Meet Mark Then and Now

May 28, 2018 3:45 AM
Meet Mark Then and Now

The Mark Lazarus Campaign for Chairman of Horry County Council sent its first mailer to voters over the weekend.

I was happy to see a quote from me in a 2013 article in Grand Strand Daily appeared prominently in the mailer. The quote was complimentary of Lazarus’ first months as chairman.

I’m not sure what the reasoning behind using the quote was or who in the campaign made the decision to use it, but if it was his consultants’ idea, he needs to get new ones.

The quote, rather than discrediting what I have written recently about Lazarus, adds credibility to what I have always told politicians – ‘When I think you’re doing a good job, I will be happy to compliment you. When I think you’re doing a bad job, I won’t hesitate to criticize you.’

Over the last three years, I have been highly critical of Lazarus because I believe he has not been doing a good job as chairman.

When running for reelection in 2014, Lazarus told voters he would “oppose new taxes.” Shortly after successfully winning reelection, Lazarus led council into passing the largest single property tax increase in Horry County history. In addition, council increased road maintenance fees by 67%.

More recently, Lazarus led county council into extending the county wide hospitality tax for an indefinite period in the future despite having no specific plans as to what it would be used for.

Why? Because in Lazarus’ words, if it wasn’t extended, it would be lost.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe a politician should honor his campaign promises otherwise how are we to believe anything he says?

Such as – County council had to spend $12 million for 3,729 acres of swamp land off of International Drive because it was a great deal for the county. The purchase was discussed quietly in secret before being quickly voted on by council.

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Four File for School Board Chairman Vacancy

May 26, 2018 4:09 PM
Four File for School Board Chairman Vacancy

By Paul Gable

Four candidates have filed for the special election to fill the vacancy on the Horry County Board of Education created when Chairman Joe DeFeo died suddenly last month.

Three candidates filed for the Republican nomination for the vacant seat, incumbent School Board District 5 representative Janice Morreale, former teacher Patricia Milley and Conway businessman Ken Richardson. A special primary election will be held July 17, 2018 to determine which of the above three gains the Republican nomination.

Former Aynor Middle School teacher Heather Johnson filed as a Democrat with no primary opposition.

The winner of the Republican Primary will face Johnson in the November 6, 2018 general election.

Richardson has been a member of the Horry Georgetown Technical College Area Commission for 20 years.  He was associated with Fowler Motors for 40 years, beginning as a salesman and working his way up. He owned the dealership for the last 14 years of his association before selling in 2009. He will undoubtedly be the best financed candidate in the race.

Richardson has been planning to run for the school board chairman seat since January 2017, when he first announced his intention to be a candidate in 2020. DeFeo’s death has moved up that timetable. Richardson has advocated for an open door policy by the superintendent for all teachers and administrators in the school district.

Morreale was first elected to the school board in the 2012 general election. She was reelected in 2016. She has been a solid board member representing her district well. However, as the only incumbent school board member in the race, she will face questions about the pay raise school board members voted for themselves recently and about why most recent school construction has come in over budget.

Milley unsuccessfully challenged John Poston for the School Board District 8 seat two years ago. As a former teacher, she has promoted ideas such as more recess time for students and a shorter school day. Milley believes both would better help students concentrate during classroom instruction.

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Johnny Gardner Drawing Crowds to Campaign Events

May 23, 2018 5:33 AM
Johnny Gardner Drawing Crowds to Campaign Events

Pictured above Johnny Gardner addresses crowd at a campaign event.

Over 250 people attended a Meet and Greet for First Responders hosted by the Johnny Gardner Campaign for Horry County Council Chairman last night.

The above estimate of crowd size was derived from the number of meals served at the event. And the food was excellent – Low Country Seafood Boil and BBQ with all the fixins’. Entertainment was provided by local Bluegrass music celebrities McRoy Gardner and Friends.

A large number of first responders – police, fire and EMS personnel – came from all over Horry County to attend. Officers, both active and retired, residing in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach, Garden City, Socastee, Carolina Forest, Conway and the rural areas of the county all made the trip to Conway for the event.

I met one retired police officer who is a relatively new resident in Horry County. He retired after 26 years with the Randolph Township, (NJ) police department. Initially he and his wife lived for 10 years in North Carolina before relocating to Horry County for their golden years.

Why do I mention this? It demonstrates the reach of the Gardner campaign.

After speaking to him it turns out we graduated from the same high school in Rockaway, NJ and grew up within a couple miles of each other, but, with a nine year age difference between us, never met until last night. This officer is a strong supporter of Fraternal Order of Police National President Chuck Canterbury, a retired HCPD officer, who is a strong supporter of Gardner.

Canterbury and Rob Mullaney, President of Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, both spoke to the crowd.

Each mentioned the lack of support Horry County Police and Fire/Rescue departments have received from Horry County Council as numbers in the ranks of both departments have suffered attrition due to the lack of sufficient staffing in each department.

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County Missing Point on First Responders

May 22, 2018 6:06 AM
County Missing Point on First Responders

Sometimes mistakes lead to larger truths. That’s what happened yesterday when I made a mistake in a story about Horry County Council passing a pay increase for all first responders.

County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus called to correct me and rightly so.

As the day wore on and the story and correction became known, I started receiving calls from first responders.

The overriding theme in those phone calls was, “It’s not about the money.”

Sure a pay raise is nice, but it’s probably not going to stop the overall trend of attrition from the ranks of first responders in Horry County.

Because of continuing shortages of officers in police and fire departments, the officers that are employed are being worked to exhaustion.

The Lazarus plan through this year’s budget planning was to give a pay raise to all first responders to stop attrition. Then, when all personnel slots are filled council can talk about increasing numbers in the police and fire departments.

The problems with losing officers are multi-fold. New officers are hired, sent to academies for training, outfitted with uniforms and gear to perform the job, all of which costs money. Training continues after they go to work. The more experience they gain through working on the job, the more valuable they become to the overall efficiency of the force.

If, after three, four or five years officers continue to throw up their hands and say ‘I’m leaving, I’ve had enough of these working conditions,’ the county loses more than just a body. It also loses the experience that officer gained on the job.

Hiring a new officer may fill a position, but the experience is lost and the overall efficiency of the force is less than it would be if retention of experienced officers was high.

Lazarus said through the Spring Budget Retreat, “It’s all about the money.” The theory being an increase in pay would result in an increase in retention of officers.

But, the men and women in the trenches, so to speak, those who are working the overtime and responding to service call after service call, sometimes on shifts of 48 straight hours, say, “It’s not about the money. We need help.”

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Enhancement for Fire and EMS Personnel Missing from Horry County Budget

May 21, 2018 7:30 AM
Enhancement for Fire and EMS Personnel Missing from Horry County Budget

CORRECTION CORRECTION
I received a call from Mark Lazarus this morning. Lazarus informed me that I was incorrect in what I reported about Fire and EMS enhancements. After reviewing the tape of the Spring Budget Retreat, before first reading of the budget during the Spring Budget Retreat, council voted to amend the budget to include the extra three percent increase for fire fighters from the county’s Fire Fund and I originally reported it incorrectly below as not being in the budget. I did not see any amendment to appropriate general fund money for the EMS workers. Lazarus informed me that the EMS increase is also in the budget from first reading on and he took exception to my use of the word retribution.

From: Powell, Justin Sent: Monday, May 21, 2018 10:51 AM
To: Mark Lazarus
Cc: Eldridge, Chris ; Spivey, Barry ; Huffman, Joe
Subject: FW: Budget Ordinance Proposed Vs. 1st Reading Revised for 2nd Reading

Mark:

The second reading ordinance adopted by County Council included all proposed increases for public safety, both law enforcement and Fire and Rescue. The first reading ordinance initially proposed to County Council included the $1/hour increase for all law enforcement (Police, Sheriff, Detention). Hence, no amendment was required.

During adoption of first reading on March 23, a motion was made to adopt the Fire and Rescue increases that were proposed on March 22. This is found at approximately 1:49:00 on the video from that day. Given that amendment, the second reading ordinance submitted to County Council included the increase for Fire and Rescue as adopted by County Council.

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Treasurer Drops Lawsuit, County Refuses to Disclose Legal Costs

May 18, 2018 9:41 AM
Treasurer Drops Lawsuit, County Refuses to Disclose Legal Costs

Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones yesterday filed to dismiss her lawsuit against Horry County and county administrator Chris Eldridge with prejudice for all events that relate to the lawsuit up through the date of filing, May 17, 2018.

Jones initially filed her lawsuit in November 2017 after county government refused to add one additional administrative assistant position to the current year budget for the Treasurer’s Office. Jones said the amount of additional funds the position would have required was approximately $43,000 including salary and benefit costs.

The dismissal does not affect Jones’ potential “to assert claims relating to future circumstances that may arise,” according to the filing.

Related to Jones’ filing, the county dismissed all claims against Jones related to its Amended Answer and Counterclaims.

According to the stipulation of dismissal, each party is solely responsible for its own costs and attorneys’ fees.

On May 3, 2018, this reporter filed a Freedom  of Information Act request with Horry County Government for “Total amount to date spent by Horry County to McNair Law Firm specifically for legal services pursuant to the Horry County Treasurer/Angie Jones v. Horry County government and Administrator Chris Eldridge.”

Henrietta Golding of the McNair Law Firm was lead attorney for the county’s defense.

On May 17, 2018, the same day the dismissals were filed with the court, Horry County Public Information Specialist Kelly Brosky sent the following response to my request, “Your request for information is not covered under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and is declined.”

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Horry County Infrastructure Myths and Facts

May 14, 2018 3:23 AM
Horry County Infrastructure Myths and Facts

Infrastructure, especially roads, is on many minds as campaigning moves to the June 12, 2018 primary elections.

Some questionnaires being sent to candidates for various council seats include one or more questions about infrastructure planning.

Four years ago, Mark Lazarus promised voters he would “Fight for greater investment in new and current roads.”

In some of his early campaign statements this time around, Lazarus has pointed to the Ride III initiative and International Drive as personal successes.

This is misleading.

Council has little to do with the Ride projects. A prioritized list is presented from an independent committee to council on which it votes up or down for the entire list. Council may not make any deletions or additions. If council approves the list, and it always does, the citizens vote on a referendum question whether to adopt a one-cent sales tax to fund the Ride program.

As far as International Drive is concerned, if any current member of council deserves credit for keeping the issue moving toward completion it is Johnny Vaught. It was Vaught’s uncle, retired Lt. Gen. James Vaught, who initially addressed the need for International Drive and continued to push for the project from the early 2000’s until his death in September 2013. I can still hear Vaught addressing council several times on the importance of International Drive always ending with “Get it done.”

After Johnny Vaught was elected to council in November 2014, he picked up where his uncle left off in seeing the project to completion next month.

A recent Facebook video on the Lazarus campaign page touts on to greater infrastructure as it pictures the Farrow Parkway interchange with U.S. 17 Bypass.

This is an unfortunate choice of roads to feature as it depicts one of the more outrageous projects the county has undertaken.

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Public Corruption and Southern Holdings

May 11, 2018 8:00 AM
Public Corruption and Southern Holdings

Public corruption is a hot topic today with politicians making illegal deals and other powerful interests using their influence to evade the law.

Too often the courts are also included in the process providing the final piece to the public corruption puzzle.

When this happens, the entire fabric of American society is torn and it’s difficult to see how it can be fixed.

Such is the story of the case of Southern Holdings et al v. Horry County et al.

In the Spring of the year 2000, Southern Holdings was a nice little corporation valued at $20 million, by independent analysts, doing business in South Carolina, North Carolina and Las Vegas, Nevada. It was owned by 75 shareholders, some of whom were residents of Horry County, with varying stock positions.

The corporation had recently gained the rights to contracts to be the exclusive marketer of cigarettes in areas of South America along with the rights to an offshore bank license and other contracts. The total value of these contracts and rights was $12-$15 million, according to corporate records.

After Southern Holdings gained the rights to these contracts, former Southern Holdings shareholder Ancil B. Garvin, III, a resident of Horry County at the time, attempted to get Southern Holdings President James Spencer to cut the remaining shareholders out of the profits.

What Spencer didn’t know then was that Garvin was selling cigarettes in the black market as well as with legitimate outlets.

In an e-mail from Garvin to Spencer in early May 2000, Garvin urged Spencer to agree to buy out the other stockholders. Garvin suggested he and Spencer could then “take the remaining $10 million of assets and retire.” Spencer refused.

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Alternate Reality and the $12 Million Swamp Land Purchase

May 9, 2018 4:13 AM
Alternate Reality and the $12 Million Swamp Land Purchase

A purported fact check by the Mark Lazarus campaign of the story I wrote on the $12 million purchase of swamp land near International Drive demonstrates an alternate reality exists in the race for the Republican nomination for council chairman.

The fact check pointed to four areas in the story that the Lazarus campaign chose to label “false.”

Let’s see. (See copy of post below)

The first two truths are a convoluted explanation of watersheds, mitigation credits and costs. What this all boils down to is that the purchase of the parcel on International Drive was completed in haste with only general ideas about what the Army Corps of Engineers will approve in a mitigation bank and what the Corps will deem wetlands disturbance areas in the Ride III projects.

No other parcel in the county was considered in the haste to purchase this parcel.

The excuse for the purchase on International Drive was used as proximity in the same watershed as the projects requiring mitigation. South Carolina mitigation is generally completed in seven major areas of the state of which the Pee Dee watershed is one. All of Horry County, except for the extreme southern region of the county, lies within the Pee Dee watershed.

There are sub-unit watersheds in the Pee Dee basin of which the Little Pee Dee and the Waccamaw River watersheds include most of the county. Mitigation is allowed between watersheds with some adjustments in credits as determined by the Corps of Engineers. There would certainly be no problem mitigating between the Little Pee Dee and Waccamaw River watersheds if it is even necessary. It is probable that lying within the larger Pee Dee watershed is enough.

Again we ask why weren’t wetlands in the western area of the county (where the cost is cheaper) considered and compared to the International Drive parcel if it was absolutely necessary for Horry County to establish a mitigation bank, which I submit it was not.

To truth three, I again submit there is a hidden agenda here that precluded consideration of any land other than the International Drive parcel despite the possibility other parcels could have provided significant savings to the county.

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Is $12 Million For Swamp Land Wasteful Spending?

May 7, 2018 3:21 AM
Is $12 Million For Swamp Land Wasteful Spending?

(Above photo from Lazarus for Chairman 2014 website)

Four years ago, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus made seven commitments to voters when seeking reelection in 2014. One of those commitments was to “eliminate wasteful spending” (in county government.)

Three years later, Lazarus was leading the charge to purchase 3,729 acres of swamp land off of International Drive for $3,000 per acre, a total expenditure of nearly $12 million.

County citizens were told the land was to be used for mitigation credits for Ride III and other road projects and that excess mitigation credits from the land could be sold to other counties.

According to one council member I spoke with recently, slightly less than 1,000 acres of wetlands will be needed to mitigate wetland disturbances associated with Ride III projects.

Another council member I spoke with said he didn’t know how much of the parcel off International Drive would be needed for Ride III mitigation, but the deal was a great one because the county could sell excess credits to other counties.

I have seen offers on wetlands in the more rural, western areas of the county ranging from $1,000 per acre to $1,500 per acre.

I questioned the second council member why the county purchased the parcel off of International Drive for $3,000 per acre when wetlands further west in the county sell between 50%-67% cheaper.

After calling county staff, he told me the purchase off of International Drive was necessary so that the mitigation wetlands would be near the wetlands disturbed by Ride III projects.

I questioned how that explanation made any sense when the claim was made the county could sell excess mitigation credits to other counties where the International Drive land wouldn’t be close to the land being disturbed. Obviously, I received no answer.

Considering the contradictions in the above statements and that cheaper wetlands in the western areas of the county were ignored, one can only conclude there was some hidden agenda behind the purchase of the International Drive parcel for nearly $12 million.

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