Post Tagged with: "Bill Howard"

County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

April 19, 2019 9:20 AM
County Attorney Reverses Stance on Eldridge Agreement Release

One day after denying Freedom of Information requests for the release of the termination agreement with former county administrator Chris Eldridge, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti honored those requests.

What changed in 24 hours? Absolutely nothing!

Carotti tried to lay blame for the initial denial of release of the agreement on a claim that is was “confidential.”

This claim apparently rose from a “non-disclosure” clause that was included in the document.

The non-disclosure clause was never discussed in negotiations with the attorney representing Eldridge in the matter, according to council Chairman Johnny Gardner. Gardner said council was told it was a standard clause the county’s Human Resources department adds to this type of agreement.

But, the clause is illegal under state law. It not only violates the state Freedom of Information Act, but also violates state statutes with respect to public contracts and the expenditure of public funds. The clause also attempted to infringe on the First Amendment protections of free speech by limiting what council members could say about the agreement.

The termination agreement with Eldridge is a public contract. The severance package for Eldridge, agreed to by council, will be paid from public funds. State statutes specifically require public disclosure of such contracts and payments.

Carotti also claimed in an email to council members that he reached out to Eldridge’s attorney to see if Eldridge would agree to public disclosure of the document. Carotti claimed he received written permission from Eldridge’s attorney and released the document at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Let’s explore those statements.

Carotti claims to need approval from Eldridge’s attorney to disclose the agreement due to a ‘boilerplate’ clause in the contract that was never part of the negotiations. Rather, the clause was put into the contract illegally by the county’s HR department and then used to initially deny public access to the agreement.

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County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

April 17, 2019 6:34 AM
County Council Ends Eldridge Nightmare

The nightmare that has been the reign of county administrator Chris Eldridge ended Tuesday night when county council approved a termination package to end Eldridge’s employment.

The specific details of Eldridge’s package were not announced. However, it is believed to be in the neighborhood of one year salary, benefits and allowances or approximately $300,000 cost to the county.

And it is worth every penny to get rid of a poisonous influence at the top of county government who was unilaterally despised by county employees; who often confused his role as one of being in the middle of making policy rather than carrying out the decisions of others and who quite unsuccessfully attempted to disgrace current council chairman Johnny Gardner even before Gardner took office.

The vote was 9-2 to end Eldridge’s tenure, with council members Bill Howard and Tyler Servant the odd men out. Gardner did not vote as he participated in the negotiations of the package with Eldridge’s attorney.

Howard’s no vote was for reasons apparently only he can understand. Servant tried to play his ‘guardian of the people’s money’ schtick because of the size of the settlement, never considering how much more it would have cost the county in poor management and personnel decisions to keep Eldridge in place.

Immediately prior to the vote on Eldridge, council voted to defer cancellation of a Financial Participation Agreement with SCDOT for funding of I-73 while “aggressively pursuing” defense of the lawsuit recently brought against the county by Myrtle Beach over hospitality fee collections.

Among other pleadings in the lawsuit, the city requested a permanent injunctions against the county’s ability to collect a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee for its special road fund. A portion of that fund was to be used to fund the agreement with SCDOT.

In addition to the lawsuit, three cities, Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach have moved on to pass ordinances capturing all hospitality and accommodations fees collected within their corporate limits.

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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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Will the Deep Six Continue to Allow the Administrator and Attorney to Embarrass Horry County?

March 25, 2019 4:26 AM
Will the Deep Six Continue to Allow the Administrator and Attorney to Embarrass Horry County?

A specially called meeting of Horry County Council tonight is scheduled to discuss renewing the contract of county administrator Chris Eldridge, which expires April 21, 2019.

What is really to be discussed here is whether council members expect Chairman Johnny Gardner to continue to have attempt to work with Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti after those two were unsuccessful in an attempt to smear Gardner even before he took office on January 1, 2019.

Six council members, Harold Worley, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus and Bill Howard, the Deep Six as I call them, voted against firing county administrator Chris Eldridge on March 5th, after the results of a SLED investigation cleared Gardner of allegations of wrongdoing lodged by Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

Three of them, Worley, DiSabato and Loftus, claimed the results of the SLED investigation did not warrant firing Eldridge. The other three, Crawford, Servant and Howard, didn’t even have the courtesy to explain to the collected citizens viewing the proceedings their reasons for voting as they did.

Gardner said he has no confidence in either Carotti or Eldridge.

“People will never understand how difficult it was for me to remain calm and move forward with the business of the county with those allegations against me,” Gardner said. “But, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong and I trusted in the system, a criminal justice system I have been a part of for over 30 years, to conclude the truth. Now, after a SLED investigation exonerated me of any wrongdoing, I find that the administrator and attorney tried to rig the investigation against me.”

Through emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by media, we know as early as December 12, 2018, Carotti and Eldridge in concert with former chairman Mark Lazarus were constructing a version of conversations, none of which any of the three were part of, in order to allege  wrongdoing by Gardner.

Carotti authored a five-page memo based entirely on hearsay. The memo was completed December 19, 2018, and Eldridge forwarded it to SLED December 20, 2018 after the memo was leaked to a Columbia media outlet.

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County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

March 23, 2019 11:01 AM
County Attorney Tried to Directly Influence SLED Investigation

New information has surfaced that demonstrates Horry County attorney Arrigo Carotti not only attempted to tell SLED investigators what direction their investigation of Horry County Chairman Johnny Gardner should take but also what conclusions they should and should not draw as a result.

Allegations of extortion against Gardner, began with a five-page memo written by Carotti, from December 14–19, 2018, in concert with input from county administrator Chris Eldridge. The memo also attempted to implicate Luke Barefoot, Donald Smith and myself in this fictitious plot.

Eldridge sent the Carotti memo to SLED December 20, 2018 requesting the agency investigate the allegations, but only after the memo was leaked to and published by a Columbia internet media outlet early in the morning of December 20th.

Eldridge told county council members, during a March 5, 2019 special meeting of council, he sent the memo to SLED only after it was leaked in the media because “he didn’t want to be accused of a cover up.”

Before the results of the SLED investigation were made public, an attorney friend of mine told me his theory on the entire affair was that a civil conspiracy plot had taken place among players who were willing to go to any length to keep Gardner from taking office on January 1, 2019. Are we talking “Deep County” here?

With more and more journalists seeking additional information about the allegations against Gardner through Freedom of Information Act requests and questions of the various people included in this saga, new revelations have come to light in recent days that add significant credence to this theory.

Carotti’s original five-page memo is based completely on hearsay about supposed conversations, none of which Carotti nor Eldridge were party to. In his memo, Carotti states he began writing it on December 14th “as a result of events that have taken place since December 5 as memory fades over time and this debacle is broadening.”

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Eldridge and His Band of Followers

March 13, 2019 3:52 AM
Eldridge and His Band of Followers

It has been one week since six members of Horry County Council blindly followed the lead of administrator Chris Eldridge with the story pitched by Eldridge about how and why he called for a SLED investigation with false allegations against Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Last week’s farce seemed more like River City than Horry County with Eldridge playing the part of Harold Hill.

But that is exactly what happens when council members are unwilling to ask questions of the administrator about his story or give more than a cursory glance at the SLED report and the tape recording at its center.

Prior to a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Eldridge already had his narrative established of what would be told to SLED 20 days later.

This is obvious from the sworn statements given to SLED investigators by Eldridge and Davis. Almost immediately after the lunch meeting ended, Eldridge peppered Davis with specific questions about Donald Smith, supposed stories that were supposed to be written by me, payments to the Beach Ball Classic and a statement by Eldridge about funneling money to Smith.

Eldridge told SLED Davis was “upset” after the meeting. Davis told SLED the meeting went well and EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson said Davis said the same to him and his interpretation of the meeting was quite the opposite of that of Eldridge.

Nineteen days after the meeting, Eldridge, attorney Arrigo Carotti, council members Mark Lazarus and Gary Loftus, Wilson, Davis, Steele and Fred Richardson of the EDC listened to the portion of the recording of the meeting that was pertinent to Eldridge’s false allegations.

According to Davis and Wilson, Eldridge was the only member of the group that “thought he heard something” on the tape to support his allegations. The others said there was nothing there.

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Council Splits Vote Eldridge Survives for Now

March 6, 2019 6:36 PM
Council Splits Vote Eldridge Survives for Now

Horry County Council voted 6-6 on the question of whether to fire administrator Chris Eldridge during its special meeting on the question Tuesday afternoon.

Eldridge survived, but barely and it is obvious he does not have the support of a majority of council going forward. Even the six who voted no on the question of firing Eldridge did not appear to be acting out of a conviction that he needed to stay.

The opposition was led by council member Dennis DiSabato who has said he will never support anything by that SOB Gardner. DiSabato spent most of his time attacking Gardner including accusing him of being involved in a ‘pay to play scheme’ even though SLED and the Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor have already said nothing violating the law happened.

Council members Bill Howard, Cam Crawford and Tyler Servant said nothing in support of Eldridge. That’s four out of six who were basically mute on Eldridge while council members Harold Worley and Gary Loftus gave lukewarm support to Eldridge.

What was apparent from comments and questions from council during the two hour meeting was that six members of council firmly believe Eldridge acted unprofessionally and inappropriately in calling for a SLED investigation on new Chairman Johnny Gardner.

The SLED findings and conclusion of Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson were that nothing inappropriate happened when Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot met with EDC executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.

Davis and Steele both told SLED the very same thing when they were interviewed during the investigation process.

Council member Danny Hardee said it best when he told Eldridge he (Eldridge) was the only one who thought ‘he heard something’ in the recording of the conversation.

As the record shows, Eldridge already had his mind made up as to his own set of facts when he sent an email to EDC board chairman Neyle Wilson on December 12, 2018 even though Eldridge did not listen to the recording until December 19, 2019.

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Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

January 9, 2019 8:16 PM
Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

Based on his actions over the past six days, it appears Horry County Council member Harold Worley is attempting to lead an insurrection against new council chairman Johnny Gardner.

It began last Friday when Worley appeared determined to avoid having council discuss recent actions by County Administrator Chris Eldridge designed to smear Gardner before he had even assumed office.

This included an interpretation by County Attorney Arrigo Carotti of state law regarding requirements for removing the administrator that three attorneys I have consulted say was a complete misinterpretation of the law.

According to an email chain provided to GSD, Worley has succeeded in enlisting four additional council members, Tyler Servant, Cam Crawford, Bill Howard and Gary Loftus into what I will call the Gang of Five in a new attempt aimed at embarrassing and marginalizing the new chairman.

Those same four supported Worley’s antics last Friday to suppress discussion of the administrator’s actions in embarrassing the county.

This new attempt regards a change in seating arrangement on the council dais that Gardner has called for. The arrangement is numerical which Gardner believes will make it easier for meeting attendees and home viewers to identify their particular district member.

On the surface, this looks like a completely ridiculous division to have.

With the real problems in the county, public safety shortages, infrastructure, storm water and so on, the most pressing issue to five council members is where they sit on the dais?

But is it really about where members sit?

I have been told by business people in the county since last Friday that the Dunes Club Crowd is not happy with Gardner in the chairman’s seat. Worley has long positioned himself as a champion of the people against that crowd, but I wonder.

What is most interesting here is the Gang of Five all represent council districts totally or substantially east of the waterway and all five live east of the waterway.

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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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Parking Fees Discussed by City/County Council Members

September 30, 2016 6:28 AM
Parking Fees Discussed by City/County Council Members

The parking fee issue in Myrtle Beach seems to get a little more convoluted each week.

Earlier this week, a group called the Beach Coalition held a meeting at Longbeard’s in Carolina Forest to discuss issues surrounding the parking fees.

Attending the meeting were county council chairman Mark Lazarus and council members Bill Howard, Jimmy Washington and Johnny Vaught. Randal Wallace from Myrtle Beach City Council was also in attendance.

Members of the coalition group are unhappy with the rather cavalier manner in which Myrtle Beach city council treats issues such as parking fees.

With regard to the fee itself, Lazarus said there is going to be a parking fee for county residents when they park in beach access areas.

Additionally, Lazarus said the fee has to be reasonable for everybody and nobody is going to pay $300 (for a parking decal). The $300 figure was thrown out by Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes at a recent forum held with citizens.

Lazarus said the city and county would establish a “steering committee” to address the issue.

Wallace said something had to be done about parking in beach access in the Golden Mile and surrounding areas. He seemed to blame the fee on litter finding its way to the properties of Golden Mile residents.

Wallace said maybe the $10 per day parking fee now being charged to non-city residents wasn’t the best answer to the problem. He said he was sure city council wants to work with county council to address the parking fee issue.

Wallace admitted to the crowd that all parking fees collected in the city go to the Downtown Redevelopment Corporation. For many years, the DRC has accomplished little in the way of redevelopment and virtually none in the city’s historic downtown in the area of City Hall, Five Points and adjacent areas.

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