Friday, June 27, 2014

Welcome to Latta, SC............

"I went from being ecstatic, overwhelmed, not able to speak to crushed again," Crystal Moore said.

The current firestorm that developed in the past week in the small town of Latta SC began some say, when Mayor Earl Bullard had won an uncontested election for the office of mayor.  The word around town was that Bullard did nor take too kindly to gays and lesbians.  Police Chief Crystal Moore, the town's first woman and the first openly gay chief was warned to watch her back.  The town council even went so far as to pass a vote of confidence for Moore during it's February meeting.

The Bullard hammer fell on April 15 2014 when Bullard called Chief Moore into hus office after she had finished with a meeting she was helping mediate.  When she had stepped into his office, he handed her a pile of seven reprimands and told her to read each of them out loud.  Moore states that they related to policy or to an investigation she was doing and that a few were laughable.  She did read them and then told Bullard that she wanted to speak to her lawyer before doing anything.  Mayor Bullard then told her that she had to sign off on them before leaving the office or she would be fired.  Moore refused and Bullard fired her on the spot, asking for her badge.

Bullard has not publicly explained the reason behind his firing of Moore but has stated that it had nothing to do with her sexual orientation and personnel policy prevents him saying anything more.  It certainly is strange that a person who has served the small town of 1,400 residents for over 20 years would suddenly start breaking the rules by the bucketful.  It could be that Bullard was enjoying the greater power he had to make decisions in town than the council or it truly is a case of firing her because he personally didn't like gays or lesbians.

While many of us think that discrimination involving a person's sexual orientation is not allowed by law in the US, you had better think twice.  Twenty nine of our fifty states still allow an employee to be legally fired because of their sexual orientation, be it gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender etc.  The states that still allow this are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.  That would make it technically possible for Bullard to fire Moore.

"This is the first time it has been this public.  I'd tried living a quiet decent life and do what I'm supposed to," Moore said.

The vendetta that Moore believes may be the real reason for her being fired is backed up by a recording that Councilman Jared Taylor had made and has since released.  He stated that he had made the recording for his own protection in case Bullard tried to claim that Taylor held the same beliefs as him.  The full text that was released definitely points to Bullard's real feelings about those who are not the same as him.  The following is the part of Taylor's recording that has been released to the media:

 "I would much rather have ... and I will say this to anybody's face ... somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.
Because that ain't the damn way it's supposed to be. You know ... you got people out there -- I'm telling you buddy -- I don't agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don't say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around.
I'm not going to let two women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I'm not going to see them do it with two men neither.
I'm not going to do it. Because that ain't the way the world works.
Now, all these people showering down and saying 'Oh it's a different lifestyle they can have it.' Ok, fine and dandy, but I don't have to look at it and I don't want my child around it." stated by Bullard on the phone.
The town grievance committee has reviewed the evidence and came to a conclusion that supported no further action but many residents still believe that her firing was personal.  The town council chose to pass a motion that would change the structure of the town government from a mayor strong/weak council to the reverse.  That would mean that the mayor would not have the overriding power to hire and fire,  Instead, the mayor would have only one vote of seven on those matters.  The motion was put to a public referendum that passed by almost a two thirds margin.
On June 23, Mayor Bullard met with Freddie Davis from Florence at a local McDonald's restaurant to hire him as the new police chief. Bullard had 60 days from the original firing of Moore before he could hire a new police chief and this date is just beyond the limit.  It would seem that he had to sneak along like a character in a bad spy thriller to put someone else in place before he lost the power to do so.

Not much is known about Freddie Davis other than he may be from the Florence SC area.  The newly appointed Police Chief Freddie Davis has stated that he is happy to be hired on and that he had no comment as to the controversy surrounding Moore and Bullard.  Maybe he hadn't kept up with the local news regarding the dispute, I can understand that but the tip-off that something was fishy in Latta was signing your hiring contract at a fast food restaurant and you aren't being hired as a fry expert there.

"Earlier I stated, that the wife and I prayed about it and that's the reason I'm here.  If it's the will of the Lord for me to move on and her get her job back then that's what will happen," stated Davis

Bullard signed the contract with Davis on the 23rd of the month but did not announce it until 9:30 am on the 25th.  When he was asked how the recent votes and change of power will affect Davis, Bullard stated that he did not feel that it should botherDavis at all.  This would be because Bullard knows of the clause that was in the contract Davis signed.  The clause states that if the town of Latta changes the form of government they currently have and another person is hired or chosen as Chief of Police, the employee named will be able to continue working at the contracted rate of compensation.  

In other more plain words.........Bullard went behind everyone's back to hire someone from 25 miles away, who somehow did not know what was going on in Latta, in the last remaining days of his grip on power in town......... and then custom wrote the contract to guarantee Davis would still get paid whatever amount was on the contract, no matter what job he eventually ends up doing in town.  The whole contract stinks worse than a septic system in mid August and while the town is supporting Moore, they may now also be faced with a legal battle or pay-off to remove Davis from office.

Crystal Moore has said that she is ready to get back on the job, a job that a majority of residents want her back doing.  Moore began her career in law enforcement in 1989 by working as a dispatcher during her senior year of high school.  She took a full-time job as a dispatcher after she finished a school-to-work program and by the time she was 21, she had earned her badge.  She had begun the path to her lifelong dream of becoming a police chief by becoming the second woman in uniform in the area.

Alan Brigman, the mayor then states that he wasn't sure if the town was ready for a female cop but he gave her a chance anyways.  Moore knew that the town was comfortable with her when in 1999, the local schools had asked her to be the school resource officer in the wake of the Columbine shootings.  She continued to rise through the ranks without reprimand by any mayor and in 2012, she moved up to chief.

The current dispute centers around the validity of the reprimands she received and the mayor's method of firing her.  Councilwoman Lutherine Williams stated that they had looked at every avenue to get rid of Bullard and they found that there were too many hurdles for them to jump. The town of Latta believes in Moore and the job that she has done for more than 20 years and that is good to see I think.

The seven reprimands that Moore had refused to immediately sign have been revealed as such: 

 1. Running background checks without properly signed authorization
2. Failure to report to supervisor about problems in other departments
3. Using office/position to seek revenge against another for personal affront
4. Questioning authority of supervisor
5. Questioning authority of mayor to look at job applications for potential employees
6. Failure to maintain order, contributing to disorder at council meetings
7. Contacting news media to help bring about disorder and disruption to the town of Latta

Councilwoman Williams states that 6 is basically a crock because maintaining order is the mayor's job and the police will only step in when he requests it.  She states that number 7 stems from a Feb 25 memo that Bullard sent to all town employees that public comments about a controversy or situation won't be tolerated or acceptable.  She goes on to state that numbers 2 and 3 are unclear as to what their reason is.  Williams believes that numbers 1, 4 and 5 refer to the disputes between Bullard and Moore of recent employee hiring.  Early on, Bullard gave Moore permission to hire two officers but when she tried to hire a third, who was a woman, Bullard insisted that he had to interview that person.  
Moore had later questioned Bullard's decision to hire Vontray Sellers from nearby Dillon to become the new Director of Parks and Recreation without running a background check on him.  Lt Cartwright did run a background check and Moore investigated Sellers.  It was found that he was driving a town owned vehicle with a suspended license.  
The suspension stems from an incident at 1:30 am on June 30 2013, when Sellers, then Dillon Parks and Recreation Athletic  Program Coordinator, crashed his car into a ditch and then walked away from the scene.  He was found by police as he walked out of the women's bathroom at the Parks and Rec Department, smelling of alcohol.  He excuse was that he had heard on the scanner that the fire department had been dispatched to a town park and he had hoped to catch vandals by heading over there.  On his way over, he had lost control of the vehicle and some acquaintances that were with him spilled their alcohol on the seats.  
He quickly amended that by stating that he had taken morphine for his pancreatitis, drank a fifth of booze and then headed over to a local bootlegger to try and get two pints of brandy.  Sellers failed the field sobriety test, was hauled off to jail where he quickly fell asleep drooling and later refused a breathalyzer test.  He was initially charged with DUI but later plead guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving.  My guess is that Bullard felt much safer hiring someone with his history to drive a town owned vehicle and put the town in legal danger, than keep a loyal and competent who did not fit his view of sexual orientation.
Moore has stated that most everyone in town has known of her orientation for years and she and her partner Kristi Isgett are often seen in town together.  She does say that she believes that there is a time and place for showing affection........... something that should be observed by couples of any age when they are in public.  I am not surprised that there are people such as Mayor Bullard who have the discriminating views that he has today.  I am very glad though to see how a small town in a state that one would "expect" to discriminate, has rallied their support behind Chrystal Moore, the person and Chief of Police, based on the job she has done and not her orientation.  I do hope to read soon that she is back on the job that she dreamed of since high school.
Maybe the attitude of the residents of Latta SC will show other people and towns to look beyond the "label" and judge a person for who they are.

*** Update June 29 2014:

The town council in Latta SC reinstated Chrystal Moore as their police chief Friday at a specially called meeting that was held just 12 hours after they received the power to vote under their new power structure.  The vote was 6-0 since Bullard did not choose to attend and exercise his vote.

Moore will begin work again on Monday June 30 at the job she has loved all of her life.  There was the "small" issue of what to do with Davis who Bullard had hired and tried to slip under the door into the job,  The town council voted to send him a letter of termination stating that his recent employment was illegal.  It seems that the original contract needed to have the town seal on it to make it official and Bullard must have forgotten to have that done when he was out at McDonald's hiring Davis.  It may seem like a minor thing but it certainly saves the town from having to pay Davis for two years while he did "nothing."

The Friday meeting was held in the town community center because the town hall was still sealed with evidence tape and awaiting an investigation by the State's Law Enforcement division.  The council believes that some type of suspicious activity happened there this week and they now have to request that the investigation be made.  There is no word as to what they believe may have happened there.

In the end though...................... a town has stood up for Moore for the person she is and the job she done all these years and has not given into one person's beliefs about sexual orientation.  As for Bullard..........Hang 'em high since he wants to run his town like the old west.



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