Surfside Beach emails question special treatment of high-ranking county official

SURFSIDE, SC (WBTW) – News13 obtained emails between Surfside Beach town officials that claim the owner of the Wild Water and Wheels water park may have been given special treatment despite possible code violations.

One of the owners of the water park is Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus. Emails between the Surfside Beach Town Administrator Micki Fellner and the town’s Building, Planning and Zoning Department address possible safety issues at Wild Water and Wheels water park.

The emails appear to show the administrator asking the planning department to hold off on addressing issues at the park because the town didn’t want to jeopardize road funding expected to come from Horry County, money that Lazarus could help direct, but Fellner says that’s not entirely true.

Back in May, Surfside’s Certified Building Official Michael Farria emailed Fellner that Wild Water and Wheels failed an inspection by the fire marshal. In that email, Farria said he’s had concerns about the safety of the park since 2015 and wanted a structural engineer to be sure it was safe.

The town issued a notice of violation to the water park on June 26, according to the emails, but the former Planning Building and Zoning Director Sabrina Morris said they got no response.

In an email on Aug. 16, Morris says Fellner told her to wait until the off season to contact owner Mark Lazarus, but Fellner claims that’s not what she said.

Fellner told News13’s Taylor Herlong she said inspections and possible violations need to be addressed prior to the busy summer season, but any safety issues can’t wait.

The email also claims Fellner said if “Farria issued a summons due to non-compliance, he would be fired the next day.” Fellner says that was “taken out of context.”

Morris says in the email, Fellner told her Lazarus was getting the town $1 million for the Highway 17 improvement project and she didn’t want to jeopardize the funding.

Fellner says it was “an off-hand comment” to say the county wouldn’t be as willing to help them with the project.

Fellner wouldn’t go on camera to address any of the claims, but she met with News13 in person and said, “I think when people distort facts for whatever reason, it becomes more difficult for government to carry out day-to-day actions that need to take place.”

Morris was fired days after the email exchange for recording conversations in the workplace, which is grounds for immediate termination, according to the town’s personnel manual.

Lazarus did not want to go on camera about the emails, but he said all issues have been addressed and his water park is safe.

In a follow-up text message Wednesday, Lazarus said the claims regarding the possibility that he may pull the road money from Surfside were “totally not true.”

“I provided the town the requested engineer report and made the corrections to our fire inspection,” said Lazarus.

News13 obtained a copy of that inspection. Farria says the park did pass inspection, but they will now request an engineer report a minimum of 30 days before the park opens each season.