Atlantic Beach seats new councilwoman, plans forfeiture hearing (with video)

One woman elected in the May 22 special election in Atlantic Beach has taken her seat. Now the Town Council is moving towards a hearing of forfeiture over the second seat.

Charlene Taylor, one of two new councilwomen elected in May, took her seat Wednesday afternoon before a special council meeting that included a ceremony to swear in both Taylor and Josephine Isom.

The inauguration had been on past agendas, which Mayor pro tem Carolyn Cole said is part of the reason to move towards the forfeiture hearing. She said the town and the council can’t keep waiting to find out the status of the elected position.

Instead of holding the ceremony for Isom, who was not in attendance, the council voted 3-2 to move forward and hold a hearing on the forfeiture of her unclaimed seat. Councilman Jake Evans and Taylor were the two dissenting voters.

“If your not going to take the seat, give it up lets hold an election and put somebody else in it,” said Cole who made the successful motion for the hearing.

Cole said it’s not meant to be vindictive or to force Isom, who she said hasn’t attended a meeting since being elected, to take the seat.

“It comes from a place of feeling that people deserve an answer,” she said. “It’s not fair for us to be squirreled away in all of these legal processes and the public not being able to understand what is happening. The public was confused enough by the May 22 election and the convoluted process that took place. If you’re sitting home on your porch and you’ve been elected to office that’s not fair.”

The seat in question is currently being held by Evans, whose council term exipired. Evans won the May 22 mayoral race but has not taken that position because the other two mayoral candidates filed appeals that are still pending in court.

If Isom takes the seat, Evans would be off council until the court rules on the election protests filed by both current Mayor Retha Pierce and councilwoman Windy Price.

Price said she is still waiting for the judge to make a decision on her appeal. Her case was heard about two weeks ago.

Evans cannot be seated as mayor until the appeals are complete.

Cole said the hearing will be held 10 days after Isom is notified. She said she expects Isom will be notified on Thursday.

The town manager, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, would preside over the hearing and explain why Isom should forfeit the spot, and Isom would have the opportunity to present her side with legal counsel if she chooses, Cole explained. Town Council then would vote based on the hearing.

Isom is welcome to take her seat and the hearing will be canceled if she does, Cole said.

Price said Isom has the right to appeal the decision of the council if it moves to forfeit her seat.

It’s not clear if Evans will be required to vacate his position if Isom’s chair is forfeited.

The council also discussed a possible settlement in a lawsuit with the Tyson Beach Group, a landholding company involving Cole, her former husband Gerald Montgomery and Catherine Aldridge.

The suit is over a $190,000 loan secured by Cole in 2002 while she was working as the town manager. The case, which has been pending since March 2008, was for payment of the principal plus interest that totaled more than $300,000 in 2009.

Price said the council directed the town manager during a meeting Monday to move forward in negotiating a settlement to present to a judge in the Tyson Beach Group lawsuit. She declined to comment on the amount or terms of the settlement, though she said it would save the town more than $100,000.

“That particular case is accruing interest each and every day,” she said. “Those are interests that we can’t afford. The town has budgeted to pay back debts it’s in the best interest accrue any more money in legal fees and interest in those cases.”