Post Tagged with: "Angie Jones"

Seriously Flawed Settlement Agreement Proposed for Hospitality Fee Lawsuit

November 7, 2019 4:34 AM
Seriously Flawed Settlement Agreement Proposed for Hospitality Fee Lawsuit

The proposed settlement agreement presented to county council at its regular meeting Tuesday night appears to have many serious flaws, according to information gathered by Grand Strand Daily.

Council member Harold Worley vented his frustration with the settlement agreement during the council meeting. His complaint was having attorney fees of approximately $7 million come off the top of an approximately $20 million the settlement award if the lawsuit is settled as a class action.

The $20 million was collected from a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee collected between the date the bonds were paid off in February 2019 until June 30, 2019. Worley’s statement is based on a 1/3 contingency fee to be paid off the top of the settlement amount to the attorneys representing the cities.

The basic claim in the original lawsuit was that Horry County illegally collected a 1.5% countywide hospitality fee since January 1, 2017. The fee was collected with the agreement of the cities for an initial 20 year period beginning January 1, 1997, in order to pay off bonds issued to pay for the initial RIDE road projects.

The county first extended collection of the fee until the bonds were paid off and, later, in perpetuity. The cities allege they did not give approval for the extensions which prevents the county from legally collecting the fee in their respective taxing jurisdictions. However, the cities apparently dropped a claim for fees used to pay off the bonds between January 1, 2017 and February 2019.

But that money is not the cities to claim, a fact GSD first reported last spring when the lawsuit was filed. It is not the cities’ money. It is not the county’s money. It is taxpayer money.

 If it were held the county did illegally collect hospitality fees after the bonds were paid off, any rebates of tax revenue would be owed to the people from whom the taxes were collected, not the cities in which the fee was collected.

Hospitality fees are collected by vendors at point of sale and remitted monthly directly to the county in accordance with the provisions of state law. The cities are not involved in the collection process at all, nor is it their money being collected.

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Strange Logic from Solid Waste Authority Finance Committee

October 24, 2019 7:46 AM
Strange Logic from Solid Waste Authority Finance Committee

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) Finance Committee demonstrated the strange logic that pervades the agency while discussing annual audit results during a recent committee meeting.

At issue was an audit exception finding that approximately $6.5 million of authority money was potentially not collateralized over a weekend at the end of Fiscal Year 2019.

The $6.5 million came from a certificate of deposit that matured near the end of the business day on Friday June 28, 2019, the last business day of the fiscal year, and was not collateralized by the bank until the following business day, in accordance with standard bank policy, Monday July 1, 2019, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

All public monies on deposit with a bank must be secured (collateralized) by either Federal Deposit Insurance or investment vehicles, normally certificates of deposit.

Those are the technical facts of the issue. It must be stressed that at no time was the $6.2 million in danger of being lost.

However, that didn’t stop SWA board member Pam Creech from trying to blow the issue out of proportion with statements like, “I’m glad we didn’t lose that money,” and “We’re responsible for that $7 million.”

Creech went on to say the SWA should send a letter to Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones to make sure that “some kind of plan” is in place so “this doesn’t happen again.”

What Creech, and apparently the other committee members, failed to do was check to understand the background of the issue before pontificating in public at the committee meeting.

The Treasurer is solely responsible for the investment of county, school district, SWA and county airport department monies. The SWA board has no function in this process.

Jones notified the bank via email two days prior to the maturation date of the CD that the bank would need to increase collateralization of SWA monies by the amount coming in from the maturing CD.

GSD has viewed a copy of Jones’ email and of the bank’s fixed income sales director internal email recognizing the maturation and directing the collateralization to be done Friday (June 28th).

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Parker Campaign Stumbles Out of the Gate with Unpaid Taxes and Media Comments – Updated

August 18, 2019 11:36 AM
Parker Campaign Stumbles Out of the Gate with Unpaid Taxes and Media Comments – Updated

Update

Horry County records show Clark Parker paid the three unpaid tax bills referred to below on August 19, 2019.

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Like a racehorse losing a race by stumbling out of the starting gate in his first steps, we may have witnessed the beginning and effective end of the Clark Parker campaign for Horry County Auditor on the day it began.

Parker had his campaign kickoff last Friday. It began with an interview published on the MyHorryNews.com website.

In that interview, Parker said he felt that he could “contribute a lot to the needs of the county” and that it was “important that we collect all our taxes that are due to the county.”

Shortly thereafter it was reported by MyrtleBeachSC.com that Parker had three unpaid county tax bills from tax years 2012, 2017 and 2018. That information is public information available on the horrycounty.org website.

One would expect someone running for public office, especially an office that deals with county taxes and a person who is a certified public accountant by trade, would double check to make sure there are no skeletons in their closet.

There are additional problems with the interview. Parker announced he is running for auditor yet it is the treasurer, not the auditor, who is responsible for collecting taxes. He wouldn’t be involved in that end of the county tax structure so why mention it in an interview?

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SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

March 17, 2019 3:47 AM
SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

By a 4-1 decision, the S. C. Supreme Court overturned decisions at the District Court and Appeals Court levels giving SkyDive Myrtle Beach the opportunity to prove its case in court.

The details of the case have never been heard as Horry County was successful at using some legal hocus pocus at the lower court levels to keep from allowing the case to go forward.

That is not the result now as the case, SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al, has now been remanded back to the District Court and will go on the trial roster with discovery pending immediately.

This means the case, once described by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti as “rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs,” was not treated in that fashion by the Supreme Court.

Referring to SkyDive Myrtle Beach owner Aaron Holly, myself and others, Carotti wrote the following to a council member inquiring about the case:

“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo wrote:

The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same.  Defamatory commentary on the part of Holly and his surrogates also has been ongoing and is expected to continue, but has been rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs, borne out in voluminous court documents and public records.

Arrigo P. Carotti / County Attorney”

The original case was filed on February 28, 2014 against Horry County under the general court classification “Unfair Trade Practices.” It alleged a pattern of harassment by the County and its Department of Airports (HCDA) with the ultimate goal of removing SDMB from Grand Strand Airport (GSA) as the original complaint states:

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Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

March 4, 2019 12:33 PM
Tomorrow’s Special Council Meeting, Gardner and the People v. DiSabato

Horry County Council will hold a special meeting tomorrow to discuss the SLED report and the part played by Administrator Chris Eldridge in taking false allegations to SLED in order to prompt an investigation of Chairman Johnny Gardner.

It is obvious from the SLED report and lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, Eldridge tried to set up Gardner in order to advance a particular agenda.

What is that agenda? It appears to be to subvert the will of the tens of thousands of voters who put Gardner in office in order to effect much needed change in the way the county was being run.

The agenda includes attempting to guarantee construction of Interstate 73 while ignoring the infrastructure already in place. The recent flooding in three of the last four years demonstrates there is immediate need for improvements and flood mitigation on U.S. 501, S.C. 22 and S.C. 9 as well as needs for improvements on Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.

It includes ignoring the needs for increased staffing for public safety departments while pushing the purchase of $12 million of swamp land for some kind of half-baked wetlands mitigation scheme.

It includes alienating an overwhelming majority of county employees by mistaking the title administrator for dictator.

It includes picking a fight with Treasurer Angie Jones over the addition of one person in her office while costing the county more money in legal fees than would have been spent to fund the position as well as attempting to dictate to other countywide elected officials while only filling an appointed position.

It includes a half-baked scheme to extend the collection of hospitality fees to fund the I-73 project that the cities are in the process of destroying, thereby losing a potential source of revenue that could have benefited the citizens of the entire county by helping fund some of the above mentioned needs.

It includes never taking a serious look at how impact fees could be used in order to keep current residents from having to fund goods and services for new development.

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County Council Breaks Budget Promise to Treasurer

June 21, 2018 3:32 AM
County Council Breaks Budget Promise to Treasurer

When Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones agreed to drop her lawsuit against Horry County Government last month, there was an unwritten understanding that county council would include funding needs for her department in the budget for the coming fiscal year.

Now that understanding not only remains unwritten, but also remains unpassed.

During its third reading of the Horry County budget for Fiscal Year 2018-19 Tuesday night, council defeated, by a 6-6 vote, an amendment including budget enhancements for the Treasurer’s department. The budget amendment also called for additions in the $40,000 range each for the Clerk of Courts, Veterans Affairs and Voter Registration budgets.

Council member Johnny Vaught introduced the amendment, seconded by council member Harold Worley. Council chairman Mark Lazarus spoke strongly in its favor.

According to discussions of the amendment by council members, Jones identified revenue additions and/or savings in the amount of $123,000 for the coming fiscal year. Her request for budget enhancements would have only cost the county $111,000.

Additionally, one position provided in the enhancements would have gone to collection of the nearly $88 million in unpaid property taxes that are owed to the county.

In other words, the county would have made more money from voting for the enhancements than it saves by not voting for them.

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Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

June 11, 2018 8:56 AM
Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

The above cartoon by Ed Wilson depicts the now famous incident that resulted in Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus calling police and fire fighters in the county “thugs.”

Lazarus called them thugs because several first responders asked him tough questions at the Burgess Community Forum last week, then, heckled Lazarus as he walked out of the meeting.

The use of the word “thug” by Lazarus was ridiculous because its normal definition refers to violent, criminal type behavior none of which was in evidence at the forum.

The term “thugs” was also given to anti-war protesters during the 1960’s and anti-nuclear protesters throughout the western democracies in the 1970’s.

I would submit the term “thug” can also be applied to those in government who use their position and power to bully people or ignore the law to achieve desired results.

For example, after Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones request for an additional person in her office was denied by a combination of council members and the county administrator, Jones filed suit to gain the position.

The county’s response to the lawsuit was to attack Jones’ credibility and performance personally, a typical bully (thug) type of response.

Early this year, several council members said Lazarus was not going to intervene to attempt to help settle the case amicably, but was willing to let it go to court for resolution.

When Jones walked out of a council meeting after the discussion ventured into the area of her lawsuit, Lazarus was quite critical with several derogatory comments aimed at Jones. However, when discussion at a political forum entered into an area that made Lazarus uncomfortable, he had no problem walking out.

Does anyone else find that hypocritical?

However, that attitude appeared to change after Johnny Gardner filed to challenge Lazarus for the Republican nomination for county council chairman and it was apparent Jones had significant support from the public for her lawsuit.

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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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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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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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