By Paul Gable
After the generally dysfunctional debate on bike rally vendor permits by Horry County Council Tuesday night, one veteran Horry County political observer commented to me that they believed the decision to again take on the bike rally issue, at the county level, was made in the “card room at the Dunes Club.”
I believe this comment is quite astute. It can be reasonably argued that the “Take Back May” movement, which resulted in the City of Myrtle Beach movement to end the May bike rallies was hatched at the Dunes Club. A small group of movers and shakers in the city saw the chance to take advantage of the public (above 38th Avenue North) unrest with the rallies, to advance personal agendas.
Tom Rice, then a private citizen, was the point spokesman for the “Take Back May” movement as the group lobbied both the Myrtle Beach and Horry County councils to essentially end the rallies. The effort was generally regarded successful at the city level, but a failure at the county level.
This was easily maneuvered within the city because of the “at-large” election system that results in five of the seven council members living within several blocks of each other on the north end and the south end of the city essentially without representation.
County council, with 11 council members elected from single member districts, has better representation of very diverse groups. Rice was put forward for county chairman, in the 2010 election cycle, with strong support from the “card room.”
There is no doubt the noise and congestion associated with the May rallies are considered a problem in several county districts, but not near a majority.
County council thought this issue was put to rest several years ago when the vendor permits were cut from 10 to 7 consecutive days, allowing only one weekend in the string of days instead of two.
The issue was discussed by council again in November and, again, there was a consensus opinion to leave the bike rallies alone.
The agitating started again when the rather confusing statement by Phil Schoonover made it seem that he wanted to combine the bike rallies into a three weeks long event. He didn’t, but those on county council who want to kill the rallies took advantage of the situation to attempt another cut on permits.
At the February 14, 2012 Committee of the Whole meeting of county council, Chairman Rice said something would be coming forth at the next council meeting. Rather disingenuously he said he didn’t know what that was, but an ordinance would be coming for council consideration.
Rice had really hoped to end vendor permits completely or cut them to three days at the most. He found out there was little support on council for those options, so settled on five day permits.
At the February 21, 2012 regular meeting of council, the ordinance was introduced to amend the current county code to restrict vendor and special events permits for the bike rallies to five consecutive days, those days to be decided at the discretion of the county.
That was the ordinance that passed on first reading, but amended back to seven days with reduced vendor permit fees before passing second reading Tuesday night.
One item that really stands out is those on county council who wanted to further restrict vendor permits, and the rallies in general, expected council member Marion Foxworth to be the vote they would have to pressure to hold.
First reading of the ordinance to cut vendor permits to five days passed by a 7-5 margin, with Foxworth voting with the majority. A long-time supporter of small business and the average citizen and a lifelong resident of the south end of Myrtle Beach, Foxworth was subjected to heavy pressure, including threats of supporting candidates to run against him, if he voted against the ordinance.
As it worked out Tuesday night, Foxworth was not present for the vote. But, Rice also lost the support of Paul Prince and Carl Schwartzkopf. Prince amended the proposed ordinance to allow vendor permits to be issued for seven days, Harold Worley amended it to cut vendor permit fees and Gary Loftus amended it to restrict set up until 9 a.m. of the first day and require take down to be completed by 9 p.m. on the seventh day. The amended ordinance passed 7-4.
In effect, the only changes to the current county regulations are slightly later set up and slightly earlier take down times and lower permit fees, nothing that will adversely affect the small businesses who depend on the rally for revenue.
Where does it go from here? No one can say at this point. Expect one last major lobbying effort before the April 3, 2012 regular council meeting, to change the ordinance back to five days maximum for vendor permits.
As I said in an earlier article, I believe this has more to do with affecting small businesses in general than with bike rally vendor permits, noise or congestion. A future planned land grab, for pennies on the dollar, from small motels and other businesses going under, seems an underlying agenda.
However, at this point I don’t believe Rice has the confidence or support of enough council members to successfully amend the ordinance. For now, the “card room at the Dunes Club” appears stymied.