Post Tagged with: "Chris Eldridge"

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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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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SLED Said NO, Eldridge Gotta Go, Worley Nowhere to Go

March 7, 2019 2:01 PM
SLED Said NO, Eldridge Gotta Go, Worley Nowhere to Go

As statements at the special county council meeting of March 5, 2019 bring to light, we have still not heard the truth about why allegations were made against Chairman Johnny Gardner before he took office, about why SLED was called in to investigate the allegations and about who participated in what now appears to be a conspiracy to keep Gardner from ever taking office.

It has always been a mystery of why the Carotti memo was leaked to Fitsnews and who leaked it? The memo relates a version, based on hearsay, about what took place at a meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation during which, Eldridge alleges to this day, possible illegal comments were made.

The only logical explanation of why it was leaked was to get the discussion into the public domain. Once it was in the public domain, especially with it being leaked to a media outlet that borders on the sensational with its stories, there was a virtual guarantee it would be picked up by other media spreading the story.

The story became Gardner’s name linked with the word “extortion” before he ever took office. I believe leaking the memo was intentional and there was a hope that Gardner could be prevented from taking office, thereby overturning the will of the voters.

I have transcribed what I believe are key portions of Tuesday’s special meeting.

The following transcription begins at 1:02:01 of the special meeting of council on March 5, 2019:

Al Allen: Question, you mentioned earlier that some council members knew about this and this tape. I can understand councilman Loftus because he was on the EDC board and I can understand Mark because he was on the EDC board. You mentioned councilman Worley and you mentioned councilman Servant. Now how did they know and the rest of this council didn’t know?

Chris Eldridge: No they didn’t know. It was after the memo from Arrigo Carotti went out that I heard from council members that said ‘that needs to go to SLED.’

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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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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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Recording Confirms No Extortion Attempt

March 2, 2019 8:40 AM
Recording Confirms No Extortion Attempt

A recording that Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti used as a centerpiece of evidence for their allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner proves the allegations were entirely false.

The full recording of the lunch meeting between Gardner, his business partner Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) executives Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele became entered the public arena yesterday.

The recording was supposedly the ‘smoking gun’ that would prove the Eldridge and Carotti tale of, as Eldridge described in an email, “asking for thousands of dollars to be funneled” to Donald Smith is nowhere to be heard.

What the administrator and attorney believed (hoped?) would add credence to their allegations actually proved how entirely false they were.

I listened to the entire one hour and seven minute recording. Generally it reveals a pleasant lunch meeting whose purpose was to familiarize the incoming council chairman with the workings of the EDC, its current efforts to recruit jobs and the uses of its budget.

There is an approximately four minute segment in which Barefoot and Davis discuss the possibility of contracting with Smith for public relations work for the EDC. Davis explained the procedure for submitting a proposal to the EDC and Barefoot said he understood the EDC procedures. Davis said she would be open to receiving a proposal.

At no time was there ever any threat or other effort to compel Davis to do anything and no mention of payment of thousands of dollars to Smith. Gardner said nothing during that segment of the conversation.

Not ones to let little things like facts get in the way of their efforts to discredit Gardner, Carotti authored a five-page memo laying out the case, which relied entirely on hearsay ‘to the best of Carotti’s recollection’, and Eldridge reported an alleged extortion attempt by Gardner to SLED.

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SLED Said NO! Chris and Arrigo Gotta Go

March 1, 2019 4:32 AM
SLED Said NO! Chris and Arrigo Gotta Go

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson issued a press release and report Thursday evening which included a letter to SLED stating, “Based on the information you uncovered and provided in your report of this investigation, there is no credible evidence of extortion by Luther “Luke” Barefoot or Johnny Gardner…”

A link to the entire 41 page report appears at the end of this story.

Richardson’s report brings to a close an investigation into an alleged extortion attempt by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot.

The allegations were reported to SLED by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and supported by a five-page memo authored by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.

The allegations centered around comments made, or more appropriately stated not made, during a business meeting at Rivertown Bistro in Conway. Present at the meeting were Gardner, Barefoot, Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Corporation President Sandy Davis and MBREDC Director of Investor Relations Sherri Steele. The meeting was audio recorded and the recording was a key piece of evidence in determining what had not taken place – namely any extortion attempt.

As the Richardson release stated, “The recording of the conversation is consistent in form and content with what Davis, Steele, Barefoot and Gardner described to you in their individual interviews about what was discussed and the manner in which it was discussed.”

The report goes on, “President Davis never told anyone that she felt pressured. President Davis never told anyone that they tried to extort money.”

Director Steele said, “We never felt threatened or felt like we had to hire them or pay them any money.”

All four participants reported that it was “a positive meeting.”

As the report states, “Davis and Steele repeatedly state they were not threatened or extorted and they are the sole eyewitnesses to the event, or non-event as the case may be.”

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SLED Report in Review by Solicitor

February 22, 2019 5:00 PM
SLED Report in Review by Solicitor

The SLED investigation report into allegations of wrongdoing by Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was delivered to the solicitor’s office late Thursday afternoon, Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson confirmed to Grand Strand Daily today.

Richardson will receive a full briefing from SLED agents before releasing a statement about his conclusions, probably Monday.

The report included videotapes of all interviews conducted by SLED in the investigation, a complete copy of the recording of a November 30, 2018 meeting between Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation and Gardner and his business partner Luke Barefoot and other items related to the investigation.

According to Richardson, the report was subjected to peer review before its release, which means an agent not involved in the initial investigation checked the report for accuracy in its findings.

The attempt to smear Gardner was initiated by Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti with a memo sent by Carotti, with the full concurrence of Eldridge, to council members after 6 p.m. December 19, 2018.

Before 6 a.m. December 20, 2018, the memo and a story connecting the words “Gardner” and “extortion” appeared on the website of a Columbia media outlet. The media outlet is the same one that attempted to smear Nikki Haley with allegations of illicit affairs when she was running for governor in 2010.

The less than 12 hours, evening and night hours, is much too tight for anything other than a pre-planned leak of the Carotti memo, labeled “Attorney Client Privileged”, and the accompanying sensationalized story.

Access to the memo was initially limited to the 12 members of council in December 2018 plus Eldridge and Carotti. Who leaked the memo? I can think of only three of the original 14 who could possibly think they would benefit from such a leak.

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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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I-73 Votes Ignore Immediate Local Needs

February 11, 2019 4:31 AM
I-73 Votes Ignore Immediate Local Needs

The I-73 participation agreement Horry County signed with SCDOT in December, at the urging of administrator Chris Eldridge and former council chairman Mark Lazarus, ignores local road needs, highlighted by recent flooding issues, for a new road that is years and over one billion unidentified and uncommitted dollars from completion.

When county council adopted Resolution 82-18 in July 2018, it specifically dedicated up to $25 million toward the I-73 project only. With this resolution in place, the county may not use any of this money toward repair or improvements to U.S. 501, S.C 9 or other roads in the county as flooding events since Hurricane Floyd in 1999 have shown to be needed. These funds can be used to improve S.C. 22 as that is part of the I-73 project.

There has been a general rush to dedicate funds for I-73 since right after the June 2018 primaries. Council held a special meeting on July 24, 2018 where Resolution 82-18 was passed which dedicated up to $25 million per year of 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenue to the I-73 project.

Staff immediately began conversations with SCDOT to develop and present the I-73 participation agreement. During the November 28, 2018 fall budget workshop, council approved allowing the administrator to execute the participation agreement with SCDOT. The agreement was executed by administrator Eldridge for the county and Christy Hall, the state Transportation Secretary on December 13, 2018.

At the July 2018 special meeting council also passed Resolution 84-18 directing staff to develop a plan to use $18 million of the 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenue on public safety and other roads. In addition, the resolution directed staff to draft an amendment to Section 19-6(h) of the Horry County Code of Ordinances, which currently requires all of the 1.5% revenue to be deposited in a Special Road Fund. The amendment would allow the $18 million to be used on other state approved tourism related expenses such as public safety, recreation, storm water and other infrastructure improvements.

To date no amendment has been presented to council. The amendment would require a three reading ordinance to become law. In addition, no plan for use of the $18 million has been presented.

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