Massage parlors rub council the wrong way


From WMBF News partner

Things got quite heated Monday night at the Surfside Beach town council meeting.

The core of the fire was the issues of massage parlors and also a check written to Clemson University.

Last month, town police arrested employees of three massage parlors in town for prostitution. Two of the businesses are closed and one is still open on Surfside Drive.

Councilmember Randle Stevens asked why the town had not revoked the business licenses of the three establishments, calling them “houses of prostitution.”

Stevens said the masseuses in the businesses were not licensed by the state and he didn’t understand how that fact slipped by the town official issuing a business license.

“Nobody ever checked their massage therapist licenses,” he said. “We are talking about Asians.”

He said the town could revoke the business licenses if they were deemed a nuisance.

“These don’t fit the family beach image of Surfside Beach,” he said. “We need to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We won’t restrain legal massage therapists, just places like this.”

Councilmember Tim Courtney said the town needed to be more vigilant when businesses apply for a license in town.

“Businesses are going to slide in there,” Courtney said. “We should have known since they had sheets in front of the windows with stains on them.”

Police chief Kenneth Hofmann said his department’s investigation found the illegal activities being carried out in the three businesses. He said all three had town business licenses but some employees lacked state massage therapist licenses.

Hofmann said the two of the businesses have closed down and his department continues to monitor the remaining one that’s still open on Surfside Drive.

A blooming problem

A discussion about restricting how much a town staff member can spend without town council approval quickly morphed into an argument over an issue that first blossomed earlier this year.

Currently, a staff member can spend up to $10,000 without getting the okay from the council.

Last December, the town wrote a check for $75 and another one for $9,999 to the Clemson University Foundation as a donation in return for the university developing a landscaping plan for the town.

Several council members and a host of residents since then have questioned why the town paid the almost $10,000 to the foundation.

Recently, representatives from Clemson presented a plan to the town but it wasn’t what the council had requested.

Monday night, everyone on the council said they were disappointed in the presentation that was brought to the town. Town administrator Micki Fellner said she had contacted the foundation and they had agreed to bring back a landscaping plan that the council had thought they were getting.

Councilmember Ron Ott said the council had never agreed in public to issue the $9,999 check and called for an investigation as to why it was done.

“This was brought up in executive session and never addressed in public,” Ott said. “We don’t need to spend $10,000 to have somebody tell me what plants to put on Ocean Boulevard.”

He asked Fellner if the town had a contract with Clemson about the project. Fellner said there was no contract but there was a string of emails discussing it.

Councilmember Julie Samples said the council had agreed in the executive session to go forward with the check.

The state Freedom of Information Act says that no decisions can be made behind closed doors in an executive session.

Councilmember Mark Johnson said since the amount was $1 dollar under the $10,000 threshold, the council didn’t need to give its approval for the expenditure.

“We were advised about the situation,” he said. “We didn’t make a decision on it.”

He added that Samples simply misspoke when she said the council had given its approval during the executive session.

Johnson also said he was upset that a couple of fellow councilmembers said he and councilmember David Pellagrino had gotten free Clemson football tickets in return for donating the money to the Clemson University Foundation.

Ott said he never said the two councilmembers, who are Clemson fans, got free tickets, only the opportunity to buy special VIP tickets.

The Clemson University Foundation isn’t involved in athletics at the university. That role is handled by the IPTAY organization.

Patricia Magliette, wife of the late town councilmember Ralph Magliette, said it wasn’t that the residents didn’t like the councilmembers but they questioned the $9,999 check because they were cautious when it came to the town’s finances.

Referring to an incident where a former employee was arrested for taking money from the town’s coffers, she said, “We were hurt when we found out from the newspaper that $45,000 was missing.”

Mayor Bob Childs said everyone agreed that the presentation to the town was not what they were looking for but the town administrator had assured them the problem was being corrected by Clemson.

“This was needed because there is a lot more to a landscape plan than just planting flowers,” Childs said.

Ott said he still wasn’t convinced that everything was as it should be with the situation.

“We spend $10,000 and we don’t have a bush in town,” he said.

Other actions

The town council agreed Monday night to hire a deputy town administrator by Sept. 1 to help Fellner.

The council also agreed to give town clerk Debra Herrmann a $10,000 raise. Fellner said that would bring the clerk’s annual salary to $61,270.

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