FIRST ON 3: Caswell Beach mayor stripped of powers amid financial questions


CASWELL BEACH, NC (WWAY) — Caswell Beach commissioners have stripped the town’s mayor of his powers as questions arise about his involvement in a lobbying effort for Brunswick County’s beach towns.

Town Administrator Chad Hicks says commissioners voted 5-0 last night to strip Harry Simmons of his duties as mayor and assign them to Mayor Pro Tem Deborah Ahlers.

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According to the text of a statement Hicks said was read by a commissioner during last night’s meeting that includes the motions to change leadership duties, the move comes amid questions of money the town has paid for a lobbying firm through the Brunswick Beaches Consortium (BBC). Simmons serves as chair of the BBC, which is a joint program to restore and maintain beaches for the county’s coastal towns.

According to the statement, in October Caswell Beach commissioners asked Simmons to provide them financial statements for the BBC so they could get a better understanding about how the town’s $12,000 annual lobbying payment to the BBC was being used, but he still has not. They also asked Hicks to follow up with the lobbying firm, Marlowe & Company in Washington, DC, which Simmons said was providing the services, but whose federal filings showed had stopped providing services for BBC in December.

Marlowe & Company turned over to the town a letter sent to Simmons dated June 11, 2013, about $28,000 the consortium owed the firm for its services. It also turned over a certified copy of an Award of Arbitrator from July 15, 2014, that orders BBC to pay Marlowe & Company that money. The award reportedly also says Marlowe & Company has not received payment from BBC since 2012.

The statement goes on to say that since 2012, the Town of Caswell Beach has made payments on invoices from BBC for lobbying services twice a year for $6,000 each. Then on the first day of the current fiscal year in July, it got from BBC an invoice for the full annual amount of $12,000, which it paid.

After considering the information, commissioners voted unanimously to end membership in the BBC, strip Simmons of his powers and give them to Ahlers.

In a statement e-mailed to WWAY this afternoon, Simmons said BBC board members gave him broad latitude as chairman to accomplish its lobbying efforts to support its goals.

“I have always understood that the latitude I was given allowed me to also be compensated or reimbursed as needed,” Simmons said. “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.”

Simmons says BBC members have been aware of his “actions and efforts,” including several trips to Washington, DC.

“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,” Simmons said.

Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David says he requested the SBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the issues, which he says is going on.

When reached by phone this afternoon, Ahlers said she would not speak about the situation, and expected the same from other commissioners.

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