by Paul Bowers
In a referendum Tuesday, residents of the town of Latta, S.C., voted to restructure their government, taking power away from the mayor and handing it to Town Council. The vote was prompted by an April 15 incident in which Mayor Earl Bullard fired Police Chief Crystal Moore, the town's first female and first openly gay chief.
But this morning, before the restructuring could take effect and Town Council could re-hire Moore, Mayor Bullard announced the hiring of a new police chief, a man named Freddie Davis. TV station WMBF is reporting that Davis was hired on a two-year contract with a $40,000 salary.
"Yeah, we won the vote 328 to 136 to hire me back, but the mayor just hired a new chief of police as we're standing here," Moore says.
Town Councilwoman Lutherine Williams, a vocal proponent of the restructuring, says she thinks the mayor hired the new chief as an act of retaliation. She says Town Council was not consulted on the decision.
"That's because he's crazy," Williams says. "I was [at Town Hall]. They stayed locked up in the room for about an hour, and he comes out introducing Mr. Freddie Davis from West Florence as the new chief of police. And I politely informed Mr. Davis that he doesn't realize what he has done, because he may hold the office for three days, but come Monday morning, he wouldn't have a job."
Under Latta's strong-mayor form of government, Chief Bullard has the power to hire and fire unilaterally. But as soon as the Town of Latta notifies the S.C. Secretary of State's office of the referendum results and changes its town code, Council will have the power to override Bullard's decision and re-hire Moore as chief of police. All six council members voted to hold the restructuring referendum; Mayor Bullard was the lone Nay vote.
Mayor Bullard could not be reached for a comment. A receptionist at Town Hall said the mayor had left the building after spending some time in the office this morning.
In case you missed it back in April, here's a recording that one Town Council member took of Mayor Bullard explaining his view on "somebody whose lifestyle is questionable":