attorney who hopefully will be able to end bickering at Town Council meetings over what is legal and what is not.
“You have to have an attorney there to say ‘Hey, this is what it is,’” he said.
The attorney also can help the town clear up several vexing legal issues while Evans simultaneously concentrates on improving the town’s image and restoring good faith with its Grand Strand neighbors.
North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley said her town, which surrounds Atlantic Beach, gladly will help its neighbor in any way it can.
She said that she and Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes can share their experience in dealing with growth and moving forward with Evans, who hopes he can get Atlantic Beach into a position to attract investors.
“There is a lot of vacant land there,” he said of the four blocks of Atlantic Beach. “It has great potential.”
Atlantic Beach’s oceanfront splits North Myrtle Beach’s into two parts. Both towns have an Ocean Boulevard that runs the length of their beaches, but fences block off the Atlantic Beach section from its neighbor on both the north and south ends.
“We’re all part of the Grand Strand,” Evans said.
He said that in the past, Atlantic Beach has had good relations with North Myrtle Beach, Myrtle Beach and Briarcliffe Acres, a situation he wants to restore.
“We have to keep an open dialogue with them,” he said.
Hatley said that the mayors can give Evans good ideas to help Atlantic Beach and to tell him what they’ve learned from their mistakes so he can avoid them.
Councilwoman Carolyn Cole and Price are up for election in November, Evans said.
Should they be defeated, it could eliminate major blocks to what he wants to do. Price got just one vote in the May 2012 special election in which Evans got 74.
Cole has sued the town twice successfully, and Atlantic Beach is stumbling through the payment schedule set up by the court.
The town also needs to get current on its audits, Evans said.
The state started last year withholding money from Atlantic Beach because it hadn’t submitted audits for years.
All that needs to be cleaned up, Evans said, but it will be the town’s attention on the little things that will attract the investors to insure a brighter future.
“Image is everything,” he said.