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Sunset Beach meeting continues after mayor's statement

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH—Minutes after convening, two town council members called to adjourn the monthly Sunset Beach Town Council meeting Monday night when Mayor Richard Cerrato tried to read a statement calling for an external investigation related to a police officer’s recent firing.

Cerrato was referring to the May 1 firing of town police officer Jamie Clemmons, whose employment was terminated by town police chief Lisa Massey for giving conflicting information in a court case.

Cerrato wrote in his statement a third-party examination is needed about the matter “to avoid any conflict of interest or any political implications.”

Town administrator Gary Parker said the matter had already been addressed through the town personnel policy and that the Brunswick County District Attorney’s office had already investigated information provided by Clemmons in court.

As Cerrato continued to read his statement, town councilmen Lou DeVita and Wilson Sherrill called for adjournment, while fellow councilman Mike Williams took exception as well.

“Mr. Mayor, we have chosen not to respond to your request, and it’s not on the agenda,” Williams said shortly after the start of the 7 p.m. meeting.

“I will pursue it, Mr. Williams,” Cerrato said, adding, “We do not need to apply [personnel] policy selectively.”

Town attorney Michael Isenberg said the district attorney’s office did a full investigation.

“That’s the only other governmental entity that could do this investigation,” he said.

Cerrato then cited his fiduciary responsibility and spoke about a “$418,000 grant for the park.”

“Do you want to make a comment or just sit up here and read?” Williams said. “You are out of order.”

Cerrato said he would try to have Massey remove Williams from the room.

“Just try,” Williams responded.

Sherrill made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was seconded by DeVita.

“Gentlemen!” town councilwoman Carol Scott said.

Parker suggested they calm down and proceed with the night’s agenda “in the calmest manner possible.”

Scott said Isenberg had previously informed the board Cerrato “has a right to make those statements. Bite your tongue and we’ll move on.”

Isenberg said if Cerrato is arguing a position, he needs to turn over the gavel to DeVita, who is mayor pro tem.

 

Speed reduction endorsed

Following lengthy discussion and comments from the public, council later voted 3-2 to ask the North Carolina Department of Transportation to consider reducing the speed limit on the island causeway from 45 mph to 35 mph. The request was approved by Williams, Sherrill and town councilwoman Karen Joseph. DeVita and Scott voted against it.

Scott said she has concerns about safety, citing an AARP study about low-speed vehicles (LSV) in “transportation networks.”

“I’ve done a lot of research,” she said. “The negatives are that the vehicles potentially lead to more traffic crashes, frustrated drivers, a lack of visibility from drivers.”

Traffic backs up or attempts to pass by straddling the center of the highway, creating greater “opportunities for collisions,” she said.

“We can reduce speed limits as much as we want,” Scott said. “It doesn’t mean cars are going to go that speed limit.”

Massey said LSVs would have to be inspected by herself, equipped just like a car, and follow the same rules.

Sherrill said he “would like to see us conduct a test” regarding safety of LSVs on the bridge, but the legalities of that were questioned. He said “our bridge is much wider than” ones in Ocean Isle Beach or Holden Beach.

“To me, they’re a much better vehicle than a moped,” Sherrill said. “LSVs at least adhere to rules and regulations.”

DeVita said his concern about LSVs is “they’re a toy for grandkids.”

He said he sees kids driving the vehicles in his neighborhood.

“I’m really concerned about that issue,” he said. “It’s just like dogs on the beach. We have people who are responsible and others who don’t believe that the law applies to them. These things are toys.”

He said he would want a zero-tolerance policy “where I confiscate the damn car. I am not going to spend my time policing this mess. People don’t want to abide by the law. They want to do what’s convenient.”

Joseph said she sees the same things in her neighborhood.

“As far as the island goes, to me that is indeed the perfect place for low-speed vehicles,” she said.

Williams said the vehicle “is not a toy. Motorcycles and bicycles are out there. They’re not toys. They have use of the road and have to abide by laws. We need to have zero tolerance and enforce it.”

 

Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.