Post Tagged with: "Al Allen"

Horry County Council Embarrassment Continues

April 8, 2019 9:12 AM
Horry County Council Embarrassment Continues

A discussion during last week’s Horry County Council Budget Retreat, about county council hiring its own attorney to represent council only, highlighted the deep rift that continues to plague and embarrass council as long as administrator Chris Eldridge is allowed to remain in his county position.

Council member Al Allen introduced the idea of council hiring an attorney to represent council as a body after referring to actions by county attorney Arrigo Carotti in what now appears to have been a civil conspiracy to keep Chairman Johnny Gardner from taking office.

Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on his recollection and interpretation of one or more conversations he had with economic development officials weeks before. The memo described actions and statements that never occurred in attempting to weave a narrative implicating Gardner in possibly illegal actions. In his narrative, Carotti made false statements about other persons in the community, supposedly in connection with Gardner and Barefoot, including yours truly.

The memo was used by Eldridge to request a SLED investigation into Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot. Eldridge’s request to SLED was made on the morning of December 20, 2019 after the Carotti memo had been leaked and published by a Columbia media outlet.

After the memo was leaked and published, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation President Sandy Davis, the primary source for the Carotti memo according to Carotti, was quoted in several media stories as calling most of the memo “fabricated.”

Carotti and Eldridge were interviewed by SLED investigators on January 7, 2019. The next day, Carotti sent an email to SLED attempting to influence the direction of the investigation and dictating what conclusions should and should not be drawn from it.

SLED found no evidence of impropriety on the part of Gardner and Barefoot during its investigation and Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson announced there was no evidence of criminal activity.

There was nothing documenting or confirming the allegations made in the Carotti memo. It was nothing but recollections about third party conversations he and/or Eldridge had with Davis and the memo was quickly discredited by Davis to both media and SLED investigators

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Eldridge’s Tangled Web of Contradictions

March 10, 2019 4:31 AM
Eldridge’s Tangled Web of Contradictions

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge spun a tangled web of contradictions with his responses to council at last week’s special council meeting during which Eldridge told his version of how SLED was called to investigate Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Eldridge was grilled by council members Al Allen, Johnny Vaught, Danny Hardee, Orton Bellamy and Paul Prince on why all members of council were neither consulted prior to calling for a SLED investigation nor told about a request to SLED after it was made.

Most of council had to read about the matter being referred to SLED and SLED investigating the allegations in articles published by Columbia media outlet Fitsnews. And it was those articles that caused Eldridge the most difficulty last week.

As demonstrated by his December 12, 2018 email to Neyle Wilson and Sandy Davis of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, county chairman Mark Lazarus and council member Gary Loftus, Eldridge already had his story firmly in mind about what happened during a lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot, Davis and her co-worker Sherri Steele.

Eldridge accused EDC of not allowing him access to a tape recording of the meeting after Wilson had already offered twice to allow Eldridge to listen to the recording in an email of December 7, 2018 with a follow up email December 12th. It was Wilson’s December 12th email that elicited Eldridge’s confusing accusations to Wilson.

One other interesting point, while Eldridge used the business emails of Wilson, Davis and Carotti, he used the personal emails of Lazarus and Loftus. Was he trying to hide this from other council members?

After ultimately listening to the recording on December 19, 2019, Eldridge sent a five-page memo, authored by Carotti, by email to all council members after 6 p.m. at night. The Carotti memo was leaked to Fitsnews virtually immediately and appeared less than 12 hours later on the media outlet’s website.

Eldridge stated several times during the special council meeting that no council members other than Lazarus and Loftus knew about his allegations until they received Carotti’s memo.

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Council Votes to Pay Magistrates Retroactive Raise

February 20, 2019 9:06 AM
Council Votes to Pay Magistrates Retroactive Raise

Horry County Council voted to pay the county magistrates retroactive to FY 2017 for a pay raise that was voted by council but never instituted.

Council voted a three percent pay raise for all county employees beginning FY 2017. The magistrates also received a 3.5% pay raise from the state budget beginning that year.

Despite being included in the county budget to exclude the county three percent raise for the magistrates.

Council member Al Allen questioned how the county got to the point where the magistrates had to threaten to sue the county in order to receive a pay raise approved by county council.

“The public needs to understand how we got here,” Allen said. “Who made that choice?”

Despite the presence of all senior staff at the meeting, not one had the integrity to step up and say they made the decision.

According to several sources inside county government, administrator Chris Eldridge made the decision to exclude the magistrates from the council approved budget pay raise.

Allen made the point that eliminating the magistrates from the pay raise amounted to an amendment to the county budget not approved by council. It takes a three reading budget amendment ordinance passed by an absolute super majority of council (9 yes votes) to amend the budget once it is approved.

Apparently Eldridge believes he can do it by executive fiat.

The magistrates item was not the only pay issue discussed by council.

At the regular meeting two weeks ago, council members Dennis DiSabato and Cam Crawford requested staff to prepare a study to compare the cost of the current merit raise pay policy of the county to a more standard pay scale for public safety employees, such as the one used in other counties throughout the state and in the military.

Instead, assistant administrator Justin Powell and Eldridge briefed council on a study commissioned to compare Horry County employee compensation with 15 similar counties in the region.

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A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

February 7, 2019 4:43 AM
A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

Throughout his campaign for election last year, Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner pledged “Public Safety Priority One, Day One.”

By the time Gardner decided to run for chairman last March, county employees in general and public safety personnel in particular were suffering under low pay and demanding working conditions due to understaffing.

These conditions had been allowed to go on under the administration of former chairman Mark Lazarus and county administrator Chris Eldridge. The cry was always that there wasn’t enough money to hire more people or give current employees much in the way of raises.

Recognizing the particular frustrations of public safety employees, the first responders that are most needed when problems arise, Gardner coined his campaign phrase, not as something to say to get elected, but rather as something to do after he was elected.

Now, less than two months into his term of office, it appears that a majority of council members have bought into that philosophy.

Council members Harold Worley and Al Allen,  two of the more senior members of council, have long advocated for better pay and increased staffing for public safety, but they operated as voices in the wilderness as Lazarus, Eldridge and other senior county staff consistently cried ‘no money, no money.’

Current Public Safety Committee Chairman Danny Hardee joined the ‘wilderness chorus’ when he was elected to council two years ago, but it was still only three council members with the remaining nine basically buying into staff propaganda.

However, the situation appeared to change at the regular meeting of council earlier this week when council members Cam Crawford, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant and newly elected Orton Bellamy voiced support for a new study on pay and staffing for public safety personnel.

These are heartening additions as there now is a possibility of at least eight votes supporting proper pay and staffing for public safety.

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County Council Votes Hospitality Tax Funds for Public Safety and I-73

July 27, 2018 4:10 AM
County Council Votes Hospitality Tax Funds for Public Safety and I-73

Last Tuesday’s special meeting of Horry County Council provided some interesting insights into ongoing deliberations about the future use of hospitality tax revenue.

Technically called a hospitality fee by Horry County Government, the two and one-half percent tax is collected on all tourist accommodations, prepared foods and attraction tickets sold throughout the county. The revenue is split with one cent per dollar going to the jurisdiction (municipality or unincorporated county) in which it is collected.

The remaining one and one-half cent per dollar goes to the county to pay off Ride I bonds. Those bonds are expected to be paid off in the first half of calendar year 2019.

A sunset provision was placed on the one and one-half cent per dollar tax, when legislation implementing the tax in Horry County was passed, providing that portion of the tax would end when the bonds were paid off.

County council voted in Spring 2017 to remove the sunset provision and extend the tax indefinitely. The one and one-half cent per dollar tax is expected to generate $41 million revenue in calendar year 2019.

When the sunset provision was removed by a three reading ordinance of county council last spring, council chairman Mark Lazarus stated he would like to use the revenue to fund construction of Interstate 73. The projected revenue would have allowed the county to bond approximately $500 million for a 20-year period to help fund the I-73 project. It is expected completion of the I-73 portion from I-95 near Dillon to U.S. 17 in Myrtle Beach will cost approximately $1.2 billion.

This spring, Johnny Gardner challenged Lazarus for the Republican nomination for council chairman on the November 2018 general election ballot. During the primary campaign, Gardner focused on the public safety and infrastructure needs of the county, proposing using a portion of hospitality tax revenue to help meet those needs. Gardner won the nomination in June 2018 primary voting.

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Horry County Council and the 2nd Amendment

February 18, 2017 5:00 AM
Horry County Council and the 2nd Amendment

The 2nd Amendment and the issue of firing weapons in close proximity to other people’s residences will again be discussed at the Horry County Council regular meeting Tuesday night.

It’s been nearly five years since Horry County Council decided not to vote on an ordinance that would restrict gun usage on private property in close proximity to residences.

At that time, the ‘Duck Dynasty crowd’, in full camouflage, packed council chambers to protest any restriction on their perceived 2nd Amendment rights with respect to where they could fire their guns in the unincorporated areas of the county.

In the interim, nothing has changed.

It would seem to be a matter of common sense that a person wouldn’t discharge a gun so that the bullets end up in a neighbor’s yard, especially if the neighbor is standing in his yard. But, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Horry County.

As I recall the discussion last time, wasn’t about where the gun was discharged, but, rather, about where the projectile could land that was considered being restricted. And that discussion didn’t even get to first reading of an ordinance.

There is no law in Horry County prohibiting discharge of firearms within a certain proximity of residences, according to county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

This issue has again been brewing in the county for the last year. In the interim:

Council chairman Mark Lazarus said we need to have a discussion (about the problem).

“As the county has grown and more and more housing developments have taken place in the unincorporated areas, protecting your 2nd Amendment rights, protecting hunters and everything else, we need to look and see, we need to protect the people living in their houses also and in the neighborhoods,” Lazarus said.

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Community Violence Subcommittee Update

April 13, 2016 8:16 AM
Community Violence Subcommittee Update

The Community Violence Subcommittee was given specific goals and objectives earlier this week by Al Allen, Chairman of the Horry County Public Safety Committee.

Allen told the committee that he had been too vague when he first appointed the subcommittee and he wanted to clarify its mission.

Allen named the following six persons as committee members: council member Jimmy Washington, chairman, school board member Holly Heniford, vice chairman, Rev. George Payton, spokesperson, HCPD Chief Saundra Rhodes or designee, HC Sheriff Chief Deputy Tom Fox or designee and Van Washington, community leader.

These six members are charged with meeting once a month at the county council conference room where meetings will be broadcast, livestreamed and taped.

In addition, Allen requested subcommittee members to identify the causes and influences that lead to violence in the community as well as visit with all public, private and church groups presently operating to reduce violence and crime in Horry County to rank their effectiveness.

Allen tasked the subcommittee with making a progress report to the Public Safety Committee in September 2016 and to be prepared to present a final report with findings and recommendations to full council in early 2017.

The subcommittee evolved from a request by community activist Benny Swans to the Public Safety Committee.

Swans asked the committee to help in establishing a series of community forums open to all citizens where problems, concerns, and eyewitness accounts of violence could be heard as well as discussions about possible solutions to the growing problem of violent personal and property crimes throughout the county.

Swans stressed the high murder rates, especially among young people, that have occurred in the last several years. Swans stressed that this effort was important to help save the lives of our children.

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Countering Gang Activity in Horry County

March 24, 2016 7:02 AM
Countering Gang Activity in Horry County

The Horry County Public Safety Committee heard a report on gang activity within the county from Lynn Baker, HCPD’s gang intelligence specialist.

According to Baker’s report, at least nine of the 19 murders in the county area last year were gang related and gangs are the cause of many of the 88 shooting and more than 1,000 shots fired calls HCPD responded to.

Baker said a number of gangs are already operating in Horry County and they pose a danger to our neighborhoods.

But, it takes more than just police monitoring and response to counter the growth of gangs in the county. Since she was first hired in 2013, Baker has been telling groups throughout the county that gang activity can be countered by efforts within communities.

Public Safety Committee chairman Al Allen understands the need for a community wide effort to counter the growth of illegal gang activity. That is why Allen appointed a special sub-committee co-chaired by Horry County Council member Jimmy Washington and Horry County School Board member Holly Heniford to investigate means to counter violence in communities within the county.

The sub-committee held its organizational meeting last week and, in the coming months, will hold a series of community meetings throughout the county where it will solicit information from local citizens about problems they have with violence in their respective neighborhoods.

The desired end product from these meetings is a report that will provide a broad based blueprint for reducing violence within our communities. The blueprint will include not only police, but also community leaders, organizations and citizens who work together with local officials and agencies to counter the root causes of violence and lawlessness.

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Sub Committee to Reduce Violence in the Community

February 17, 2016 5:05 AM
Sub Committee to Reduce Violence in the Community

(Above Photo Bennie Swans)

Horry County Public Safety Committee Chairman Al Allen appointed a special sub-committee to study ways to reduce violence in Horry County communities.

Allen appointed the committee after a presentation to the Public Safety Committee by local community activist Bennie Swans.

Swans asked the committee to help in establishing a series of community forums open to all citizens where problems, concerns, and eyewitness accounts of violence could be heard as well as discussions about possible solutions to the growing problem of violent personal and property crimes throughout the county.

Swans stressed the high murder rates, especially among young people, that have occurred in the last several years. Swans stressed that this effort was important to help save the lives of our children.

Swans called for a collaborative, coordinated, communicative effort from all segments of the population to help solve the problem. Swans stressed that this was important to help save the lives of our children.

The presentation was essentially the same as the one that drew such a negative response from Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes last week.

Allen, longtime Public Safety Committee chairman for Horry County Council, was much more receptive to Swans’ request and eager to attempt something new to bring citizens to forums where problems and solutions can be discussed openly.

Allen appointed District 3 council member Jimmy Washington as chairman and District 1 school board member Holly Heniford as co-chair. Allen asked for a representative from Horry County Police Department and a representative from J. Reuben Long Detention Center to be included on the sub-committee as well as members of the public.

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Council Nixes HCSWA – Charleston County Contract

September 2, 2015 5:00 AM
Council Nixes HCSWA – Charleston County Contract

Horry County Council failed to pass second reading of a budget amendment that is required for the HCSWA to take recyclables from Charleston County.

A budget amendment requires an absolute super majority vote of council, nine “Yes” votes, in order to pass.

The amendment received a vote of 7-4. A vote of 9-2 was required to pass second reading. Horry County Council District 3 is without a member pending a special election this fall to replace Marion Foxworth who resigned after the August 18th council meeting to accept the Registrar of Deeds job.

Without a budget amendment approved by county council, the Horry County Solid Waste Authority has no authority to contract with Charleston County to take recyclables from Charleston County.

But, the HCSWA already has signed that contract and has been processing recyclables from Charleston County since late July.

And, it’s not the contract itself that caused four council members to vote against the budget amendment Tuesday night.

Rather, it’s the process, or lack of it, that the HCSWA used to come to an agreement with Charleston County in the first place.

According to past statements by several HCSWA officials, Charleston County first approached the HCSWA in late May 2015 about taking recyclables for processing at the HCSWA material recovery facility on Hwy 90.

At that point, the HCSWA should have informed Horry County Council what was being discussed and the ramifications for the HCSWA budget, which is part of the overall county budget approved by council.

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