Monday, September 25, 2023

Pender commissioner steps down citing ‘extreme hate,’ police reports indicate harassment by political opponents

Tate’s resignation letter, sent to commissioners, county manager David Andrews and county attorney Trey Thurman, is effective 6 p.m. Friday. (Courtesy photo)

PENDER COUNTY — The Pender County Board of Commissioners received a resignation letter from one of its own, amid allegations of discriminatory treatment.

Jimmy Tate declared Thursday he was stepping down as the commissioner of district 1 after saying a fellow board member made prejudiced comments toward him and residents were questioning his residency. Police reports obtained by Port City Daily show Tate was being harassed by his political opponents as well.

READ MORE: Former Pender County commissioner returns to the dais, fills resigned board member’s vacancy

According to WECT, Port City Daily’s media partner, Tate said a fellow commissioner “made comments about his race.” Former commissioner George Brown, who was defeated by Jerry Groves in the primary, corroborated the allegations.

“I do believe there are commissioners on the board that are holding things against Mr. Tate and those are some of the things I think they hold against him, yes,” Brown said to WECT. “It’s bigotry and bias and just hatred. And that is what he’s had to deal with and I’m sorry for that.”

Tate’s resignation letter, sent to commissioners, county manager David Andrews and county attorney Trey Thurman, is effective 6 p.m. Friday:

“The mission of the County Commissioners is critical to our County’s future, and I believe the work of the Commission deserves the full attention of any board member. In addition, the extreme hate by members of my primary opponent’s team, including others which remain nameless at this time has caused me to divert my attention away from County business. If I want what’s best for my County, I should resign, so someone else can give it undivided attention. I am no longer able to participate at the appropriate level given the conditions of hate.”

Tate told Port City Daily that multiple people were making false allegations since he announced his run for public office.

“I am not a politician or hateful fighter,” he explained. “The hate is just overwhelming the last year.”

Tate has faced pushback from residents — some of whom are supporters of his primary opponent, Joe Cina. A Republican, Cina ran against Tate but lost by about 350 votes. 

Police reports obtained by PCD show Tate also was allegedly harassed by political opponents as far back as last January.

Ongoing accusations during the campaign season came to a head during a Jan. 17 commissioners meeting.

Hampstead resident Beth Butler called for Tate’s resignation.

“I’m also a concerned citizen and there are others in the county questioning Mr. Tate’s residency, as we’ve been doing for the past year,” Butler said during the public comment period.

She had not signed up to speak, but commissioner Jerry Groves made a motion, seconded by Fred McCoy to allow it.

“Mr. Tate was renting a trailer during the election in a trailer park in Surf City,” Butler continued. “The trailer park has since been sold and set to be demolished. Several people in district 1 expressed concerns about a lack of representation in their district, wanting to know where does Mr. Tate live because no one in our district has seen or heard from him since the election.”

She then asked the board to investigate the matter.

In response, Tate told PCD there is “indisputable evidence” he’s a Pender County resident.

“I am registered as a voter in Pender County, and that has never been challenged before the Board of Elections,” he said. “My neighbors have offered to give testimony about my presence there. Any contentions to the contrary are just noise.”

A letter from Surf City Mayor Teresa Batts confirms Tate has a utility bill with the town, active as of April 2020.

According to Pender County GIS records, the trailer park referenced by Butler is owned by the trustees of James Hines Jr., purchased in 2010. The lot is in fact home to a trailer park, where Tate rents.

The Pender County Board of Elections said it is up to a candidate to ensure the information he or she provides before filing to run is accurate.

“When the time comes for candidate filing, they come in and fill out one sheet; we then follow protocol and fill out information based off what they give us,” interim director Theressa Lewis told PCD. “Then they go ahead and sign off saying this is true.”

She also said candidates are required to inform the board of elections if anything, such as place of residence, has changed.

Anyone wishing to challenge residency can file a complaint with the state board of elections. Lewis said her predecessor Susan Williams, now retired, would have fielded any calls in relation to Tate’s residency so she was not a part of those conversations.

Tate said he also owns property in Duplin County. Property records show Tate has owned 0.18 acres on Candlestick Drive since 2015.

“A family member lives there,” he said. “I only go to the house to visit my family member a couple times a year.”

A Facebook group, Pender County Concerned Citizens, launched by former Pender County Sheriff candidate Mike Korn, calls for Cina to replace Tate on the dais. The group has 233 members.

Tate earned 3,117 votes, 53% against Cina’s 2,750, or 47%.

Reports from Surf City Police Department show multiple accounts of alleged harassment by Cina and his campaign manager, Ethan Baca, in January 2022.

“I have talked to Mr. Tate about extra patrols near and around his Surf City residence after he filed a suspicious activity and trespassing report,” Surf City Police Chief Phil Voorhees told PCD. “This is not an unusual request from residents after encountering suspicious activity, and we extend this service to any citizen regardless of political affiliation.”

In a report dated Jan. 4, 2022, Tate described a suspicious vehicle at his residence, 802 North Topsail Dr. Lot 31.

He told officers the vehicle being driven was connected to an employer. When Surf City officers reached out to the employer, it was confirmed the vehicle would have been driven by Baca, according to the report.

Later that day, reports state officers returned after Tate said Baca knocked on his door and came inside, upon Tate’s permission.

However, in the reports, Tate alleged Baca began making him feel uneasy, asking questions, such as “Do you have a gun?” He said he asked Baca to leave. After repeated requests, Baca left, and Surf City PD noted this would be a second-degree trespassing charge.

Tate did not wish to press charges, but the police department added his residence to the “extra patrol list.”

The next day Tate told officers he was verbally harassed by a member of Cina’s team at the Rotary Club on 513 Country Club Dr. The report details Tate alleged a man was in his face, accusing Tate of not living in Pender County and asking for different forms of documentation.

The report originally listed Cina as the man harassing Tate, but two weeks later, a supplemental note was made by Officer Wells.

“On 1/19/2022, I, Officer Wells, reviewed the body camera footage after speaking with Cpl. Bright in reference to this case. After reviewing the footage, Mr. Tate stated a member of Joe Cina’s team harassed him and not Joe Cina himself.”

Chief Voorhees explained the reports are indicative of Tate’s experiences shared with officers; they are not proof of guilt or innocence.

Cina did not respond to PCD’s calls by press.

Tate announced his candidacy in fall 2021, running on the platform of prior experience. The former commissioner was elected as a Democratic county commissioner for district 4 in 2008 and reupped a second term in 2012. He resigned in April 2015 to take a job at James Sprunt Community College in Duplin County.

Voting records show he was registered to vote in Pender County as far back as 1998 but registered and voted in Duplin from 2016 to 2018. He re-registered in Pender as a Republican in March 2021.

He told Port City Daily in August, after he was sworn in early to fill David Williams’ seat — who resigned to care for his ill mother — he swapped parties because his fiscal beliefs align better with the GOP.

Now that Tate has stepped down, the commissioners can appoint a candidate to fill his seat.

A previous version of this article stated Joe Cina was harassing Tate during a Rotary Club meeting. The report does list Cina by name in this incident; however, a supplemental note made two weeks later by an officer corrects this statement to be a member of Cina’s team. Port City Daily regrets this error.

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