We Got Trouble. Right Here in Latta . . .
Since this story broke there has been a huge international out pouring of support for Chief Crystal Moore. There is an active petition on change.org calling for the South Carolina State Ethics Commission to investigate Mayor Bullard’s firing of Crystal Moore.
Townspeople are gathering for prayer vigils and flooding Mayor Bullard’s phone lines [843.752.5115] with protest calls.
Bring it, Roasters.
If you’ve never heard of Latta, SC, you’re not alone. Latta is home to 1,410 souls (8 more than Mayberry), Catfish Creek Baptist Church and a brand new homophobic mayor, Earl Bullard.
Meet Mayor Bullard:
Bullard ran uncontested last year and was installed in office in January, 2014. And Latta hasn’t been the same since then. Many elected officials are motivated to run for office because they believe that they have some good ideas for improving things and it was pretty clear, even before he took office, that Bullard wanted to make a few changes immediately.
Several of the six town council members told reporters that Bullard made it clear from the beginning that he wanted to replace a couple of town officials, namely the Police Chief, Crystal Moore, who has served the Latta PD, in various roles, for over twenty years; and the Parks and Recreation Director, Ann Jackson, who held that position for the last eight years.
Jackson had heard the rumors that Bullard wanted to get rid of Chief Moore and herself and resigned her job when Bullard took over, citing “job security” as her reason for leaving. Mayor Bullard did nothing to try to retain the popular Rec Director. The Dillon Herald covered Jackson’s farewell party [Jackson is the woman in green]:
Parents credit Jackson with making the “recreation program grow by leaps and bounds.” Under her leadership as Recreation direcor, several Latta teams have made playoffs and several have played in state championships.
Police Chief Moore met her own job-insecurity issue head-on, in a Town Council meeting in March [sorry, screen cap was the only way]:
But, despite public denials that the mayor was dissatisfied with Chief Moore’s performance, trouble was a-brewing . . . when Mayor Bullard advertised Ann Jackson’s old job, in Parks and Rec, twenty candidates applied for the job. One of them was Mr. Vontray Sellers who jumped to the top of the pile and got the job one business day after he submitted a poorly completed application.
And, as it turned out, Mr Sellers had a few skeletons in his closet. His driver’s license was under suspension for reckless driving, compounded by lying to police, then assaulting a correctional facility employee. One of the advertised job requirements was a valid driver’s license because the Rec director would be transporting the town’s kids in town-owned vehicles.
Mr Sellers troubles with the law were not known, however, because Mayor Bullard didn’t see fit to run a background check on the man he was hiring to work with the town’s children every day. He never even called the reference that Sellers gave on his application.
Neither did his suspended license keep Mr. Sellers from hopping behind the wheel of a town-owned vehicle once he had the job.
That’s where Police Chief Crystal Moore found him after receiving a tip from a Latta resident that Mr Sellers was driving around on a suspended license. Moore did what Police Chiefs do in such situations. She investigated Sellers background, discovered that the mayor had not and took it up with the mayor.
And that’s when things got real for Mayor Bullard and Chief Moore. A local TV news team tried to get some answers:
Mayor Bullard wouldn’t answer our questions over the phone or when we approached him at Latta Town Hall. Instead, he called the police. Without answering our questions or giving us any reason why, the officer then kicked our cameras out of Latta Town Hall. Meanwhile, parental concern is growing.
Despite Chief Moore’s exemplary record, serving 23 years on the Latta PD with nary a complaint or reprimand, suddenly Mayor Bullard whipped up seven official written reprimands, in one day, all having to do with her handling of the Vontray Sellers issue. The Town Council was never consulted and the mayor demanded that Chief Moore sign the reprimands on the spot. Moore said she wouldn’t sign them until she talked to a lawyer, whereupon Mayor Bullard fired her.
When news of Chief Moore’s firing got out, the mayor had townspeople outside city hall demanding to know what the hell he was up to. A number of people supporting Moore are actually council members who told reporters covering the protest that, according to a Latta ordinance, the mayor can fire the Police Chief but it has to be approved by the council and that the council has not considered it.
Councilman Jared Taylor said that the Latta Town Council did not recognize Moore’s firing and would be voting to reinstate Moore at the next council meeting, adding that:
Crystal has worked for this town for over 20 years. She started out as a dispatcher, I believe, while she was in high school. People in Latta love Crystal, and people have really embraced Crystal. She should have never been fired. I’ve got 3 ½ years left on council, and I will fight 3 ½ more years if I have to, because I think she deserves it.
Those are the mechanics of small-town government but most everyone in Latta knows that Mayor Bullard’s real beef with Chief Moore is that she is a lesbian. And not the kind that hides in a closet.
That is not to say that she is flamboyant, by any standard. As a matter of fact, townspeople interviewed by several TV reporters describe her as “quiet-living,” a “pillar of the community” and a “solid citizen.”
But in a conversation with Mayor Bullard, taped by councilman Jared Taylor, it’s pretty clear what the Mayor’s problem with Chief Moore is:
Four months into Mayor Bullard’s reign of terror the Latta Town Council has had enough and has voted to put a referendum to the town’s voters, on June 24th, to change their town’s form of government from “strong mayor” to “strong council.”
Over 100 citizens of Latta showed up for that “public” meeting but the Mayor refused to move the meeting to a venue that would accommodate them and allow them to be heard.
Councilwoman Lutherine Williams said:
All of these citizens came out tonight to be heard.
You did not have to be standing in corners and out in the hallway,” she said to the standing room-only audience, many of which were forced to listen to the meeting via loud speakers outside the town hall. Those who did make it inside had to show proof of residency.
We came to him (Bullard) early and asked to have the meeting changed to another location so each of you could attend and be comfortable. He said no, we couldn’t do that. When I called Columbia to talk to them, they’d never in their life heard of people having to sign some form to come and say something in the town they live and work in and pay taxes. This is so wrong. This is so not right.
He doesn’t think he has to follow any rules, Williams said. We have a town hall that’s become a Town Hall Burger King. Everything is have it his way. But we’re gonna change that. Everything with him is ‘I, I, I’ but we don’t live in an ‘I’ town. We live in a ‘we’ town. I love each and every one of you, and my intention is to do what’s right. If I’m never elected to sit in this chair again, I’m going to do what’s right.
Sometimes you just have to love America, warts and all.