The Town of Caswell Beach voted unanimously Thursday night to strip Mayor Harry Simmons of his duties and give the Mayor Pro Tem all the powers the mayor previously had.
Some of these tasks include:
This vote is in connection to the town's involvement with the Brunswick Beach Consortium (BBC), in which Simmons was the leader. The BBC was formed as a way to restore and maintain the beaches for seven coastal towns in Brunswick County.
According to commissioners, Caswell Beach Town Council has been paying about $12,000 a year to the BBC for lobbying efforts.
The board requested Oct. 6 that Simmons provide the town with financial statements from the past several years, but no documents have been received.
Town leaders asked Town Manager Chad Hicks to follow up with Marlowe and Company, the lobbying firm that Simmons told council was lobbying for them. Marlowe and Company told Hicks, however, it terminated the agreement with BBC due to lack of payment in 2012 of $28,000.
According to the resolution, “there is clear reason to believe that the Town has received erroneous information from the Chairman of the BBC (their own mayor) as to the disposition of our funds. Therefore, this council has a fiduciary responsibility to our constituents to end our relationship with the BBC..."
The State Bureau of Investigation confirmed that its financial crimes unit is looking into Simmons at the request of District Attorney Jon David.
Simmons released the following statement in response:
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In Spring 1999 the Brunswick Beaches Consortium was created by a group of concerned community leaders including Mayors Joe O'Brien of Caswell Beach, Joan Altman of Long Beach (later Oak Island), Dot Kelly of Yaupon Beach (later Oak Island), Jim Lowell of Holden Beach, Bill Berne of Bald Head Island, Betty Williamson of Ocean Isle Beach and Cherri Cheek of Sunset Beach. The effort was supported by a number of other community leaders, including Brunswick County Commissioners David Sandifer, Leslie Collier, Bill Sue and others. I was appointed by the Town of Caswell Beach as its representative to the Consortium and was instrumental in its development, being elected Chairman by the other representatives on the Board. After I was elected Mayor of Caswell Beach I continued to serve as its representative on the Brunswick Beaches Consortium.
The organization's primary mission then, and at present, is to work to preserve our beaches by facilitating placement of beach quality sand as needed. This has been accomplished on several occasions, as recently as this past year. The Brunswick Beaches Consortium has also been involved in other coastal issues from time to time, and worked at the state level, for example, to seek legislative approval to allow the construction of terminal groins in four locations on the North Carolina coast, three of those being in Brunswick County.
Soon after its formation the Brunswick Beaches Consortium chose to become involved in lobbying efforts to help support its goals. The board members gave me broad latitude as chairman to accomplish this and Consortium members with an interest in beach projects agreed to share funding for the effort. I have always understood that the latitude I was given allowed me to also be compensated or reimbursed as needed. Since that time invoices have been submitted to and paid by the interested Consortium members, with only a couple of recent changes, and I have managed the effort to the best of my ability.
Brunswick Beaches Consortium members have been aware of my actions and efforts, including several trips to Washington, DC in the past year to facilitate completion of the Corps General Reevaluation Report for Caswell Beach, Oak Island and Holden Beach, which have been reported on by me and others at the regular meetings. I am surprised and disappointed by this complaint about how the organization has handled its affairs, brought by persons who to my knowledge have had little or no involvement in the efforts or attended many, if any, of the 100+ meetings of the Consortium.
I have served as chair of the Brunswick Beaches Consortium since its inception. My involvement in the organization and in achieving its mission has been a daily part of my life, and I believe that my actions over the years have been not only appropriate, but supported by the board members and others involved with the Brunswick Beaches Consortium.
Simmons is the President of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association; an advocacy group promoting healthy coastlines around the country. ASBPA Executive Director Ken Gooderman said Simmons does not handle any finances within the association. The ASBPA executive committee will investigate Simmons to determine if any action should be taken against him, but Gooderman said they're waiting for more factual information to surface before beginning any investigation.
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