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A former Loris firefighter contends the city fired him for questioning illegal activity and for reporting possible ethics violations involving the city's hiring of an administrator, according to a lawsuit filed this month in Horry County.

Robert Rudelitch filed the lawsuit Thursday following his termination by the city of Loris in October, according to court records. Rudelitch claims the firing happened after he accused Loris Fire Chief Jerry Hardee of spending money inappropriately. 

The lawsuit also states that Rudelitch filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission over possible ethics law violations in the city's hiring of an administrator. The Loris administrator's job is vacant and has been since last summer.

Rudelitch, who started with the department in 2011 as a volunteer firefighter, has served as a fire lieutenant and training officer with the city, according to the lawsuit. 

In August, the suit states, Hardee suggested using money from a source known as the One Percent Fund to cover the fire department's cable bill after council cut the budget for the department's cable. The One Percent account is funded by state fire insurance premiums and state law limits how those dollars can be spent.

Rudelitch told Hardee that money from the One Percent Fund could not be used for the cable bill because it was not budgeted or approved for that purpose. 

Rudelitch emailed city council in September expressing concerns as a citizen about the city's management, planning, financial auditing and hiring practices, according to the lawsuit. Two days later, Hardee suspended Rudelitch from the fire department because Hardee had received a "sworn statement from someone saying that Plaintiff told someone that he was 'spending money inappropriately,'" the lawsuit states. The next month, Rudelitch was terminated for "unacceptable misconduct, which included disrespect for authority, interference with the work of others, threatening, coercing or intimidating fellow employees, unsatisfactory performance, violation of city policies and lack of good judgement, the suit states.

The lawsuit also claims defamation, stating Rudelitch's termination was published by word and act by the city to Rudelitch's colleagues and members of the community. 

The city failed to pay into Rudelitch's retirement account, totaling $500 per year for both 2019 and 2020, the lawsuit states, as well as VRIPRA Act funding tax benefits of $600.

Keith Massey, the city's interim clerk, said the city does not comment on pending litigation.

Reach Hannah at 843-488-7242 or follow her on Twitter @HannahSOskin.

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