Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Fourth time’s a charm: Sunset Beach swears in new mayor after three straight resignations

In the ongoing saga of firings, resignations and political drama in Sunset Beach, the small Brunswick County Beach town appointed its fourth mayor after three consecutive mayoral resignations.

Paul VanWormer will serve as Sunset Beach's fourth mayor in less than four years, after three consecutive mayoral resignations. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Google Maps)
Paul VanWormer will serve as Sunset Beach’s fourth mayor in less than four years, after three consecutive mayoral resignations. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Google Maps)

SUNSET BEACH — After three consecutive mayoral resignations in Sunset Beach, the town swore in its new mayor Monday.

Paul VanWormer will serve as the beach town’s fourth mayor in a three-and-a-half year period. During that time, Sunset Beach operated for a total of two years without an official mayor, due to a series of resignations that cut terms drastically short.

Related: What’s going on in Sunset Beach? Two mayors resign in less than a year

Mayors in Sunset Beach, a town of about 4,000 residents, do not have voting power.

An initial vote to appoint candidate David Marsland failed 3-2, with Councilman Rich Cerrato and Councilwoman Jan Harris voting in favor of his appointment.

After, Council appointed VanWormer as mayor in a 5-0 vote.

Four mayors, less than four years

VanWormer fills a vacancy left by Greg Weiss, who served a short five-month stint after being controversially appointed in July 2018.

Weiss resigned in February in the same meeting Council voted 3-2 to hire Hiram Marziano, the town’s Planning Director, as its administrator. The morning of the meeting, Weiss wrote an email to Council, indicating his opposition of hiring Marziano, a candidate with “with many red flags.”

After Council’s vote to hire Marziano, Weiss announced his resignation.

The role of town administrator was left vacant in March 2018, when Council voted 3-2 to fire its previous administrator, Susan Parker. Parker’s firing triggered Mayor Robert Forrester’s resignation, who served just four months at the helm following his election, after running unopposed, in 2017.

Paul VanWormer takes his oath of office as Sunset Beach's most recent mayor Monday evening. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Sunset Beach Police Department)
Paul VanWormer takes his oath of office as Sunset Beach’s most recent mayor Monday evening. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Sunset Beach Police Department)

Forrester announced his resignation at the March 2018 meeting Council fired Parker. He said the town’s “notoriously dysfunctional council” and leadership had  “secret cabals,” prejudices, and personal agendas, in a nearly nine-minute-long prepared speech.

Parker’s steady leadership, Forrester said, kept him around.

Parker was paid $16,000 less than her male predecessor, who had a bachelor’s degree compared to her masters in administration.

Parker filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in October 2018, alleging she was fired as punishment for implementing security measures based on two staff complaints about safety concerns in October 2017.

The staff members informed Parker of their concerns following an October 2017 meeting in which Councilman Rich Cerrato “yell[ed]” at current Councilman Charles Nern — who was then a resident — with Cerrato’s spit hitting Nern’s face.

In February, Parker voluntarily dismissed her suit.

Sunset Beach attorney Grady Richardson, in response to a public records request, said Parker was not paid a settlement to dismiss her suit. “There was no settlement payment of any kind between the Town and Ms. Parker,” Richardson wrote in a March 25 email. In its public records request, Port City Daily also requested legal fees Sunset Beach spent defending itself in this case. Port City Daily is still waiting for this request to be fulfilled. 

Cerrato told Port City Daily in March the suit was political and has no merit. “It has no merit,” Cerrato said. “Nothing was done morally or legally wrong.”

Before Forrester’s resignation, Sunset Beach was lead by Mayor Ron Watts.

Mayor Watts resigned in August 2016 after announcing in a Facebook post he was moving following the sale of his Sunset Beach home. He served just eight months of the two-year term he was re-elected to serve in 2015.

VanWormer’s term will expire in 2019 with the upcoming municipal election happening in November.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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