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AB mayor is arrested after fuss with staff

Just over a week after being sworn in, the Atlantic Beach mayor was arrested Wednesday on a charge of trespassing at Town Hall after a dispute with staff members.

Mayor Retha Pierce was jailed briefly and released Wednesday afternoon on charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing after a warning, said Atlantic Beach Police Chief Randy Rizzo.

Since her election earlier this month, Pierce has wanted office space inside Town Hall and has been discussing it with interim Town Manager Kenneth McIver since Monday, his first day on the job. The issue grew heated Tuesday but ended without incident, Rizzo said, and Pierce returned Wednesday for another meeting with McIver with a written memo outlining her concerns.

After they spoke, McIver said Pierce asked one of the town clerks she criticizes in the memo to stamp it into the record. That exchange also began to grow heated, McIver said.

"The clerk became visibly upset, and I went out to assist her," McIver said. "I asked Pierce to leave, and she did not want to."

Rizzo said he then also asked Pierce to leave, because she was disrupting the office.

"She was just real loud and boisterous," Rizzo said.

"I begged her - I pleaded with her not to make me arrest her."

Pierce was handcuffed and taken into custody about 3 p.m., Rizzo said.

"See my handcuffs? I stand for justice," Pierce said as officers led her to a patrol car. "I've done nothing. I came to a meeting." Pierce could not be reached for comment after her arrest.

J. Reuben Long Detention Center officials said she was released about 4:30 p.m.

Conflicts between Pierce and the town clerks date back at least to former Town Manager Charles Williams' administration in 2008, when Pierce would occasionally call for investigations of the staff at town meetings.

The conflict had seemingly subsided in the past two months, however, as the previously divided Town Council united for a series of critical appointments - Steve Benjamin of Columbia as town attorney, Rizzo as acting police chief and, on Friday, McIver as interim town manager.

In Wednesday's memo, titled "Working together," Pierce writes that she was initially optimistic about working with McIver.

The circumstances surrounding her dispute with the staff, however, are "indicative of the problem at the core of the town's inability to move forward," she writes.

"Individuals determined to keep pitting people against one another continue to benefit from the discord as paid employees of the town," Pierce writes.

Wednesday's trip to jail is Pierce's second arrest while a town official. In December 2007, a traffic stop led to several tickets for driving violations and a charge of resisting arrest that ended in a mistrial in 2008.