Austin beard speaking district

Georgetown County Councilman Austin Beard speaks during an event honoring former County Council Chairman Johnny Morant, in red, Dec. 30 at Choppee Recreation Center. Three groups, including the local chapter of the NAACP, are alleging that Beard does not live in the district he represents on council, a violation of the county’s ordinance. Local NAACP President Marvin Neal is pictured back right.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part story relating concerns by three groups about compliance with residency by a Georgetown County Councilman.

Citing issues with a Georgetown County Councilman’s residency, the Georgetown County Chapter of the NAACP is seeking the ouster of Councilman Austin Beard.

NAACP local president Marvin Neal told the Georgetown Times that an investigation by three groups indicates Beard did not live within County Council's District 5 -- covering the far western portion of the county -- for at least half of 2018, and possibly for years.

Beard lived on South Farr Avenue in Andrews when he ran in 2012 for a seat on County Council. He was re-elected in 2016 after running unopposed in the primary. His election filing form that year listed a Post Office Box in Andrews as his address, according to records with the South Carolina Election Commission.

State law and Georgetown County ordinances require that an elected official live within the county and the district he or she represents, and must continue to live in that district during his or her term of office.

Beard's current term expires in 2020.

Joining with the NAACP in an investigation into Beard’s residency are Citizens for Progress and Wesley Gibson, and the West End Citizens Council and Fredrick D. Williams.

On Thursday, Neal said the NAACP mailed each member of County Council a 24-page packet of information with copies of the appropriate ordinances, annual statements of economic interest filed by Beard, copies of property records and more. Late Thursday afternoon, he also spoke with Billy Altman, chairman of the Georgetown County Board of Elections and Registration. Neal said he would send Altman the same packet of information.

The Georgetown Times made multiple attempts to contact Beard, the current vice chairman of County Council, for his response to the allegations.

At the time this story was published, the Times had received no response from Beard following a visit to his place of business, messages left on his telephone or an email request for information.

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mapPlanA.jpg

A map showing Georgetown County Council's seven districts. Councilman Austin Beard represents District 5 in the far western part of the county. 

Presenting their allegations

Neal told the Georgetown Times the local chapter of the NAACP joined with the South Carolina chapter and those in other states to pay close attention to the November 2018 elections. That was particularly important to the civil rights organization in light of an emphasis placed on voter registration and conduct of elections, Neal said.

In looking at local elected officials, Neal said, the group noticed that several of them listed their addresses as Post Office boxes, rather than showing a street address. For County Council, the current information shows five of the seven members using a P.O. Box, rather than a residential address.

“We said let’s go check. Let’s see their residences. They all had a (residential) address except Austin Beard. It was rumored that some were living outside their residency,” Neal said.

“He is the only one living outside his district," Neal said about Beard. "That’s totally illegal. He has no residence in Andrews, but a piece of property. He lives with his new wife” in Georgetown.

A career Army veteran, Neal said, “If this guy was in the military, he’d already be out the door.”

The first page of the packet of information  states:

In light of evidence regarding election filing forms, voter registration forms and residency requirements, we are requesting, Georgetown County Council conduct a full and thorough investigation regarding the residency of James Austin Beard, (also known as James A. Beard or Austin Beard), Georgetown County Council District 5 member. If evidence and violations are found to be valid, we request County Council implement consequences to the full extent of the law.

According to Georgetown County, residential requirements include: "For one to qualify for election as a member of county council, he must be a resident of the County of Georgetown, and a resident of the district from which he seeks election. To remain a member of county council for the term for which he is elected, one must remain a resident of the district from which he is elected for the full term for which he was elected.” 

Following that introduction, there are eight numbered points. They state that Beard’s initial election filing was on March 26, 2012. That showed his South Farr Avenue address in Andrews.

Then, Beard and his wife, Susan, filed for divorce in April 2013. Property records show she received the title to the South Farr Avenue property through a quitclaim deed.

Statements of economic interest for the following years (with the exception of 2017, when no statement is found on the S.C. Ethics Commission Website) show Beard listed a Post Office Box in Andrews, but not a residential street address.

In April 2018, the document states, Beard purchased a vacant lot on Cherokee Drive near Highway 51. That vacant lot is not within the Town of Andrews, but is within the boundaries of District 5. As of December 2018, the lot was still vacant.

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Marvin Neal (copy)

Marvin Neal, president of the Georgetown County Chapter of the NAACP, speaks during a Georgetown County Council meeting in March 2018.

Unoccupied house

Neal said a local election official told him that when they saw Beard’s voter registration and “Statement of Intention of Candidacy and Party Pledge” used an Andrews Post Office Box for his address, the official contacted Beard. Beard told the official he was living at 510 N. Magnolia Ave. in Andrews, Neal said. There is an undated handwritten notation with that address on the election filing form, which is dated June 14, 2016.

Beard's voter registration currently shows the N. Magnolia Avenue residence as his residential address. Also in the packet of information gathered by the NAACP is a photo of that house.

Wesley Gibson of the Citizens for Progress provided a notarized statement that on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, he went by the house in Andrews where he met face-to-face with Robert H. Barrineau, the property owner. Barrineau had previously lived in the house before moving to Georgetown.

Gibson’s statement reads in part:

“During this meeting, Mr. Barrineau stated the front part of the residence has not been occupied for a lengthy amount of time and the residence including all four buildings at the stated address are available for sale. The back part of the residence … is currently occupied.”

In a telephone conversation Jan. 3, Gibson told the Georgetown Times that he did not ask Barrineau specifically if Beard had lived at that address.

“The house is not occupied,” Gibson said. “A lady runs a business from the back part, at night.”

“The front of the house is empty, but furniture is still there from when he (Barrineau) lived there.” Gibson added that “he (Barrineau) pays all the utilities there.”

Speaking of Beard, Gibson said “He lives on Huger Drive (in Georgetown). He parks his car there at night.”

Living in Georgetown?

Another document in the packet of information is a copy of a “License and Certificate of Marriage” of James Austin Beard and Lori Walker Lowell.

When the marriage license was issued on May 30, 2018, it showed an Andrews Post Office Box as Beard’s address, and 907 Huger Street in Georgetown as Lowell’s address. The couple married on June 9, 2018.

The Huger Street house is about four blocks from Anderson Brothers Bank on North Fraser Street. Beard is branch manager of the bank. A listing of County Council members provided to the citizens’ groups showed the business address of the bank as Beard’s address, rather than a residential address.

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, Georgetown County Council will meet for its first meeting of 2018 and new officers, including council chairman and vice chairman, are scheduled to be chosen.

NOTE: This concludes the first of a two-part story on whether a local elected official is in compliance with residency requirements. Part Two can be read here.