LATTA, S.C. — The town council in Latta, S.C., on Friday evening reinstated police chief Crystal Moore just hours after officials certified Tuesday’s vote to change the town’s form of government from “strong mayor” to “strong council.”
Moore, who is openly gay, was fired by Mayor Earl Bullard in April after he issued her seven reprimands in one day — the only reprimands she’s received in her 23-year career in law enforcement, igniting a firestorm of criticism by the council and local residents.
Several council members called the firing “questionable” and a recording by one councilman of the mayor defending his actions while disparaging the Moore’s “lifestyle” and sexual orientation, suggested that anti-gay bias played a role in the firing.
When residents rallied in support of Moore and demanded that she be rehired, Bullard refused, prompting the town council to call for a referendum, giving residents the opportunity to change the town from a mayor-strong to council-strong form of government.
Residents of Latta voted 328 to 147 Tuesday night to authorize the change in the town’s form of government that would allow the council to reinstate Moore as police chief.
Town council members said Bullard did not consult with them or notify anyone of his intentions.
“We have a town ordinance in place that requires the mayor to seek the approval of council before entering into any contract like this,” council member Jarett Taylor said Wednesday. “Council had no idea about this so as far as we see it, that contract is null and void.”
On Friday evening, the council determined Bullard had broken local laws by unilaterally hiring a new police chief without their consent. They declared his hire invalid and immediately reinstated Moore.
The council also voted 6-0 to expunge the seven reprimands from Moore’s record.
Tuesday’s vote by town residents stripped the mayor of his authority to hire and fire at will, shifting that responsibility to the town council.
Developing story. This report will be updated.