Fired Surfside Planning Commission members react to ‘massacre’ by council

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In the final moments of Tuesday night’s Surfside Town Council meeting, officials, in a split vote, voted to remove all but one member of the town’s Planning Commission.

Following a lengthy executive session, Council Member Randle Stevens made a motion to dismiss Carrie Johnson, Mary Beth Mabry, Janet Gambino, Al Lauer, Nicole Mastrosante, and Larry McKeen from the commission citing they “adversely affected the public.”

Robert Hellyer is the lone member left on the commission.

“I am very disappointed in the way the council meeting was structured,” Lauer told The Sun News. “It was set up so there was no discussion of the ‘massacre’ by the council, nor was there time for residents to share their opinions. For a council that to a person ran on transparency, they have spent most of their time making deals in the shadows and slipping ordinances through the cracks. ”

Mayor Bob Childs, Bob Dietrich, Debbie Scoles and Stevens voted in favor of the motion, while David Pellegrino, Ron Ott and Mark Johnson voted against it, with Johnson sharing his dismay with the decision.

“This is crazy, absolutely ludicrous,” Johnson said. “This council is so discombobulated. The words just escape me. I understand their frustration but they created the frustration so that’s all I have to say.”

Tension has been building between town and planning officials since last year when the commission, along with former councilwoman Beth Kohlmann, filed a lawsuit against the town after council approved the entertainment district.

The complaint alleged that council exempted any new construction in the entertainment district from having to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act and National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System.

“By unanimous decision (we) hired an attorney to get an injunction against council to follow through on parts of this ordinance,” former planning chair Carrie Johnson told The Sun News. “Once council heard they were going to have an injunction served against them, they corrected only parts that would get them out of “hot water.””

The lawsuit was later dropped in February after town officials made changes to the district.

While those in attendance during Tuesday’s meeting sounded off their frustration, Johnson wasn’t surprised by council’s actions after hearing rumors a vote might happen. She claims the council’s decision is an attempt for Childs and Town Administrator Dennis Pieper to have complete control of the town, alleging they “have been calling all the shots.”

“The reason they wanted all of the current P & Z (planning and zoning) members off the Commission is so they can replace us with “yes” men,” Johnson said. “Therefore having no checks and balances and will be able to do with they want in the E District with no regard to the residents wishes, our Storm Water plan, setbacks, etc.”

By Wednesday morning, Surfside Beach advertised the six vacancies on social media encouraging interested parties to submit a resume. Any future planning members must be appointed by the town council.

Childs did not respond for comment in time for this report.