‘We’re no longer a family beach’: How Surfside Beach town meetings will change

Surfside election decides three open council seats

David Pellegrino, Debbie Scoles and Bruce Dietrich won the three open seats during the Town of Surfside Beach's election Tuesday night.
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David Pellegrino, Debbie Scoles and Bruce Dietrich won the three open seats during the Town of Surfside Beach's election Tuesday night.

Residents will have a new set of rules to follow when they attend Surfside Beach Town Council meetings after officials approved an ordinance Tuesday night that significantly changes how council conducts business.

Council voted 4-3 on the final reading of an ordinance that will restructure town meetings to elicit decorum from attendees and officials, including placing restraints on what residents can and cannot say during the public comment period.

It also reduces the amount of time residents can speak during the public comment period from five minutes to three and requires speakers to only comment on agenda items. Mayor Bob Childs also has the right to limit the number of speakers on a particular topic.

Individuals speaking must avoid commenting on personnel matters, addressing an individual member of council or calling them by name, using profanity, reading letters on behalf of another person, and making any personal attacks against the council and staff, according to the ordinance.

Town officials will also be limited to three minutes to speak per agenda item during a discussion period.

Councilman Bruce Dietrich, who proposed the change, said if there is a matter of urgent business on the agenda, the council reserves the right to suspend the rules to allow for more discussion.

However, officials will not answer any questions from the public during meetings and town officials will now meet monthly at 6 p.m., a shift from their regularly scheduled meetings twice a month at 6:30 p.m. Additionally, the town will restrict immediate family members of town council, boards, commissions and committees from serving simultaneously to avoid conflicts or the appearance of impropriety.

While several residents spoke out against the ordinance, questioning council’s political agenda, council members Ron Ott, David Pellegrino and Mark Johnson voted against it, asserting the law will change the values of the town.

“When we pass this ordinance, we’re no longer a family beach,” Ott said. “For some reason we want to put a squash on the people of this town. I find this totally ridiculous.”

Ott also suggested the word family be removed from the town’s water tower.

The council came under fire last month when they originally proposed a more stringent ordinance requiring residents to sign up for public comment up to six days prior to any meeting. Along with the current changes to the meeting structure, the original ordinance stipulated council would reserve the right to reject any speaker by a majority vote.

Council agreed to table the vote and held a tense workshop on April 15 to revise the ordinance. At the workshop, some officials agreed the public’s behavior during meetings has “gotten out of hand” and there needs to be new rules to make meetings more “friendly.”

Pellegrino, who was the sole dissenting vote during first reading, said the ordinance will make it difficult for residents to attend meetings at an earlier time and will slow down the administrative process if council members only meet once per month.

“We used to be a family and we’re no longer a family,” Ott added. “I guarantee we’ll violate our own ordinance.”

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Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.