I'm glad I don't live in Latta

  • Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Michaele Duke

Can him - or her. Who cares, just fire them.

I feel like I know her. I'm talking about Latta Police Chief Crystal Moore. The woman has been the center of an ongoing controversy that would put Payton Place to shame.

So far, since April, the small town of Latta in Dillon County has been the focus of national media attention. To date, the story has graced the pages of the Huffington Post, Washington Post, Daily Beast, Dallas Voice, and the Pueblo Chieftain.

The stories aren't about the efforts of the local garden club or how many new jobs are coming to the community.

It's been about one bad decision made by one ignorant man that has cascaded into a debacle and almost assuredly will cost the taxpayers a heap of money.

The actions of Latta Mayor Earl Bullard have placed him, his council, his employees and the entire Town of Latta in the spotlight in a most unflattering way; and there seems to be no end in sight. The debacle began in April when Bullard, who had been in office for three months, fired police chief Crystal Moore for “sheer insubordination.” Before firing her, he handed her a wade of reprimands. Chief Moore had never received a reprimand during her 23 years with the department. Moore later told Matt Petrillo, News13 Digital Journalist, the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce deemed the reprimands “false accusations.”

So what could be so bad that the mayor of Latta would just up and fire the lady cop?

Cause' she's gay, that's why. The mayor vehemently denied he fired the chief because she is gay but a recorded conversation leads one to think otherwise. As they say, if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all. In a taped conversation by a councilmember, Bullard said “I'd much rather have somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had anybody whose lifestyle is questionable around children, because that ain't the damn way it's supposed to be.” The mayor has yet to apologize for that statement. Of course he doesn't have to. In his mind it would be much wiser to have a drunk watch over our kids than a veteran policewoman who happens to be of another sexual orientation. As they say, to each his own.

Many of Latta's 1,400 citizens responded to the mayor's actions with a flurry of support; not for the mayor but for the gay chief. In fact, in April council (through citizen support) voted to allow a town-wide referendum where citizens could vote to change their form of government from their current form of mayor-council to council, which would give council authority over legislative and administrative functions and virtually render the mayor powerless. Sixty-nine percent of the citizens voted in favor of the referendum.

Council also voted 6-0 to block the mayor from hiring anyone to the police chief position. But that didn't stop Bullard who hired a former Kingstree and Hemingway police officer, Freddie Davis as the new chief. The story goes that the mayor can hire (and fire) people as long as a report written by the mayor is submitted to council. News reports say Bullard hasn't said anything about a contract but councilpersons say he didn't come to them when he hired Davis. Poor Mr. Davis was just left hanging that is until council fired him.

Here we go again.

Davis was ready to assume his position as the town's new police chief on July 1. Instead on June 27, council supposedly sent a letter, email and left a voice message letting him know his services were no longer needed. Did I mention council also rehired Moore? In July Davis' attorney told Tonya Brown of News Channel 13 that he might file a lawsuit for breach of contract against the Town of Latta. Way to go Latta.

The dust has yet to settle. In July council made a request to the South Carolina Enforcement Division (SLED) to investigate allegations of any wrongdoing inside town hall. The building was even taped with police ribbon and the doors to the municipality were locked. The drama played out with dull ratings. SLED found no wrongdoing and closed the preliminary investigation. Better safe than sorry.

What may be even worse is this particular council just appointed itself chief cook and bottle washer. They say can't afford an administrator, which some councils (Council-Manager for instance) hire an administrator based on his/her executive and administrative qualifications (rather than popularity or good looks I'd hope) so basically they'll run the town on their own. However, considering Latta's problems such as the obvious lack of communication, uninhabited decision-making and now possible legal action, lets hope they keep in check their position as the almighty one.

Embarrassing yourself, your administration, and your citizens over your personal opinion is nothing less than shameful. Let this be a lesson for all elected officials. You are not a committee of one. You are but one vote in the entire legislative process. The world is watching.

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