A group of concerned citizens say officials at Murrells Inlet/Garden City Fire District are not paying firefighters as much as they should and are asking for documentation that details the distribution of public funding.
The citizens group planned to present the board with official Freedom of Information Act requests at Monday night’s meeting.
Wendy Swindell, a former volunteer with the fire district, is leading the citizens group.
She was let go after criticizing officials through the newspaper and at board meetings.
“I have filed a complaint with the SC ACLU for retaliation against my right to speak freely as a resident of this community, under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Our orientation/instruction folders did not state that we waived this right when we offered our time as a volunteer at MIGC Fire Dept.,” Swindell said.
She believes that being let go from volunteering “was an act of retaliation for making public via a signed ‘Letter to the Editor’ of the Georgetown Times that there were firefighters on food stamps within the department...”
Al Hitchcock, chair of the fire district’s board of directors, said Monday that the allegations about not paying firefighters enough are unfounded.
“Our firefighters are being paid very fairly,” Hitchcock said.
“We would like to pay them more, but we pay them as much as we can afford.”
He said the MI/GC Fire District uses from 75 to 80 percent of its $3.3 million budget for employee salaries, which equals about $2.7 million.
“We don’t lose our firefighters to Midway or Horry County so they can make more money,” Hitchcock said.
He added that the lowest paid firefighter at the department is making about $32,000 per year, so he is not sure why any of their firefighters would need to be on food stamps.
He also said that Swindell was asked to stop volunteering because she did not go through the proper channels for voicing her complaints.
“Anybody who works for or is associated with the fire department has to follow a chain of command, which includes the assistant chief, the chief, then the board,” Hitchcock said. “(Swindell) basically bypassed everybody, going to the newspapers and then coming to the board meetings to share her complaints.”