Hyperbole Marks the Lazarus Campaign

June 5, 2018 7:30 AM
Hyperbole Marks the Lazarus Campaign

Reading the Mark Lazarus campaign mailers immediately brought to my mind Ronald Reagan telling Jimmy Carter “There you go again” during the 1980 presidential campaign.

The phrase has become part of the political lexicon to mean a candidate has entered the realm of hyperbole in his or her campaign statements.

The Lazarus campaign claiming $1 billion in infrastructure improvements in the county is certainly hyperbole, at least.

Most of that money comes from Ride projects and the new airport terminal.

County council has very little say in Ride projects. The process begins with an advisory committee which establishes a list of needed projects. That list goes to a sales tax advisory commission who establishes a final list that goes to county council.

Council may vote the list up or down, but it can’t make any changes to what the commission proposed. If council approves the list, it then goes to the voters in a binding referendum question asking whether an additional one percent sales tax should be levied on purchases in the county to pay for Ride projects.

The citizens are asked to approve additional taxes on themselves because a succession of councils and our state legislative delegation have allowed development to far outpace infrastructure improvements in the county.

If I have this correct, the citizens vote to levy extra taxes on themselves so Lazarus can claim he is responsible for infrastructure improvements.

Eddie Dyer, who served as chairman of both the advisory committee and sales tax commission, made the following statement about road conditions in Horry County when presenting council with $592 million in projects for Ride III:

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Change or Status Quo in S.C. House District 55

June 4, 2018 7:26 AM
Change or Status Quo in S.C. House District 55

Dillon County Council member Jack Scott is fighting an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination for S.C. House District 55.

Scott is taking on a 20 year incumbent politician in rural South Carolina, never an easy task. In taking on incumbent Jackie Hayes, Scott is also fighting a highly successful coach and athletic director who has brought considerable success to the Dillon High School football teams in over a quarter of a century as head coach.

Scott advocates giving voters the opportunity to elect members of the Dillon County School Board. Currently, the board is appointed by the governor, often on recommendations from the Dillon County Legislative Delegation which consists currently of Rep. Hayes, Rep. Lucas Atkinson, Sen. Kent Williams and Sen. Greg Hembree.

In 2010, Dillon County residents voted overwhelmingly in an advisory referendum to change the school board members from being appointed by the governor to being elected by the voters – 6,071 Yes votes for elected members to 737 No votes.

Being only an advisory referendum, the results were not binding and nothing has changed. The board is still appointed against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of voters.

Dillon County spends the lowest dollars per pupil in the state of South Carolina, the only county where less than $10,000 per pupil is spent in a combination of local, state and federal funds. Part of the problem is the local tax base is almost non-existent, but the state share to Dillon County is lower than most other school districts in the state.

Maybe an elected school board will not change things for Dillon County students, but it is obvious the current system is not working and a majority of voters expressed a desire for the change.

Scott has also said he will work to improve the crumbling infrastructure in Dillon County, something that will require an infusion of state dollars to help. Those dollars have been slow in coming from the current Legislative Delegation.

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Team Horry Self Imploding as Primary Voting Nears

June 2, 2018 5:55 AM
Team Horry Self Imploding as Primary Voting Nears

(Above picture represents Team Horry campaigns teetering)

Team Horry, the self-styled moniker by which a few of the Horry County Council members up for reelection this year like refer to themselves, appears in complete disarray a little over one week before primary voting.

It started as a plan for council members to appear as a group on opening day to file candidate papers together followed by a press conference of mutual support and praise for the ‘great’ job they are doing.

That plan never quite came together and it started a trend of events never quite coming off as planned throughout this primary season.

A seemingly insurmountable obstacle for team togetherness occurred several days ago when Horry County Council Vice Chairman Bill Howard went toe-to-toe with Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune over plans the city has for food trucks during the summer tourist season.

Howard, a local restaurateur in real life, lectured the mayor that he believes the food trucks will negatively impact business at his restaurants.

The result of the confrontation was the following post by Bethune on Facebook:

“I am human and far from perfect. I try to communicate with others in a way that makes them feel respected and safe. Today I was truly disheartened by the disrespectful tone and threat that was issued to me by the vice chair of our County Council. He represents EVERYONE in this County and as an elected official should practice civil communication in all matters. May I never think so highly of myself that I try to make others feel low. Here’s an idea: we all need to show mutual respect to each other in order to work together for the greater good of those we serve.”

Howard represents Horry County Council District 2, which includes the City of Myrtle Beach north end beginning at 38th Avenue North. This area happens to include the core of voters who catapulted Bethune to election as mayor last November.

It is also the home district of county council chairman Mark Lazarus.

As Shakespeare would say – “Therein lies the rub.”

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County Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

May 30, 2018 8:41 AM
County Continues to Kick the Can Down the Road

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the editorial cartoon published by local cartoonist Ed Wilson on Facebook yesterday (pictured above) is worth an entire book.

The strokes of Wilson’s pen starkly captured the central problem with county government today. Serious issues (cans) have been kicked down the road for too long without being addressed.

The county’s public safety departments have suffered systemic problems from being ignored for too long.

Long hours, low pay and reduced benefits have led to low morale and high turnover resulting in understaffed public safety departments while the county population continues to grow creating ever larger demands for services.

There are many situations in which new personnel are paid almost as much, in some cases more, than officers with five plus years of experience. Even so, high turnover in the first few years of employment keeps the departments short of trained, experienced personnel.

According to many sources, the officers who provide our everyday safety needs are warned not to speak out publicly about issues within the departments or face reprisals.

The entire approach to public safety can be compared to sticking multiple fingers in a dike to, hopefully, hold off a deluge while continuing to turn a blind eye to attempting to plan a fix that would bring the departments to a more secure footing.

And public safety problems are not the only ones that have been ignored.

The heavy rains over the weekend caused considerable flooding in relatively new developments along Hwy 905 – again.

This seems to be a perfect example of allowing developers to rezone plots of land for residential housing, build and sell the houses quickly and get out with their profits before inherent problems in the area become known.

Even if rezoning requests were well researched and developed by county staff and council members, the pace of growth we are now again experiencing lets development seriously outpace the county’s ability to provide needed infrastructure and services to the new residents.

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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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