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Surfside Beach wrestles with ethics

A proposal to implement a conflict of interest policy statement was shot down by a majority of the Surfside Beach Town Council on Tuesday.

Instead the council voted unanimously to direct Kenneth Moss, a lawyer for the town, to add a section on ethics procedures to the section of the town ordinance that governs employees.

After heated discussion about the possibility that a conflict of interest statement could be perceived as superseding state ethics policy, council voted 4-3 not to approve the statement drafted by Councilwoman Ann Dodge.

Dodge and Councilmen Doug Samples and Mark Johnson voted in favor of adopting the policy statement.

Moss said the separate conflict of interest statement could "potentially be perceived to conflict with state law," and could be challenged in court.

He suggested that including ethics procedures in the chapter governing employees that would "require them to comply" with state ethics laws would be another way to "reaffirm its commitment to make sure people adhere to the state ethics act."

Samples motioned that Moss and other town staff work to "prepare the necessary revisions that would emphasize" the council's position. He said he particularly liked the idea of having town employees sign a statement about the ethics policy each year.

That motion was given unanimous approval by the council, and the staff will return with revisions at the next meeting.

But some council members were frustrated by how long it has taken to get action on this issue.

"This has been going on and on and on and something needs to be done about it," Dodge said.

Dodge said she will not let this issue rest until there is "a strong policy" in place.

The conflict-of-interest policy was first brought up by Dodge at the July 12 council meeting.

She said the town's employee manual does not give a clear policy on conflicts of interest. Her proposed policy would have applied to all town employees, council members and volunteers. Those individuals would have to disclose conflicts of interest and sign a statement acknowledging that he or she read the policy and understands it.

It would also incorporate the town's anti-fraternization policy and the rules of conduct as written by the State Ethics Commission.

This discussion follows accusations that former Surfside Beach Administrator Ed Booth might have passed inside information to a company that was bidding for restaurant space on the town-owned pier. Booth began working with television personality Cecil Chandler's restaurant company - called Surfside Beach Cafe at the Pier LLC - shortly after he left the administrator's job in May.

No formal charges or investigations into the bidding process have been initiated.

The council also met in executive session to discuss the pier restaurant lease and the town administrator applications, but no action was taken.

Mayor K. Allen Deaton said the lease was not ready to be sent out for the second round of bidding.

Hundreds of applications have come in for the town administrator position.

Booth resigned on May 4 citing "personal reasons." His resignation became effective May 11 and executive assistant Micki Fellner is serving as the interim administrator.