FOLLY BEACH — It was clear before the meeting ever started Tuesday night that council was going to strip Eddie Ellis of his position as mayor pro tem.
What’s not clear is whether the action will withstand a court challenge.
Mayor Tim Goodwin read the motion alleging that Ellis had insulted and threatened council members and citizens in ways that “damaged the reputation of the city.”
Goodwin pointed out that all the other council members had drafted affidavits before the meeting alleging instances of Ellis’ inappropriate behavior.
Goodwin asked Ellis if he had anything to say before council voted to censure him.
“I feel like I’m a sheep and I’m sitting around four wolves talking what to have for lunch,” Ellis said.
He asked his lawyer to speak on his behalf.
Attorney Thomas Goldstein said it was obvious that council members had already made up their minds, but they had broken the law doing so, and he planned to challenge it in court. The fact that all the other council members had drafted affidavits to back up what they planned to do was evidence that they had been communicating among themselves outside a public meeting, and that was a violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act, he said.
“The Freedom of Information Act is no laughing matter, and something you should take seriously, and I know you didn’t,” Goldstein said. “You cannot avoid a quorum by using social media or electronic communication. We know you did that, because the resolution is endorsed by every member of council.”
Goldstein said he asked a circuit judge to overturn council’s action, and he will also demand the city pay his attorney fees.
Sandy Senn, a Folly Beach attorney representing the city, said the lawsuit is pointless, because the outcome would have been the same no matter what procedure council followed, because Ellis’ behavior was spiraling out of control.
Several council members and former town officials filed notarized affidavits describing problems with Ellis.
Councilman Pennell Clamp said in his affidavit that Ellis called him on the phone last month and called him “almost every dirty word in the book.” Clamp said Ellis told him he hoped to see his name the next day in the obituaries.
Dale Stuckey wrote in her affidavit that Ellis left her a phone message saying Stuckey disgusted him and should go back to wherever she came from, ending with “I’ll see you around.” Stuckey said she found the message “not only frightening but also disturbing and non-professional.”
Former Folly Beach Mayor LaVern James wrote in his affidavit that while he was cutting his grass last summer, Ellis came up and said, “I hope your cancer kills you soon so you can die and go to hell.”
Ellis said his behavior has not changed in the nine years he has been on council, but Goodwin and his supporters are out to get him because he criticized them for driving off the former city administrator.
“I really haven’t changed my behavior since day one,” he said.
Former administrator Toni Connor-Rooks said she retired because she had been unhappy for three years under the mayor. Goodwin said he had a difference of opinion with Connor-Rooks about whether she could work from home.
Ellis took another opportunity to speak at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
“I hate to think that’s the testimony of my life, just a succession of nothing but bad,” he said.
Fighting back tears, he recounted why he ran for office in the first place.
“I didn’t want to be just like an ant, wandering from pile to pile,” said Ellis, a landscaper. “I was looking for something to give my life some meaning. … I want to apologize to anybody I offended. I’m not going to apologize for the way I talk.”
His council term expires in 2016.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.