LATTA, S.C. — The mayor of Latta and many of its town council members are at odds over the mayor’s recent decision to fire the town’s police chief.
Latta Mayor Earl Bullard fired Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore on Tuesday but has refused to comment on why he fired her.
“I cannot go into personnel matters in a public forum,” Bullard said.
Still, he said he was well within his rights as mayor.
“According to state statute, under our present form of government, the mayor has the right to suspend, hire or fire any employee of the town with the exception of the town clerk/treasurer, the town attorney and the municipal judge, if you have one. The mayor has all the power to fire or suspend,” Bullard said.
But town Councilman Jared Taylor and other members of town council disagree. They don’t think Bullard had the authority to fire Moore without a majority vote by town council.
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“We have a strong mayor-weak council form of government and the municipal association rules state that the mayor has the right to hire and fire, subject to personnel rules adopted by the town council. Our personnel rules say hiring and firing is subject to council approval. We think the mayor needs to abide by Latta’s code and we’ve asked him to do that until a court says different,” Taylor said.
Though Bullard declined comment as to why he fired Moore, Taylor said Moore was fired because she refused to sign several written reprimands.
“She was called into the mayor’s office and asked to sign seven reprimands. She told the mayor she wanted to confer with her attorney before she signed anything. And basically, she was told she had to sign the reprimands right then or she was fired,” Taylor said. “She still wouldn’t sign and from what I understand, he fired her on the spot.”
Taylor did not get into specifics as to what the reprimands were for but said several were from months ago.
“He threw all this on her in one day. Most of the reprimands were for petty stuff, and at least five of them, I can prove wrong,” Taylor said.
Since the firing, town residents have thrown their support behind Moore. More than 100 people, some with picket signs, gathered Wednesday morning in front of town hall to demand Moore be re-instated and a prayer vigil was held later in the afternoon.
“Crystal has worked for this town for over 20 years. She started out as a dispatcher, I believe, while she was in high school,” Taylor said. “People in Latta love Crystal, and people have really embraced Crystal. She should have never been fired. I’ve got 3 ½ years left on council, and I will fight 3 ½ more years if I have to, because I think she deserves it.”
Moore did not return calls for comment.
The Latta Town Council is slated to meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Latta Town Hall. Bullard said there are three items on the agenda, including a vote on a change in the town’s form of government and a personnel matter to be discussed in executive session. He said there will not be any public forum or time allotted for residents to speak.