South Carolina town fires nearly all of its workers

ATLANTIC BEACH, S.C. --- Atlantic Beach fired its three police officers, two municipal judges and four other town employees just hours after two new councilwomen took their seats Tuesday night.

The mass firings came after Carolyn Cole and Windy Price were sworn in at an emergency meeting. The South Carolina Supreme Court this month had declared them winners of a contested 2009 election, and the justices upheld the ruling Friday.

The Town Council named Benny Webb the interim town manager, and he said he is joining council members to assess how the town is doing financially.

"Atlantic Beach is no longer going to be the armpit of the Grand Strand," Webb told The Sun News of Myrtle Beach.

Town Manager William Booker said he expected some changes with the new councilwomen, but what happened shocked him.

"It's not unusual when leadership changes that they wanted to make some changes, but the magnitude of changes are more surprising," Booker said.

Booker said he was told to take three weeks of vacation, and council members will decide whether he gets to keep his job when he comes back.

Town employees at Tuesday night's meeting were told to return the next day for individual meetings, police officer Randy Fisher said.

Fisher, police Chief Eric Lewis and another officer were fired immediately. Webb also fired two town judges, the town attorney, the clerk of court, a financial officer and an administrative assistant effective at the end of this week, Fisher said.

Webb said he fired all three police officers because they left their posts and then did not meet with him about their futures.

Six years ago, Cole was on the other end of mass firings as several new council members suspended her from her job at that time as town manager.

All four town employees also were suspended for refusing to give the interim town manager an update on Atlantic Beach's finances.

A resident who closely monitors the government in the Horry County town of 400 said it appears the town's new leadership isn't following the law. Town Council spent most of Tuesday's meeting behind closed doors before announcing some of the staff changes, Paul Curry said.

"This is not good news," Curry said. "They called an emergency meeting. There has to be life or property in peril. I don't think last night qualified."

But another longtime resident thinks the new Town Council made changes that were desperately needed and hopes businesses will now realize it is OK to invest in Atlantic Beach.

"I am glad we won't be under the torture of those police any longer. That good people won't be falsely arrested. We can have a conversation outside and not be worried about going to jail when the police come by," Amy Breunig said. "A weight has been lifted from a lot of people's shoulders."


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