Local

Surfside council recording shows frustrations with town administrator

jlee@thesunnews.com

Sabrina Morris was fired from her position in Surfside Beach for recording a conversation with Town Administrator Micki Fellner, Fellner said in a recording of closed town council session last week.

The Sun News has obtained the recording of that closed-door discussion. Several members of town council confirmed they knew the session was being recorded, and the fact that the meeting was being captured is acknowledged in the discussion.

The meeting on Aug. 20 was called as town council members considered whether to fire Fellner. The frustrations, heard in the recorded meeting, of some council members stemmed in part from the decision to remove Morris, who was the director of Planning, Building and Zoning until her termination on Aug. 17. Council members went into a closed session shortly after the meeting began in order to discuss Fellner’s employment status.

In the recording, Fellner says she advised Morris in April that she needed to meet with the administrator more often to tell her what was going on in her department. She said Morris did not meet with her frequently, despite that notice and other reminders. Fellner also said that in a conversation at the end of Morris’s tenure, Morris said she was recording the talk and that she had “been recording everything for quite some time now.”

Morris could not be reached by phone on Tuesday evening for comment.

Surfside has a staff policy that prohibits staff members from video or audio recording in the workplace, except in cases like capturing public meetings or investigating law enforcement and code issues. The policy states that in all other cases, such a recording must be approved in writing by the administrator. If an employee has an issue with the administrator, they are directed to contact the mayor, who would engage the town’s labor attorney.

The penalty for breaking the policy, according to the town’s personnel manual, is “immediate termination.” Fellner said in the recording she consulted with the town’s labor attorney before she removed Morris.

Fellner declined to comment about the recording on Tuesday night.

Ultimately, four members of town council voted on Aug. 20 to keep the administrator: Julie Samples, Mark Johnson, David Pellegrino and Mayor Bob Childs.

Councilmen Ron Ott, Tim Courtney and Randle Stevens voted to remove Fellner.

In the recording, Courtney and Stevens said the administrator did not notify them of serious changes among town staff. Ott said that the administrator’s powers were too broad and that the town needed to go in a different direction.

But Fellner is on contract with the town and was already planning to retire next spring. As the top staff member, she will also play a crucial role in the coming months as Surfside negotiates how to fund and rebuild its iconic pier.

The recording of town council’s closed meeting was first reported on by The Myrtle Beach Herald. The recordings of the closed meeting are unusual, as taking minutes and other notes are not common during an executive session.

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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