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Atlantic Beach, S.C : The Long Winding Road Of Political Shenanigans

The S.C. Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its ruling in a 2009 election dispute that kicked two women off the Atlantic Beach, S.C. council.

The ruling also ordered the women who finished first and second in the disputed election, Carolyn Cole and Windy Price, to take their positions on council immediately.

In a November 2009 election for two council seats, Cole and Price finished first and second.
The Atlantic Beach Election Commission certified Windy Price and Carolyn Cole as the winners.

With challenged votes counted, Windy Price ended up with 64 votes and Carolyn Cole with 52.

After a protest hearing claiming the two women were not residence the Atlantic Beach Election Commission ruled they were both ineligible and the two women were denied their seats on the council.

Price sued the election commission because her name was not on the ballot, even though she says she turned in the necessary paperwork on time. The commission also questioned her residency. Price ran as a write-in candidate.

Cole, formerly known as Atlantic Beach Town Manager Carolyn Montgomery, also ran as a write-in candidate. Folks had questioned her residency as well, as she was living in Florida.

Candidate’s qualifications for all offices, except SC Senate and SC House of Representatives, are determined at the time of the election and not at the time of filing or nomination. Qualifications for Senate and House are determined at the time of filing. For instance, for the office of town Council, the candidate must be 18 years of age, a resident of the county and/or district at the time of the election and a registered voter.

One is considered a resident of any place where he or she lives. Having a home in several states or locations only means that you have more than one residence. The real question is how one’s legal residence or domicile is determined, since you can have only one legal residence or domicile at any given time. Legal residence or domicile in South Carolina requires only one’s physical presence in South Carolina and a present intent to remain in South Carolina indefinitely. Because one’s present intent is such a subjective matter, evidence of one’s intent to acquire legal residence or domicile in South Carolina must be viewed under the totality of the circumstances. A change of legal residence may be documented by doing as many of the following actions as possible: (1) registering to vote in South Carolina, (2) changing vehicle registration and driver’s license(s) to South Carolina, (3) joining a Church in South Carolina, (4) buying real property and applying for the homestead exemption in South Carolina, (5) filing resident tax returns, (6) making a new will listing one’s domicile as South Carolina, (7) opening bank accounts and establishing business ties in South Carolina, (8) using one’s South Carolina address as the permanent address in all records and correspondence, and (9) selling one’s residence in the other state.

Known as The Black Pearl, Atlantic Beach is located in Horry County, S.C. about 13 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach. The 2000 census sets the population at approximately 351 people. African Americans accounts for 288 of that figure, thus making it a predominately black population.

Atlantic Beach started out in the 1930s as two tracts of oceanfront land bought by a black man named George Tyson, who invited other blacks working in Myrtle Beach to spend their days off at one of the few beaches in the Southeast not reserved for whites under Jim Crow laws.

Tyson eventually couldn’t afford the land, and sold it a decade later to a group of blacks in North and South Carolina who split the property into lots for hotels, nightclubs and summer homes. After World War II, many black doctors, lawyers and other professionals flocked to the beach, joined by former soldiers who had lived years earlier in temporary housing as they built an Air Force base.

There were bumper cars, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and jukeboxes. Restaurants and stores lined the streets. “This was the destination for black people who sought a beach vacation.

When Jim Crow started dying in the 1960s, vacationers could stay at the bigger, more modern hotels and play at the amusement parks long closed to blacks. The luster of The Black Pearl began to fade.

Absentee landowners let their properties crumble, and corruption moved in. Vander Gore, a former town councilman and his two sons are spending life in federal prison for running a 20-year conspiracy in selling marijuana heroin and cocaine in the town.

On March 24, 2008 South Carolina law enforcement officials arrested Irene Armstrong the former mayor of Atlantic Beach, SC and Marcia Conner, the former town manager of the community, charging them with various felony and misdemeanor offenses.

Armstrong and Conner were briefly jailed at J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway before posting $15,000 bail each.

Gov. Mark Sanford of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” fame issued an order suspending Armstrong, one day after she was charged with three felony counts of bribery at elections and two misdemeanor counts of misconduct in office.

Conner is charged with two counts of misconduct in office and one count of violating an employer’s obligation to police retirement funds.”

According to the Grand Jury indictment, Conner allegedly transferred money from the police retirement fund to the town’s General Fund. She also allegedly used seized drug trafficking money for General Fund expenses, as well.

In addition to being charged with collusion in the budgeting mess, former Mayor, Armstrong is charged with bribing two voters with a total of $30 to vote for her brother who was campaigning for a seat on the town council at the time.

Conner, 50, was City Manager in Durham, NC from 2001 until she was forced to resign in 2004. An independent audit of city contracts revealed that Conner had apparently approved more than $270,000 in contracts without following proper bid procedures. In August 2007, she was candidate for the City Manager’s post in Oberlin, OH, but withdrew herself from contention.

Armstrong lost the mayoral election to Retha Pierce by 13 votes out of 85 cast. That election, of course, took three tries over the course of 14 months to complete.

In the first election, then councilwoman Retha Pierce, defeated incumbent mayor Irene Armstrong in the November 2007 election by one vote, but was one vote shy of winning a majority of votes.

Pierce’s one-vote win over Armstrong was appealed to the state’s high court, and the justices ruled unanimously that a new election should be held. Pierce fell just a few votes short of the majority needed for an outright victory, so a runoff was scheduled Dec. 16. Mayor Pro-tem Charlene Taylor who has close ties with Armstrong mounted a write-in candidacy.

Out of the 374 registered voters in Atlantic Beach, 71 voters turned out to the polls, including nearly a dozen absentee ballots. Pierce prevailed.

Nine days after the first round of voting in that election, Pierce was arrested by Horry County police officer Robert Dale for reckless driving and failing to properly signal.

A Horry County jury could not reach a verdict in the case in October, with five jurors voting to convict, and one juror deciding Pierce was not guilty.

Then, less than a month into her term, Pierce was arrested for disorderly conduct after she took issue with not being able to access the mayor’s office inside the City Hall.

Pierce was also arrested and charged with one count of hit and run, leaving the scene of an accident and driving without insurance in April.

Pierce was scheduled for trial on 9/17/09 on the trespassing charge. The day before Pierce was arrested on a DUI charge in Marion County in a parking lot.

According to a close friend, Pierce who was running an errand for a friend began to feel sleepy and pulled over inside the parking lot to rest.

Former Gov. Mark Sanford suspended Pierce at the request of State Representative Tracy Edge (R-Horry County). Edge himself appears to have a dog in this fight as a result of an altercation between his wife and her lover which was caught on video.

Incumbent Councilwoman Charlene Taylor who had the second highest number of votes at 39 on election night, but ended up losing her seat in the November 2009 election. Her final vote count was 43.

Taylor who as Mayor Pro Tem was named as the acting Mayor as a result of Reitha Pierce suspension by Mark Don’t Cry For Me Argentina Sanford.

Pierce was recently reinstated as Mayor after the charges of hit and run and DUI were dropped.

Incumbents Taylor and Isom held on to the seats during the appeals which ended with a scathing opinion from Chief Justice Jean Toal. In her opinion, Chief Justice Toal stated the following: “We have grown weary of the shenanigans engaged in by all parties involved in the election process at Atlantic Beach, and will not hesitate to issue sanctions if the election laws of this State continue to be blatantly disregarded,”

Lawyers for the town Election Commission and incumbent councilwomen Josephine Isom and Charlene Taylor asked the Supreme Court to rehear the case. In their motion, they pointed out the Elections Board first declared Cole and Price winners two days after the election and only overturned the results of the voting during a protest hearing a few weeks later.

They also defended unsuccessfully the actions of the town manager, who is the husband of one of the members of the Election Board, when he asked a utility to turn off power to an apartment Cole and Price planned to live in to establish residency. The board’s lawyers said the town manager did that with every derelict building to assure it passed an inspection before the power was turned back on.

In their ruling, the justices suggested it was part of a scheme to make sure Cole and Price couldn’t get on the ballot for the November election. The Election Board ruled against the women in part because they determined they were not residents of Atlantic Beach.

After Cole and Price were sworn in, interim town manager Benny Webb fired the entire police force of three. The Black Pearl is now being protected by Horry County police. See video below

On November 1, 2011 voting machines from Florida’s 2000 Presidential election was used in the mayoral election. this is raising a new set of problems for the Concerned Citizens of Atlantic Beach, S.C..

Take a listen to Carolyn Cole, Windy Price, Darnell Price and Nicole Kenion as that talk about being thankful for being triumphant over political corruption and their continued fight for democracy and justice for the citizens of Atlantic Beach, S.C.

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