- Special Sections
- Public Notices
After 15 years of service with Lancaster County, Planning Director Chris Karres was stunned when he learned of his firing last week.
Still in shock almost a week later, Karres spoke to the newspaper Thursday afternoon about learning the news from County Administrator Steve Willis on June 15.
“I had no idea. It was totally out of the blue,” he said. “When Steve told me, he said probably the next County Council meeting June 22 would be my last. But I don’t really know when it (the last day) will be.”
Karres said he was caught off guard by the announcement.
Lancaster County Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare confirmed Thursday afternoon that Karres would be leaving his position.
“I absolutely can’t comment at all other than to say Mr. Karres has verified that his employment with the county will be ending,” Sistare said.
Willis echoed those sentiments Thursday, though he wouldn’t confirm the firing or clarify the events surrounding it.
“We don’t discuss personnel matters,” Willis said. “I understand Chris (Karres) has spoken to you and it’s Chris’ privilege to do so, but we don’t discuss it.”
Willis also refused to acknowledge whether a personnel matter discussed during closed session at Lancaster County Council’s special Friday meeting was related to Karres.
Despite avoiding specifics of the case, Willis did clarify the county’s firing process and who ultimately is responsible.
“The final decision rests with me as administrator,” he said. “By state law, I handle personnel matters, but council is always free to say there’s some things they want done.”
He said while council doesn’t typically take votes on firings, it’s well within their power as council members to do so if the opportunity arose.
“But that has not happened,” Willis said. He said council is bound by state law not to take any votes behind closed doors.
“Council can’t vote in executive session on any topic and I’ve never seen council do that,” Willis said.
‘Surprised, stunned, upset’
The sudden firing not only shocked Karres, but his coworkers as well.
“Everybody here was really surprised, stunned, upset,” he said. “That’s been the reaction from everybody in the county building and outside as well.”
Karres said he is already planning his job hunt.
“I guess I’ll start looking as soon as possible,” he said. “I’m not trying to really move anywhere because I have family in the Charlotte area, so I don’t really want to move.”
When asked if his firing has anything to do with the ongoing debate over B-3 rezonings in Indian Land, Karres said as far as he knows, it’s not related.
“I was told it did not have to do with the zoning,” he said.
Karres has been working on redefining Indian Land’s commercial zoning classifications for more than a year, while also helping develop a B-3 overlay district for the Panhandle and advising council on the effects of a B-3 moratorium in place for Indian Land.
An ordinance to lift that moratorium was set to have its final reading at council’s Monday meeting, June 25.
Karres is the third prominent county employee to be fired in the last year. In September 2011, Deputy County Administrator Jeff Naftal was fired, followed by EMS Director Rob Petrucci in January.
In January 2011, EMS Director Lanny Bernard and EMS Operations Manager Donald Hyatt both announced their retirement. Willis praised them for “their commitment to high quality emergency medical services,” but said he couldn’t comment on rumors the men had been fired.