Disputed Atlantic Beach mayoral race heads to SC Supreme Court a week after election

An attorney for Atlantic Beach mayoral candidate John David is asking South Carolina’s highest court to decide if politics played a role in the firing of an election commission that prohibits a recount being ordered.

In a motion filed Nov. 14, Ian Duggan requested all election materials be “temporarily secured” by a third party until a ruling is made on whether David and voters were disenfranchised by the town’s current leadership.

Unofficial results from the Nov. 7 race show council member Josephine Isom as headed for a Thanksgiving-week runoff after neither secured enough votes to win outright.

Eighteen ballots were contested and reviewed by the town’s election commission on Thursday, but had yet to be certified. The commission reconvened Nov. 10 to recount the challenged ballots but was fired en masse after Mayor Jake Evans called for an emergency meeting.

According to the commission’s latest tally, David had 65 votes to Isom’s 64.

Evans, Isom and council member Jacqui Gore are named as defendants in Duggan’s complaint.

David was elected in January to fill the uncompleted term of James DeWitt, who was killed last October. His son, Matthew, is awaiting trial in Richland County on charges that include DeWitt’s slaying.

David beat Josephine Isom’s son Michael, who immediately challenged the result — keeping David out of office. Oral arguments in that case are slated for next month.

Duggan’s complaint lays out a timeline of the chaotic Friday afternoon that ended with the firing of Atlantic Beach’s election commission.

Evans, the complaint asserts, said the panel’s work couldn’t continue without a court reporter present, leading the commission to recess.

That’s when Evans, Gore and Jacqueline Isom convened an emergency meeting to dissolve the commission.

“Today, without a Municipal Election Commission in place (or the members of that Commission otherwise capable of carrying out their duties), the whereabouts and security of the ballots of the electors of Atlantic Beach are unknown to Plaintiff John David,” Duggan wrote.

Isom declined comment last week when contacted by The Sun News about the council’s action, as did former election commission chairman Joe Montgomery.

Neither were immediately available Nov. 15.

Atlantic Beach’s next mayor likely would have an out sized role in deciding the town’s economic future, as site plans for a $100 million “condo-tel” project called The Black Pearl are expected to be filed in the coming months.

David has been a fierce critic of the idea while Isom favors it — voting last July on a rule change that would clear the way for oceanfront development.

Opponents of the Black Pearl filed a lawsuit in September seeking an injunction on grounds that its construction would violate terms of original deed holders. Duggan is also the attorney in that case.

“By unlawfully maintaining their hold on official power in Atlantic Beach, Defendants ... Jake are, at a minimum, denying the voice of the people through their elected officials on this matter of undoubted and immense importance to the future of Atlantic Beach and its residents,” Duggan wrote in his Nov. 14 complaint.