Atlantic Beach councilwoman faces ethics hearing on 10 allegations

vgrooms@thesunnews.comAugust 2, 2013 

— The S.C. State Ethics Commission will meet to hear allegations that Atlantic Beach Councilwoman Carolyn Cole used her office for her own economic interest.

The commission found enough probable cause to hear 10 counts after a complaint was filed in February by then-Councilman Jake Evans, according to commission documents.

The complaint said Cole violated state ethics by writing and signing checks to herself totaling $23,485 without council approval, and that the checks were written to satisfy a debt to her that was not included in the budget for fiscal year July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.

Cole’s hearing was to be held Sept. 18, but it is being postponed, according to Cathy Hazelwood, general counsel and deputy director for the commission.

Cole could face a $2,000 fine per violation, Hazelwood said.

“We as public officials are entrusted to oversee proper handling of public resources, and the commission looked into things that were questionable or inappropriate,” said Evans, who took his seat as the Atlantic Beach mayor in July.

“The taxpayers and citizens have been concerned about things like frivolous lawsuits and the writing and signing of checks. … I’m sure the citizens of Atlantic Beach are not liking this at all.”

Cole said she was reluctant to discuss the complaint because of a confidentiality clause, but said she has been through this before and prevailed.

It is a continuation of the Tyson Beach Group loans issue, according to Cole.

Atlantic Beach settled two long-standing lawsuits involving Cole and the Tyson Beach Group last October, with monthly payments of $7,763.20 that began in November.

The town missed two payments, prompting a hearing at the Horry County Courthouse.

“I expected this, and I look forward to the hearing process,” Cole said.

“I believe that my attorney and I will be able to present facts contrary to what I’ve been accused of.”

The commission will hear 10 counts, including one accusation that Cole used her office to obtain an economic benefit for herself by signing a town check to herself.

Another allegation is that she signed a check to herself with an authorized signature stamp, according to commission documents.

The remaining eight counts said Cole used her office to influence a government decision in which she had an economic interest.

Those accusations stem from when she allegedly forced the town manager to issue checks to her for payment of a civil award of judgment against the town.

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