Press Conference Touts Johnny Gardner Candidacy

May 1, 2018 6:00 PM
Press Conference Touts Johnny Gardner Candidacy

(Pictured above left to right – Chuck Canterbury, Rob Mullaney (podium) and Roger Odachowski)

A joint press conference Tuesday morning including Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police and a retired Horry County police officer, Roger Odachowski, President of the South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Rob Mullaney, President Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the IAFF, spoke of the reasons challenger Johnny Gardner has received the endorsement of their respective associations for Horry County Council Chairman.

Canterbury said Gardner’s willingness to sit down with FOP officials and discuss the county’s needs and explore solutions to the problems of understaffing in the police department was an important consideration for the endorsement.

“It is clear to our members that Johnny Gardner is the man to lead council,” said Canterbury. “He cares about this county and its people.”

Canterbury said current council chairman Mark Lazarus had cancelled several meetings for the same type of discussions.

“The only time Lazarus kept an appointment to meet with us was when he was seeking our endorsement,” Canterbury said.

Canterbury said HCPD is approximately 200 patrol officers below what is needed based on the population and area of Horry County.

Odachowski said Horry County Fire Rescue is approximately 230 fire fighters short based on the call volume and national averages for properly manning the county’s 41 fire stations. He said most county fire fighters suffer from fatigue due to 48 hour shifts and the call volume they respond to.

Odachowski spoke of a presentation he made to Horry County Council last winter during public input and the response he received. During the presentation, Odachowski offered solutions available from the IAFF but mispronounced Horry County several times.

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Budgets, Elections and Micromanagement in Horry County

April 30, 2018 7:30 AM
Budgets, Elections and Micromanagement in Horry County

There are six weeks to go before county voters will go to the polls to vote in local, state and federal primary elections.

The race which seems to be drawing the largest amount of attention throughout Horry County at this time is the Republican Primary contest for Horry County Council Chairman between challenger Johnny Gardner and incumbent Mark Lazarus.

At the same time, Horry County Council is considering its budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018. Four weeks ago, Grand Strand Daily ran a story about the proposed FY 2019 budget calling it an election year budget because of provisions in the proposed budget that appear to be included just to attract voters to incumbents.

Unfortunately, this type of focus on the budget at election time does not serve the best interests of council or the citizens.

According to multiple sources within county government, decisions for Horry County are being micromanaged by a partnership between Lazarus and County Administrator Chris Eldridge.

This partnership proposed an average three percent merit raise for all county employees with somewhat larger raises targeted to public safety personnel (police, fire and EMS) in the FY2019 budget.

This is not to say the proposed raises are unjustified. However, this type of targeting and its associated hype during council’s Spring Budget Retreat appear to be more about the votes of county employees than the needs of the county. County employees along with their families, neighbors and friends comprise a large voting block.

The micromanagement partnership focus appears to be on the wrong issues, however.

Despite the proposed raises, Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 endorsed the candidacy of Gardner in the upcoming June 12, 2018 primary.

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Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 Endorses Johnny Gardner for County Council Chairman

April 27, 2018 4:16 AM
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 Endorses Johnny Gardner for County Council Chairman

Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 unanimously endorsed the candidacy of Johnny Gardner for Horry County Council Chairman during its monthly meeting Thursday night.

A donation to Gardner’s campaign by Coastal Carolina FOP Lodge 12 accompanied the endorsement.

Gardner is challenging incumbent Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus in the upcoming June 12, 2018 Republican Primary.

Membership in Lodge 12 includes active and retired law enforcement officers from Horry, Georgetown and Marion Counties.

FOP National President Chuck Canterbury, a retired officer from Horry County Police Department, said, “We are committed to support Johnny Gardner. We plan to work very diligently to help him get elected. We plan to put our shoe leather where our mouth is.”

Canterbury said many Horry County officers feel public safety is not a priority among county officials at this time. Canterbury said HCPD used to be a “go to” police department where trained, experienced officers lined up to join the department. Now it is a department where officers get training and experience under their belt, then move to another department where pay and benefits are considerably better.

“We believe Johnny Gardner is the best candidate “to help secure the county and help provide a safe environment for the citizens,” Canterbury said.

Gardner said he was very humbled to receive the endorsement from FOP Lodge 12.

“I feel very humbled and very fortunate to receive the endorsement from Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12,” Gardner said. “First responders are the people who go to work every day to keep the rest of us safe. They deserve the loyalty, respect and appreciation of the county government they serve.”

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Horry County Spins More Negativity Toward Treasurer

April 20, 2018 4:00 AM
Horry County Spins More Negativity Toward Treasurer

Horry County officials again put a negative spin on comments about the Horry County Treasurer’s Office in a story by a local news outlet this week.

The story questioned Treasurer Angie Jones hiring of former Horry County Clerk of Courts Melanie Huggins-Ward to clear up the backlog of tax refunds owed to Horry County taxpayers.

The issue dates back to July 6, 2017, three days after Jones took office. Jones requested the county contract with Huggins-Ward for a part-time position to work on the refund backlog.

Assistant County Administrator Justin Powell responded by saying Jones was $20,591.72 over budget based on proposed salaries. He also included the following statement: “It is my understanding it is financially favorable to her (Huggins-Ward) to work as a contractor rather than as an employee because it prevents her pension from being cut off after earning $10,000 with the county. Human Resources is contacting the South Carolina Retirement System and IRS this morning to ask their opinion on the use of a contract to circumvent the SCRS earnings limitations on retirees. The last thing any of us wants is the appearance of an attempt to “game” the Internal Revenue Code or laws governing the South Carolina Retirement System.”

County officials made certain this email was included in documents provided to the media outlet. Of course, the comment about ‘gaming the system’ was jumped all over.

It appears this was the intention of county officials all along, because an email to Jones from Horry County Human Resources Director Patrick Owens bearing the same July 6, 2017 date was not included, but contained the following suggestion:

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Status Conference Set in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owners Lawsuits

April 17, 2018 4:28 AM
Status Conference Set in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owners Lawsuits

A status conference has been set for next month in federal tort claims lawsuits brought individually by the 11 co-owners of Skydive Myrtle Beach against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Robinson Aviation, the operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport, and a host of individuals including all members of Horry County Council.

The status conferences are scheduled for May 17, 2018 at the federal court house in Florence, SC.

Each of the respective 11 lawsuits claim conspiracy among the defendants to deprive the respective owners of his Constitutional rights with respect to 14thAmendment protections, for interference with the business, Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

The Magistrate Judge previously ordered discovery in the lawsuits to go forward last fall. The status conferences could be where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, with regard to 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB, which were used as the basis by HCDA to close SDMB down.

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed forces service veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

In early 2014, shortly after Skydive Myrtle Beach reported to the FAA of discriminatory actions against it by the Horry County Department of Airports, the HCDA began circulating stories about alleged safety violations committed by Skydive Myrtle Beach while it was operating out of Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, Horry County government ultimately evicted Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page FAA Director’s Determination as justification. Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB.

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Handicapping the Race for County Council Chairman Nomination

April 13, 2018 4:01 AM
Handicapping the Race for County Council Chairman Nomination

Since filing for office closed March 30th, my friend and cohost on “Talking Politics”, John Bonsignor, has been trying to make the case that Johnny Gardner is not a serious challenger to incumbent Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus in the June 2018 Republican Primary election.

One thing John and I have proved through the years is that we can disagree (often) without being disagreeable.

I recently wrote about Gardner receiving the endorsement of Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 IAFF. John responded with a diatribe on why Lazarus has nothing to worry about from Gardner in the primary, in John’s opinion.

John and I have lived in Horry County for over 30 years each, so I want to go back through history a little to demonstrate that an incumbent officeholder is not a shoe-in candidate for re-election.

It is often difficult to defeat an incumbent officeholder, but far from an impossible task.

Sheriff Philip Thompson was an underdog when he first ran for the office in 2000 against incumbent Teddy Henry. I remember Chicken Bog socials with Thompson speaking from the back of a truck to voters throughout the county. Accompanying Thompson on these journeys were off-duty officers from the Horry County Police Department showing their support for him. Ultimately, Thompson obtained the support of a majority of county employees and that made the difference in the election.

Melanie Huggins for Horry County Clerk of Courts and Roddy Dickinson for Horry County Treasurer, both in 2004, are other interesting examples. Incumbents were retiring from both offices, but Huggins was opposed by former Clerk of Courts Billie Richardson, coming out of retirement to run again. Dickinson was opposed by Robert Rabon, later to be Horry County Republican chairman. Richardson and Rabon had more money and the support of political insiders, but Huggins and Dickinson won primarily on the strength of a majority of county employees and their friends who supported them.

When Huggins and Dickinson retired, Angie Jones for Treasurer and Renee Elvis for Clerk of Court both won election to their current offices in 2016 on the strength of major support from county employees.

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Bottleneck Hampers Horry County Budget Process

April 12, 2018 8:00 AM
Bottleneck Hampers Horry County Budget Process

There appears to be a bottleneck at the top of the Horry County budget process that may not be serving the citizens in the best possible fashion.

Early every calendar year, the various county departments submit budget proposals for their respective departments to senior county staff.

Senior staff then prepares a draft budget that becomes the document discussed at county council’s spring budget retreat and traditionally gets first reading at that time.

After the basic document is prepared, the various department heads meet with the committee that oversees policy for that department and attempt to make a case for the budget they prepared early in the year.

But, the working budget document has already been prepared by senior staff before those meetings and senior staff owns and jealously guards that document. Getting changes into it, other than those council itself may dictate, is difficult to say the least.

This process led to the lawsuit that Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones filed against Horry County Government and Administrator Chris Eldridge last fall.

Even though Jones was elected in November 2016 and would take office at the beginning of the fiscal year which began July 1, 2017, she was not allowed to participate in last year’s budget process.

When Jones got into office, she determined there was a need for several more employees in her department. She went before the county’s Administration Committee late last summer requesting just one more employee to get her department through the year. That request denied leading Jones to file suit.

The county’s answer to Jones’ complaint in the lawsuit was to attack her personally and to claim she was mishandling her duties and department.

The lawsuit between Jones and the county is ongoing, but the county is now preparing for a new budget to begin July 1, 2018.

Jones appeared before the Administration Committee earlier this week. According to information presented at the meeting, county staff had budgeted a mere $20,000 additional in operating expenses for the Treasurer’s Office next year over the current year’s budget.

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The MB Chamber Doth Protest Too Much

April 11, 2018 3:39 AM
The MB Chamber Doth Protest Too Much

Watching the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce production Tuesday afternoon with respect to its handling of the tourism development fee public funds reminded me of a stage play.

It was a totally scripted production, billed as a press conference to answer the claims made in Karon Mitchell’s recently filed lawsuit. But, this “press conference” did not take questions from the press.

What kind of press conference does not take questions? One dealing with the TDF lawsuit obviously.

Of course, by taking questions the players could have been tripped up on their carefully crafted scripts, so it was best not to take them.

The scripts reminded me of Queen Gertrude from “Hamlet.” To paraphrase her timeless line, “The Chamber doth protest too much methinks.”

How many times were the words “fake,” “baseless,” “scandalous” and “shocking disregard for the truth” uttered during the respective acts? Too many to be believed, which is exactly the point of Queen Gertrude’s comment.

Even with the scripting, mistakes were made.

Time and again Mitchell was attacked by the various players, but no proof was provided to support those attacking statements, merely words. It was all Mitchell’s statements are false (and worse), We do all these things, believe us.

Board chair Carla Schuessler denied the Chamber was “inextricably intertwined with governmental policy,” as stated in the lawsuit. We covered the Tim McGinnis campaign connection in a previous article.

Once again there was no explanation of the consecutively numbered cashier’s checks totaling $325,000 that were disbursed among local and state politicians in 2009 after the tourism development fee became law and was instituted by Myrtle Beach city government.

More than anything else, it was those campaign contributions that stirred questions about the TDF and the Chamber that remain to this day.

Matt Klugman, Chair of the Marketing Council for MBACC, spoke over and over about a competitive bidding and RFP process that was used to select the services of various businesses, referred to as crony companies in the lawsuit, that were started by former Chamber employees. This is good! Documents related to those processes should make interesting reading when they become exhibits in the lawsuit.

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Horry County Chairman Candidate Johnny Gardner Endorsed by Firefighters

April 8, 2018 6:42 PM
Horry County Chairman Candidate Johnny Gardner Endorsed by Firefighters

Johnny Gardner, a candidate for Horry County Council Chairman in the upcoming June 12, 2018 Republican Primary, has received the endorsement of his campaign from  the Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters.

Robert Mullaney, President of Local 4345 IAAF told GSD, “We are happily endorsing Mr. Gardner and looking forward to helping Horry County and making fire rescue the place people want to work for again because of outstanding leadership.”

Mullaney has been critical in local media of the pay raise and shifting around of personnel proposed for firefighters and EMS personnel with next fiscal year’s county budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1, 2018.

Mullaney called the proposal a “band aid” that does not deal with the underlying problems in the department.

“I am humbled to have received endorsement from Horry County Professional Firefighters Local 4345,” said Gardner.  “Their endorsement is indicative of the change in county government being sought by working citizens. Horry County is a great place to live and work and I want to make sure it stays that way for all of our citizens.”

“With this being National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, I want to ensure not only our public safety employees but also all county government employees and the citizens they serve that the lines of communication will always remain open between them and the county chairman, if I am elected,” Gardner continued. “I promise to listen and hear what is being said rather than spend my time talking at them.”

Gardner is a native of Conway, a graduate of Coastal Carolina University and the University of South Carolina School of Law, a U.S. Army veteran having served as a Captain in the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division and the founder of Johnny Gardner Law, P.A.

In the short time since he has filed his candidacy, Gardner said he realizes there is a large disconnect between county employees and county leadership.

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Efforts to Debunk Karon Mitchell Lawsuit Flawed

April 7, 2018 4:48 AM
Efforts to Debunk Karon Mitchell Lawsuit Flawed

(Ed. Note – Some negative reactions heard locally to the Karon Mitchell lawsuit are like the Chinese fireworks pictured above – loud and colorful but, in the end, just smoke.)

On April 5, 2018 at 3:05 p.m., Karon Mitchell filed a lawsuit against the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC), the City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County alleging misuse of tourism development fee (TDF) and accommodations tax (ATax) public funds.

In response to the lawsuit, MBACC issued a blanket denial of the allegations and at least one local television news outlet in the area attempted to, in its words, “fact check” the allegations.

The MBACC response came in a media statement issued April 6, 2018, by board chair Carla Schuessler:

“Today we had an opportunity to review the lawsuit that was filed against us, and l am disappointed to see that we will have to divert our time and resources to address this case which is full of conjecture, innuendo and inaccurate statements. The Chamber complies with all applicable laws regarding the use of public funds and selects vendors based on best business practices.”

The Chamber statement went on to say it will hold a press conference next week to accurately address the statements in the lawsuit.

The local news outlet broadcast a story April 6, 2018 where it claimed to find discrepancies, between claims in the lawsuit and MBACC public disclosure documents, with respect to public money spent with what are called in the lawsuit “crony companies.” According to the lawsuit, crony companies are companies formed by former and/or current Chamber employees and, in at least one instance, a company owned by a MBACC executive board member.

This appeared to be much ado about nothing as the MBACC public disclosure documents used generic descriptions instead of specific vendor names for some of the expenses listed. If those challenged expense amounts did not go to any of the crony companies, next week’s MBACC press conference can “accurately address” those statements and tell us exactly what company did receive the payments.

Another area addressed in the media story was a statement in the lawsuit that “the chamber funneled tourism tax money through the crony companies to contribute to politicians supported by the chamber.” 

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