Surfside Beach names temporary administrator, reinstates previously fired director

Surfside Beach Police Chief Kenneth Hofmann will act as the temporary administrator after former administrator Micki Fellner was fired during last Tuesday’s town council meeting.

Town council called a special meeting Monday night to appoint an acting administrator and to authorize someone to reinstate Sabrina Morris, who was previously fired from her director position in the Planning, Building and Zoning Department.

“I’m just concerned for the welfare of the town, the stability of the town and its operations without there being someone in place to help with those day-to-day operations,” Hofmann said.

“Anytime I can do anything to help the town, that’s my overall obligation, not just as police chief, but also as an employee of the town,” he said. “I’m not a town administrator, I’m a police chief so that’s not where my area of expertise is. But this position is just for a short period of time, it’s just to sort of hold things down.”

Hofmann did request that he not be asked to terminate any employee in the town “at any time without a special meeting called. There are a lot of employees in this town that are very unstable right now.”

However, council members Julie Samples and David Pelligrino expressed concerns regarding Hofmann taking the rule as acting administrator.

“I too do not support the appointment of Chief Hofmann as the interim administrator, and it has absolutely nothing to do with who you are as a person,” Samples said. “I think it puts a target on your back. I think you are too valuable to our town, and you are super busy with the police department. I think it would be a bad move for you to be put in that position.”

Surfside Beach Mayor Bob Childs said that Hofmann’s duties would simply be to sign papers. Prior to the appointment, Pelligrino suggested that he has names of people interested in the town administrator position, which will be discussed at a later date.

Hofmann said that he was approached by three council members regarding filling the position, but would not specify which ones. He also ensured that filling the position would not interfere with his duties as police chief.

At this time there is not a timeline for when the administrator position will be permanently filled.

During Tuesday’s meeting council members Tim Courtney, Ron Ott, Randle Stevens and Mark Johnson voted on a motion that relieved Fellner of her duties immediately. They did vote to continue paying her until her contract ends.

Shortly after, the four voted on a motion to relieve Deputy Administrator Jon Harrah of his duties as well.

Both Fellner and Harrah left the meeting after the decisions were made.

Samples did express concerns over the motions, suggesting that the action put the town at risk of lawsuits. Prior to the meeting, council was supposed to go into executive session with a labor attorney, but chose to not go into the meeting.

The meeting also called for members to discuss the duties of the mayor, which members voted to remove from the agenda at the end of the meeting.

“The attorney said everything was okay the way way we have it now,” Childs said.

The reinstatement of Morris

At the public comment session Monday evening many residents spoke against the reinstatement of Morris, who was fired in August 2017 for recording a conversation with Feller during an executive session.

In August, The Sun News reported that the town has a staff policy prohibiting staff members from video or audio recording in the workplace except during public meetings. The penalty for breaking the police is “immediate termination,” the town’s personnel manual stated.

During last Tuesday’s meeting council members voted to reinstate Morris. Now, Hofmann has the authority to make the motion official.

On Monday, members debated why Morris was not immediately reinstated, which amounted to confusion, Ott said. He continued, saying that four members of council could have signed the motion into effect as long as they did it in a legislative body, such as on the dais.

“This is becoming absolutely a circus act over here,” Courtney said. “A vote was called for the reinstate an employee. The employee was not allowed to come onto the payroll because no one could sign off on it. It’s quite simple. It’s a shame it has to go through this.”

Morris has not yet been officially reinstated at this time.

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic