Latta Town Council: May 2023 Minutes

Based on the Latta Town Council Minutes

Regular Meeting
Of The Latta Town Council
May 11, 2023
7:00 p.m.
The Latta Town Council held a regular meeting on May 11, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. The following council members were present: Councilman Jarett Taylor, Councilwoman Lizzie Crawford, Councilman Abbott Shelley, Councilman Marcus McGirt, Mayor Teresa Mason, and Councilwoman Melinda Robinson. Councilman McGirt called the meeting to order, led by the Pledge of Allegiance, and Councilwoman Robinson offered prayer.
Councilman Brad Coward arrived at 8:00 p.m.

Minutes from Regular Meeting on April 13, 2023
Mayor Mason said there needed to be a correction on page 3 it said $800 for workman’s comp and it should have been $8000.
Councilman Taylor made a motion to accept the minutes from the regular meeting and it was seconded by Councilman Shelley.
It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Minutes From Called
Meeting on April 17, 2023
Motion was made by Councilman Taylor to accept the minutes from the called meeting, and it was seconded by Councilwoman Robinson.
It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Minutes from Called Meeting on April 28, 2023
Motion was made by Mayor Mason to accept the minutes from the called meeting and it was seconded by Councilman Taylor.
It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Norris Barr-Mack:
Latta Neighborhood Improvement Alliance
Norris Barr-Mack explained that citizens bring concerns to him, and he brings it to the council. The first thing he addressed was Henry Street Park. There were loads of dirt taken there about three months ago. The sand is still sitting there, and it needs to be removed or used for the playground. They would like to see a police presence down around Henry Street and also some “no littering” signs put up at the park. Barr-Mack asked if we had park hours, and Councilwoman Crawford stated yes from sun up until 10 p.m. Last Saturday, H2G had a giveaway. They had over 100 people who came out, and it was a very successful event.
The next community cleanup will be May 27 from 8 a.m.-12 p.m., and we are looking for any donations.
Barr-Mack asked if there were any updates on the water lines. Councilwoman Robinson stated that she had recently spoken with Mike Hanna and Latta did receive a grant for $8.1 million. They are going forward and are looking to start all the projects at one time for the water tank and the new lines. They will hopefully be coming to the next council meeting to speak about these grants. Barr-Mack asked about annexation and if we have any information. Robert E. Lee, the town attorney said he would have more information at the next council meeting.

Kevin Drawhorn: Questions about Called Meeting on April 17, 2023
Kevin Drawhorn started by welcoming the town attorney to the council meeting. He said he had a few questions here from the citizens. Drawhorn asked the attorney when was he notified about the lawsuit for Mayor Mason, and Attorney Lee explained about a week before they had to be in court. Drawhorn asked Lee if he saw a receipt on where Mayor Mason has paid her attorney fees. Drawhorn said that when they had the called meeting and the attorney made a call and the bill went from $5000 plus to $9100.
Lee explained that he doesn’t get mixed up in politics. He looks at the law. The statute that applies is 15-77-300. It says is if you litigate with a subdivision, and you challenge their action and you prevail, you’re entitled to collect your attorney fees. Lee also said he stepped out and made a phone call to Mayor Mason’s lawyer so he would have the correct amount of what the town owes for attorney fees.

Department Reports
Court Report
Judge Dupree didn’t have anything to add to her report.

Clerk Report
Rebecca Page didn’t have anything to add to her report.

Park and Rec Report
Councilwoman Robinson stated that the park director has been busy at the ballfield. The rec department has been using one of the street department’s lawnmowers, and they have had to put some of the mowers in the shop for maintenance repair work. It’s getting warmer, and another mower is needed. She asked if they need to get a motor for the other mower or do they need quotes for a new mower. Mayor Mason said that the park has money now, and we could also use hospitality money for a mower for the park and street department. The council discussed it and decided to have a called meeting about the mowers and get quotes for mowers.

Police Report
Chief Zane Bryant said he has put his thoughts on some paper tonight and to make sure he doesn’t stray from his prepared remarks.
I want to thank Council for the opportunity to present some thoughts as part of my departmental report tonight. I have chosen to put these remarks on paper in attempt to not leave anything out or stray from my prepared remarks. I will be referring to Council as a collective body. I am bringing these thoughts and issues to you as a Council. Not every item pertains to each individual council member, but I am addressing them with the entire council. I’ll attempt to be brief as possible.
I would like to take the opportunity to address several issues that have been presented recently. I will begin with the atmosphere of our council meetings. I fully understand that my staff and I are expected to maintain order during the meetings, and we accept that responsibility, although we do not set the tone nor are we supposed to maintain it. That responsibility falls upon council, primarily the presider of the meeting. I am asking council to adopt a policy for expected conduct during council meetings. This policy would outline expectations and rules that would have to be adhered to by citizens and council members alike. We can’t hold a particular citizen accountable for their actions if all involved, to include council, are not conducting themselves in the same manner. Last week during my training, with many other chiefs from across the state, introductions were made with many I did not know. One particular comment was made to me, and I quote, “Oh you’re the Chief in Latta.” That comment was a hard one to receive knowing that our town’s situation and reputation preceded me all the way Columbia. Our council meetings are one of the single things that show the world what Latta is about, and some of the recent ones do not fit in the category of positivity. I will be glad to assist in any way I can in implementing such policy.
The next item I would like to address is communication. It has been brought to my attention that council have expressed to many individuals that they cannot reach me or contact me. This has even been brought to the attention of my family. I will admit, I may not answer on the first ring, but I put a lot of effort into providing accessibility to myself as well as my department. This is fartherest thing from the truth. I established from the beginning of my tenure that I was not going to choose sides in any political escapades and that I welcomed any council member to come to me at any time, and furthermore no fault should be given for any particular council member for communicating or meeting with me. This evening, I publicly reaffirm my stance on this. The employees of Latta, no matter what department we work, should not be used like pawns in a political game of chess. It creates a hostile work environment that wreaks havoc on productivity.
I will move on and address another issue—the dog situation. I understand how much stress this entire situation has caused so many. I share that stress myself. The called meeting Friday before last appears to not to have been called directly to discuss this issue, but yet add fuel to an already painful situation.
Furthermore, I had two council members reach out to me Thursday evening about other issues,and in turn, I found out about the meeting. One of those actually stated it was not an issue that needed a called meeting. I apologize for not being able to attend, but I have prior obligations with my family and the evening before was not time enough for me to make other arrangements. Nonetheless, the meeting became a public attack.
I will say the Lord blessed me with broad shoulders, therefore, I will continued to carry the burden and the ridicule that was placed on me during my absence.
I have not been contacted for an update on the situation, yet I have seen actions by individuals that most definitely are an attempt to stir the pot or add a feather to their cap.
Public safety and Public Works Departments are paid to provide a service that the vast majority of society doesn’t want to deal with. Simply stated, we are paid to handle the ugly and dirty of society. Often times, when situations just like our current dog situation, comes up, we have to address them with not so pretty solutions. The consensus of that meeting was WHAT actions are being taken. Those types of details shouldn’t be shared freely, but since they were I am going to present a scenario.
A citizens hears a loud noise at 2 a.m. They look outside their window into their backyard and see an unknown individual carry a dead dog and a weapon. Unbeknownst, to that citizen, that’s the Chief of Police, in a police uniform, with a departmental weapon, who just had to euthanize a dangerous dog, and just happens to be an animal lover.
Those two sentences describe the exact hypothetical scenario with two totally different contexts. No matter how much make-up is put on a pig, it’s still going to be a pig.
Police work, in general, can be ugl. There is a reason why there are only 2.4 police officers per 1,000 citizens in the U.S.
While that painting dries, I want to inform everyone we are still actively working with our current plan of action and have added an additional tactic with advice from a partnering agency. I have not once lowered the importance of this issue. I have been doing my due diligence, along with my officers, even when folks don’t realize we are working on the situation. This problem will be corrected if it takes my last breath.
I will make a promise to our citizens that I will not participate in the political spectacle that this situation has been made into. We have asked that sighting or situations be reported to us.
Some citizens have been God-sent on assisting us, while others have chosen to use social media outlets to create further controversy.
With myself and my department having no animal control training, we have been commended on the tactics thus far from ones who are trained. I have taken advice from numerous agencies as well as taken their assistance when they have been able to provide it. I pray that our complete success comes sooner than later.
I will now address another elephant in the room. The issue of staffing and 24 hour coverage from the police department. I am completely aware of the merchant’s petition that has been circulated. For that matter if you see it, you will find my signature on it as well. I want 24-hour coverage more than anyone in our town. No, this is not something we have made public and that was intentional, for safety reasons, but it is now widely known. I have received the ideas and schedule proposal, and I have studied them in depth, but they will not eliminate the current situation. This situation needs a long-term correction, not a quick fix.
The county has helped us this far, and I am forever grateful to Sheriff and his office. He has extended the offer to hire off duty deputies to cover night shift at the off-duty officer pay rate.
I am not against this proposal, but if it were to be taken with just that, it would create an even dire situation with our current officers.
I have a two-part proposal to council that I feel will improve our current situation rapidly.
I have confided in several active Chiefs from across the state from departments our size and who have faced almost identical situations as we are currently facing.
To be honest, I can’t take complete credit for the proposals as they assisted me in forming them. There are two requests that I am asking council to commit to.
The first being a full council commitment to improve, implement, and foster a positive work environment, which would include communicating, investing in, and placing trust in the employees to do their respective jobs productively and efficiently.
I can attest to eight certified police officers I have met with since October of last year about coming to work at Latta PD. Salary was not the initial reason those officers are not wearing our uniform, it was the atmosphere they would be dealing with.
One used the term “political backlash” as their reservation and decided not to come. If council will commit to improving this environment, there is no limit that could be placed on little old Latta.
I have recently learned that the police morale triangle that I have always been taught is not accurate. That triangle used to be comprised of equipment, salary, and schedules. Schedules will never be a bargaining chip for recruitment nor retention. That side of the triangle is now replaced with atmosphere. A commitment from council tonight to improve the current atmosphere has the potential to carry weight that couldn’t be measured.
Law Enforcement is profession that society doesn’t want around until they are needed. We take that in stride, yet we still raise our hands and swear to give our lives for an individual we don’t even know. It’s a calling that few other professionals will truly ever understand.
I remind you of that to lead into the second request to improve our current situation. I am asking council to increase our current pay scale that would place our entry level officers at $16.02 per hour. The proposed pay scale has increases built in per sectional rank, as well as time in the respective ranks. I strongly believe rank is earned, and if it is earned, it should be rewarded. This would place Latta PD in a competitive range, enabling us as a town to gain officers as well as keep officers. I have spoken with numerous departments in the last two weeks to finalize this proposal that I started in January.
Chiefs with departments our size have stated repeatedly that the only way to get and keep officers is to do better than the bigger departments. I have acquired pay scales that have confirmed this. We can compare our salaries to other agencies all day long, but what about other civilian jobs. I can name several from memory that I researched recently that are very enticing and carry little to no risk that these uniforms carry, and they are right here locally.
It’s no secret that Latta PD is often used as a training ground for police officers. I don’t like that position, but I wear it proudly. That simply means agencies willing to pay more and locations with less drama gladly hire our officers because they know the caliber of officer of what they will be getting. I am committed to investing in our officers and continuing to build a department that officers are proud to say they work for. I have been transparent with my officers and in return they have placed their trust and loyalty in me.
I am asking council tonight for your commitment to these two requests. A yes from council would not only be a yes to those in the blue shirts behind me, but it would be a yes to every citizen, every merchant, and to one another that council wants a better Latta. On the other hand, a NO from council would be the exact opposite message that would be received load and clear.
I will close with this as your Police Chief. Many individuals have known me since childhood. I have never wavered on my principles and will not. I choose to try and approach every situation with as much impartiality as possible. I will not choose sides nor will I allow my officers to do so. I will continue to push forward for the betterment of Latta Police Department and the Town of Latta. I pledge my commitment to Council to work with you not against you to accomplish this goal. To our citizens, my public commitment I made in October of last year during my oath is as intact tonight as it was that night. I will do everything within my capabilities to provide you with the best safety that my department and I can. I stand true.
Motion was made by Mayor Mason that we all work harder on keeping our voices like we are suppose to, work harder on treating everyone in the audience no matter if we like them or not with respect, and all work together and do that, and Councilman Coward seconded.
It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Council Reports

Councilman Taylor
Councilman Taylor stated he didn’t have anything to report.

Councilwoman Crawford
She stated that some citizens on Rogers Street are having some issues with water standing up, and DOT went through and patched up the road. They asked how are some of the roads in town being paved and there street looks the way it looks. Councilman Coward said he would reach out and see if DOT would come back and look at it. Council and citizens discussed about some of the bad roads in town and how the roads need repairing.

Councilman Shelley
Shelley said he hoped everyone heard tonight about the $8.1 million dollar grant the town got and hope to get things moving on the water/sewer situations through town.

Councilman McGirt
McGirt thanked everyone for coming out. He said he had a citizen reach out to me about her water being brown, and she has to keep buying bottles of water. She said she has reached out to Grand Strand and they haven’t come out. Rebecca stated she would call Grand Strand.

Mayor Mason
Mayor Mason had Mrs. Rogers on 108 Dew Street ask if the drainage by her house could be cleaned out. The last meeting we had on April 13 had on there about the Local Revenue and should have been put on this agenda. The council discussed things, and they are going to have a called meeting and add it to the agenda.

Councilman Coward
Coward thanked everybody for coming out. He said there are things getting worked on and when he started on council there was 6 employees on the street department and now there are only four employees so please be patient.

Councilwoman Robinson
Robinson thanked everyone who came out. She said they have matching money to go along with the grant the town has received, and it is not going to cost the town anything. They have received money for the water and sewer tap for Hardees. They have met with DHEC about the Hardees and the major thing was the ditch behind Morrell’s Tire.
She thanked the police department. She said we are here for you and support you. She said they want to have a positive work environment and to be able to talk to anyone. She said she is here to help you not hurt you. I want to be the first to apologize about the meeting we had the other day about the dogs and want to apologize for the outburst.

Carolyn McDaniel
McDaniels asked the mayor if the town was up to date on bills and asked the mayor if we got the $12.8 million. Councilwoman Robinson said that money we received from the grant was $8.1 million, and it didn’t have anything to do with the town bills. The other money was what the town was looking to get, but they only received $8.1 million. Ms. Carolyn asked if the money we getting just for water and sewer, and Councilwoman Robinson stated yes.
The application for Latimer School was approved. They had a meeting with the historical society, and they said we could go forward with putting the building on the National Historical Register. They would give us money for the consultant will come to Latta and complete the application. We need to find some money to stabilize the building.

Motion to adjourn the meeting was made by Councilman Taylor, and it was seconded by Mayor Mason. It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Called Meeting
of the Latta Town Council
May 25, 2023
11:00 a.m.
The Latta Town Council held a called meeting on May 25, 2023 at 11:00 a.m. The following council members were present: Councilwoman Robinson, Councilwoman Crawford, and Mayor Mason. Councilwoman Robinson called the meeting to order, led by the Pledge of Allegiance, and prayer. Councilman Coward and Councilman Shelley were present by phone.

2nd Reading of Agreement and Supplement for Local Revenue Service Programs
Motion was made by Councilwoman Robinson to accept the 2nd reading of the agreement and supplement for local revenue service agreement and it was seconded by Councilwoman Crawford.
It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Discuss Quotes for Lawnmowers
Councilman Coward explained that we have gotten four quotes for lawnmowers. The town can get two John Deere mowers for $10,000 a piece. We get the Kubota from Dillon Tractor for $12,000 a piece. If the town gets the Kubota, they can get the parts in Dillon. If they get a John Deere, they will have to look and go get the parts for repair.
Motion was made by Councilwoman Robinson to purchase two Kubota mowers for $12,121 each from Dillon Tractor, and it was seconded by Mayor Mason.
It was unanimously approved by roll call vote of council.

Maintenance for Park and Rec
Councilwoman Robinson stated she has put this on the agenda, but she was told that it has been taken care of.

Motion to adjourn the meeting was made by Councilwoman Robinson, and it was seconded by Mayor Mason.
It was unanimously approved of roll call vote of council.

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