surfside beach sign

Surfside Beach, South Carolina. File/surfsidebeach.org

MYRTLE BEACH — The drama continues in Surfside Beach. 

Town Councilman Randle Stevens attempted to enter a memo into the public record that was not brought up for a public vote and without showing it to three members of the council.

Stevens wrote up the document and signed it along with Councilmen Mark Johnson, Tim Courtney and Ron Ott. He insists the move was valid because the paper was signed by a majority of the council. "I don't know why they're fighting it," he said of the other three council members. 

Mayor Bob Childs, Councilwoman Julie Samples and Councilman David Pellegrino all said they were not aware of the document until after Stevens tried to get a final signature from Town Clerk Debra Herrmann.

"It's supposed to come before the public," Child said. "You can't have these things done in back rooms."

The document concerned the rehiring of Planning, Building and Zoning Director Sabrina Morris, who was brought back to the town on Jan. 23, the same meeting in which the council fired Town Administrator Micki Fellner and her deputy, John Harrah.

Stevens said he wrote the memo because he wanted to make sure a motion to reinstate Morris was entered in the record. But the actions of council already are recorded in minutes taken by the town clerk, making the memo moot.

According to email correspondence between Herrmann and Samples, the clerk refused to sign the memo when Stevens presented it to her immediately after a Jan. 29 meeting. 

"(Town Attorney Michael) Battle was sent a copy of the document by email immediately after the meeting. He called right away and said it was not a legal document and that I should not sign it," wrote Herrmann, who declined to comment on the record. 

The document has also stirred confusion over Morris' status as she returns to her job. When the council voted to bring her back on Jan. 23, she was treated as a new hire, meaning she did not receive the same level of benefits, such as vacation time, that she previously enjoyed. She is also subject to a 180-day probation period.

The town's policy is to treat all hires that way, even if they have worked for Surfside Beach in the past. Samples, Pellegrino and Childs all said the town's attorney reminded the council of this policy before Morris returned to the Planning, Building and Zoning department.

But Stevens said his memo, which stipulates the town would "reinstate" Morris, should have ensured she got the same benefits she had before and should have waived the 180-day probation period. 

Ott, who signed the memo, said he wanted Morris hired back with the same benefits and without the probation. He said Stevens gave him the paper to sign immediately before the Jan. 29 meeting.

"We just signed the paper because (Stevens) said that was what was made as a motion in the other meeting," Ott said. "Somehow this was changed, and I think that's what went wrong."

The memo to reinstate Morris with her former perks is problematic, according to Bill Taylor of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, both because it never came up for a public vote and because it violates the town's rules. 

If the council specifically directed that Morris receive her old benefits, Taylor said, "they could be facing a legal challenge from their own (dissenting) council members, I assume, from violating their own personnel policy.

"It might open up a can of worms from any other employees who found themselves in a similar situation."

But Stevens discounted that possibility, saying that the council has the right to make any policy decision, as long as at least four members agree.

"In the council form of government, the majority rules," he said.

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.