Against former Town Administrator Phyllis Lollis
By David Meade
The South Carolina Ethics Commission has ruled that former Williamston Administrator Phyllis Lollis is in violation of one count of the Ethics Reform Act related to a complaint filed against her on Nov. 13, 2012.
According to a decision dated March 19, 2014, Lollis is in violation of one count of Section 8-13-700(B) of the Ethics Reform Act, for authorizing an increase in compensation to her son, Kenneth Lollis, a Williamston police officer who was attending training with the SC Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia.
According to the finding, Lollis used her position as Town Administrator to obtain an economic interest for a family member when she influenced the town treasurer to increase her son’s compensation from 40 hours a week to 42 hours a week for the period he attended the CJA as a police trainee for the town.
The Ethics Commission issued a public reprimand to Lollis for the violation and ordered her to pay a fine of $1000 to the State Ethics Commission within 30 days of receipt of the signed orders.
Lollis must also pay an administrative fee of $1000 within 30 days of the signed orders.
The initial complaint accused Lollis of violating four sections of the SC Code by using her influence as the town’s administrator to obtain two separate economic benefits for a family member.
According to the complaints, the benefits consisted of an increase in compensation for her son, Kenneth D. Lollis, during the time he attended training at the SC Criminal Justice Academy and a $500 bonus upon completion of the training.
The complaint stated Lollis knowingly used her official employment as the town’s administrator in requesting an increase in pay from 40 hours to 42 hours, while her son attended the CJA.
The complaint also states that Lollis violated section 8-13-700(B) (Participation in a Governmental Decision) by using her position as the town administrator to influence the town treasurer to increase her son’s compensation.
The complaint alleged that Lollis violated the same two codes by using her position as the town administrator to obtain a one-time bonus of $500, which was paid to her son upon completion of the CJA and that Lollis influenced the police chief to give the $500 bonus.
According to the statement of facts in the finding, a review of Williamston’s payroll registers showed that Kenneth Lollis was initially paid for 40 hours per week for attending the CJA and that figure was changed to 42 hours later and that Lollis was paid back pay for the difference.
Testimony by then mayor Carthel Crout, Treasurer Michelle Starnes and Police Chief Jay Grubbs were mentioned in the findings.
According to State Ethics Commission Investigator Jimmy Bagnall, then mayor Carthel Crout informed him that he (Crout) assumed the hours were 42 for CJA attendees and if he had known about the bonus, he would have approved it or a pay increase.
According to Bagnall, Crout told him that the town treasurer informed him that Lollis came to her about her son’s 40 to 42 hour issue and she was instructed by Lollis to contact the town’s labor attorney for advice.
James Grubbs testified that upon being promoted to position of Chief of Police, Kenneth Lollis was hired by the police department and attended the CJA. The payroll hours were 40.
Grubbs stated that only after being advised by the town administrator to make the change did he change payroll reports to reflect a 42 hour week.
Grubbs also testified that Phyllis Lollis instructed him to pay Kenneth Lollis a bonus for completing the CJA and that a $1000 bonus was appropriate.
Grubbs determined that $500 was an appropriate amount and stated that he only paid the bonus because the town administrator requested it.
The finding states that Grubbs was aware that previous CJA attendees had not received bonuses.
Assistant Town Treasurer Bruce Peterson testified that Phyllis Lollis came to him and advised him that it was unlawful to pay her son 40 hours per week while attending the CJA rather than the standard 42 hours per week, and that he needed to re-calculate the time difference and pay the difference in back pay.
Peterson testified that during his employment with the town, he was not aware of a CJA attendee receiving 42 hours per week pay while attending the training.
Michelle Starnes testified that all police officers attending the CJA since she became the town treasurer received 40 hours per week pay and that Phyllis Lollis requested an increase from 40 hours to 42 hours for her son.
Starnes testified she was concerned about the change and that Lollis advised her to contact the town’s labor attorney.
After speaking with the attorney, Starnes determined that Kenneth Lollis was not the only CJA attendee at issue, so changes were made to a second officer’s pay.
Starnes also stated that she was informed by Chief Grubbs to pay Kenneth Lollis the bonus of $500.
The finding states, “That was unusual in that it had not happened before and had not happended again.”
In the finding, Phyllis Lollis testified that she did ask Starnes about hours paid to CJA attendeees and was told it was 40 hours to which Lollis replied “was wrong.” She also stated she told Starnes to contact the town labor attorney.
According to the finding, the conversation with Peterson was done prior to knowing what the labor attorney would advise and prior to speaking with the mayor about the matter.
Lollis testified that she needed to know what the results of the conversation with Peterson and Starnes were so she could take the information to Mayor Crout, although she also testified that Mayor Crout instructed her to take those actions.
She also denied having any conversation with Chief Grubbs about paying her son a bonus upon completion of CJA training.
One of the first actions of newly elected Mayor Mack Durham when he took office in January of 2013, was to suspend the town administrator, whose job was eventually eliminated.