LATTA, S.C. — Dozens of Latta residents danced and cheered in front of the town’s community center Tuesday night as election officials announced a referendum to change the town’s form of government to strong council was approved, 328-147.
Though the results will not become official until the ballots are certified at 11 a.m. Friday, for many town residents, Tuesday’s vote was an instant victory because it will allow town council to reinstate Crystal Moore as Latta’s police chief.
Moore was abruptly fired in April by Mayor Earl Bullard after she refused to sign seven unexplained reprimands that he presented to her on the same day.
“This is our town,” a grinning Tammy Taylor said, between cheers and high-fives. “We got our town back. We got our chief back.”
Despite repeated pleas from his fellow council members to reinstate Moore, Bullard has refused. It was Bullard’s unwillingness to compromise that led council members to ask for the referendum, Councilwoman Lutherine Williams said.
“Words cannot describe what it’s been like trying to work with him,” Williams said. “We’d have never had any reason to even ask for the referendum, but he’s impossible. Everything with him is dictatorship. It’s his way or no way.”
All municipal governments in South Carolina operate under one of three forms of government: mayor-council, council or council-manager. Latta has operated under strong mayor-weak council, which gave Bullard the authority to hire and fire at will. But not after Tuesday’s vote, Williams said. In fact, she said the council’s first order of business will be to rehire Moore.
“Every council member supports Crystal 100 percent. If we could put her back to work tonight, we would, but we’ll have to wait until the vote’s certified. But after that, yes ma’am,” Williams said. “We’ve just taken all the clothes off the mayor. He’s naked. Once this vote is certified, he has no power. We getting ready to make him raise his hand and maybe we’ll give him three minutes like he’s done the citizens of Latta.”
Bullard was at town hall Tuesday afternoon but was not at the polls when the results were announced. The mayor did not respond to phone messages left by the Morning News.
But support for Moore and the change in government form was apparent throughout the day in Latta, as friends and townspeople showed their support for Moore with T-shirts, signs and sidewalk art during an impromptu Election Day sit-in.
Moore said the support has been overwhelming and has kept her going through this difficult time.
“Words cannot describe how I feel,” Moore said. “I am so excited. The town came out and spoke up for what was right, not just for me, but for the whole town. They’ve seen what’s been going on for the six months he’s been here as mayor. The council has really been trying hard to do what’s right for the town so this is a blessing. Thank you to everyone who came and voted. It took us all. Now, I’m ready to go back to work.”