Post Tagged with: "Dennis DiSabato"

Money for I-77, Where is Money for I-73?

June 18, 2020 8:15 PM
Money for I-77, Where is Money for I-73?

President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday June 18th about $34.6 million appropriated from the federal government for a new interchange on I-77 in Rock Hill.

Where is an appropriation for I-73?

Trump’s tweet again highlights the inability of our elected representatives, many of whom were reelected at last week’s primary, to get any funding for their supposed number one agenda item.

Tom Rice, Alan Clemmons, Heather Crawford, Luke Rankin, Russell Fry, Dennis Disabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftus, Johnny Vaught, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant, Brenda Bethune – aren’t you all embarrassed and ashamed of your continuing inability to secure any funding for I-73?

Over the past year, each and every one of you has spoken of the importance of I-73 to the local economy and to the safety of our citizens.

All this announcement does is demonstrate your political impotence, both individually and collectively, to deliver funding from any source other than Horry County for the project you list among your top priorities!

Five of the above, Clemmons, both Crawfords, Disabato and Loftus were victors in recent primaries, guaranteeing their reelection in November. Two others, Rice and Fry, had no primary opponent and will have a virtual walkover in November. Four, Vaught, Howard, Servant and Bethune, will face reelection over the next two years. The lone remaining incumbent, Rankin, faces a runoff election next week.

Whether it be money for I-73, flood mitigation, other infrastructure projects or other needs to help the citizens of Horry County, the ‘Dirty Dozen’ incumbents mentioned above can’t deliver.

Even the development industry, which spent tons of money helping the reelection of these people has to be let down at this announcement. After all, I-73 would net immediate revenue for some of those and it would open up considerable land in the western part of the county for development, even though much of it probably shouldn’t be developed due to flooding and infrastructure considerations.

Despite their continuing demonstrated inability to accomplish anything positive for the area, the voters chose to send those up for reelection last week back into office.

This announcement is just another example of why that was a bad idea.

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Developers Win Primary Elections While Flooding Continues

June 17, 2020 8:48 AM
Developers Win Primary Elections While Flooding Continues

Recent stories in local news media about homeowners in Socastee asking county council to find solutions to flooding problems in their neighborhoods highlights the effects that will be felt from the results of the recent primary elections for county council and the General Assembly.

The story initially said the station tried to contact Horry County councilman Cam Crawford and he didn’t return calls. Later it was updated to say Crawford would have more to say in four days on the flooding issues.

Crawford did give a statement after a second story appeared in which Socastee homeowners announced a protest scheduled for July 6, 2020 at 8 a.m. in front of the Horry County Courthouse.

Crawford’s statement said he worked with the Department of Natural Resources and the Coast Guard to establish a no wake zone on the Intracoastal Waterway. Crawford also mentioned that the county expected to receive some money from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to assist in buyouts of flooded homes. Apparently Crawford does not know wake reduction is an erosion control method not a flood control one.

What he did not say is the amount allotted to South Carolina is approximately $157 million to be split among 30 affected counties. Of that amount, approximately $35 million is targeted for home buyouts, again to be apportioned among 30 counties. The home buyouts will be based on a scale in which low income, disabled and other economically disadvantaged families will get preference.

What Crawford also did not say is that the buyout program requires a local match and the county would have to assume new debt to participate in it since the state government was not willing to provide any money in the form of grants from its at least $1.5 billion excess revenue it expects this year.

During Cam’s recent reelection campaign, a mailer was sent out supporting Cam’s reelection with a statement by Tom Mulliken, Chairman of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission. The commission was appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster after Hurricane Florence. Both Cam and his wife, Rep. Heather Crawford have touted their work with the commission as proof they are working on flooding.

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Decisions by County Government Determined by Who the Voters Elect

June 8, 2020 9:22 AM
Decisions by County Government Determined by Who the Voters Elect

Ultimately the type of government we have is a consequence of those we elect to serve in it.

In Horry County, I submit some of our incumbent council members are the wrong choice. These are charlatans who hold elective office for self-aggrandizing, self-enriching or ego boosting reasons, or some combination thereof.

They are happy to serve themselves, their large campaign donors and those they perceive to be power brokers. The needs of the citizens at large are a rare afterthought.

For decades, the development industry in Horry County has held influence over this type of council member, using that influence to get virtually anything it wanted, including developing wetlands, flood plains and areas without the necessary supporting infrastructure, approved by council.

Three council members up for reelection who fit completely into that mold are Dennis Disabato, Cam Crawford and Gary Loftus, in my opinion. Disabato and Crawford each draw over 50% of their campaign contributions from the development industry. Loftus was appointed to the advisory board of a developer funded institute at Coastal Carolina University that the development donors hoped would “tell their side”, as one of the big donors put it, on any study completed by the institute.

Crawford, Loftus and Disabato strongly supported the reelection of Mark Lazarus two years ago. After Lazarus lost the council chairman seat to Johnny Gardner, they bought into the fictitious plot, devised by former administrator Chris Eldridge, in consultation with Lazarus, to attempt to keep Gardner from taking office.

After a SLED investigation concluded there was nothing to the allegations by Eldridge, these three did everything they could to keep Eldridge in his administrator’s position including a bombastic display by Disabato in a special council meeting held to discuss Eldridge’s future.

They continue to support the Lazarus agenda two years after Lazarus lost a primary for reelection. For example, when Lazarus worked behind the scenes to get an area designated scenic and conservation rezoned for development, Crawford, Loftus and Disabato voted for the rezoning regardless of the potential flooding issues associated with the development.

Council will be making important decisions over the next few years regarding land use regulations, impact fees and improvements to the county’s stormwater management plan. Citizens need council members who will consider the welfare of the county as a whole as these important issues are considered, not ones who consider nothing more than what developers want.

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Citizens or Special Interests – County Council Direction Will be Decided by June Primaries

April 20, 2020 7:33 AM
Citizens or Special Interests – County Council Direction Will be Decided by June Primaries

The direction county council will take over the next several years will likely be determined by three contested races in the Republican Primary to be held on June 9, 2020.

Those three races are Horry County Districts 3, 4 and 6, currently held by incumbents Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus and Cam Crawford, respectively. Those three council members have consistently been stooges for the special interests in the county.

DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford were consistent “yes” votes for any initiative former council chairman Mark Lazarus brought to the table. The purchase of approximately 3,700 acres of wetlands off of International for $12 million of taxpayer money is one example that quickly comes to mind.

The parcel purchased by the county was part of a larger parcel purchased by a developer in Virginia years ago. The wetlands couldn’t be developed so the county purchased the land with the purported goal of establishing a wetland mitigation bank to be used when capital projects required mitigation credits for disturbing wetlands. No other parcel in the county was considered, no record of a request for proposals was sent out by the county.

The three stooges voted in lockstep to spend county money for land that was basically useless to the developer for the price of approximately $3,243 per acre.

After Lazarus was defeated for reelection, DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus were charter members for what I dubbed the Deep Six, council members who fought long and hard to keep former county administrator Chris Eldridge in office after Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti lodged groundless accusations of extortion against current chairman Johnny Gardner, who defeated Lazarus, Eldridge’s strongest supporter on council.

Anyone who watched the March 2019 special council meeting, called to remove Eldridge, will recall DiSabato launching into accusations against Gardner after an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) concluded the accusations were without any merit.

The three stooges voted not to fire Eldridge in March, ultimately costing the taxpayers of Horry County $350,000 when council voted to buy out Eldridge’s contract in April 2019 rather than firing him one month before.

DiSabato, Crawford and Loftus have been consistent supporters of having county taxpayers fund construction of Interstate 73. Constructing I-73 remains a major goal of special interests in the county who will benefit financially from construction of the road.

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Uneasy Lie the Heads that Wear Incumbency – First Week of Candidate Filing

March 24, 2020 7:15 AM
Uneasy Lie the Heads that Wear Incumbency – First Week of Candidate Filing

The coronavirus has not stopped this year’s candidate filing in Horry County from being the most active filing period in the county for many years.

Grand Strand Daily is tracking 22 local races for county offices or local representatives or senators to the General Assembly.

After the first week of filing, which ended yesterday, there are currently 13 contested races of the 22 being tracked and at least two more county council candidates will probably have opposition before filing closes next Monday. If the expected two challengers file in council districts 3 and 4, all five county council seats up for election in this cycle will be contested and all will be Republican primary contests.

One incumbent council member, Paul Prince in District 9, is retiring and four candidates, including Prince’s son, are contesting the Republican primary for that seat. The other four incumbent council members up for reelection are Cam Crawford and Danny Hardee, who already have opponents filed to challenge them and Dennis DiSabato and Gary Loftus, who are expected to have opponents by the end of filing.

The main reason county council is drawing so much attention is a feeling among voters that incumbent council members are only listening to the development community that funds their campaigns and voters’ concerns about flooding and rapid development are being ignored. (See the image at the end of this post, which has been making its way around Facebook, with the heads of the four incumbents inserted).

On the state level, voters are tired of being donors to the rest of the state while road and flooding problems in particular are not being addressed and most incumbents are content with sound bites and photo ops rather than trying to address solutions.

Four incumbents who, I believe, will face particularly serious challenges are state Reps. Alan Clemmons and Heather Ammons Crawford, Sen. Luke Rankin and county council member Cam Crawford. They are being opposed by Case Brittain, Mark Epps, John Gallman and Jeremy Halpin, respectively.

If the expected challengers emerge against DiSabato and Loftus, those races will be hotly contested also.

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Citizen Activists Changing the County’s Political Landscape

January 13, 2020 7:00 AM
Citizen Activists Changing the County’s Political Landscape

The engagement of citizen activists in the political system of Horry County was the biggest story of 2019. This year it will prove to be even bigger with county and state elections on the calendar.

Three of those council members, DiSabato, Loftus and Crawford have been charter members of what I have termed the ‘Deep Six’ on county council who generally do the bidding of the oligarchs.

Groups such as Empowering Horry County, Horry County Rising, Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe, and Highway 90 Corridor Concerns, to name a few, have made effective use of social media to band together groups of citizens so their message becomes part of the political discussion.

That message is simple, these citizen activists want a government that provides the necessary goods and services expected of it and does not overreach with wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on projects that only benefit the few.

They want elected officials who will provide the public safety services needed to keep the communities safe and who will maintain and upgrade, when necessary, existing infrastructure to benefit the entire community, especially in the areas of roads and storm water management. They want controlled development so that new sub-divisions do not negatively impact the homes and lives of those who already live here.

Horry County has had an oligarchical form of government where a small number of influential business owners and developers have controlled politicians and political decisions for decades. These new groups of citizen activists want to expand the existing political landscape into one that more closely resembles a representative democracy where the voices of the many, not just the few, are heard.

Five Horry County Council members, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford, Paul Prince and Danny Hardee will be up for reelection this year as will all the state representatives and senators. This year many of them used to having no opposition will face challengers in the primaries (the only elections that really count in this one party state).

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First Anniversary of the Plot to Smear Council Chairman Johnny Gardner

December 20, 2019 3:00 AM
First Anniversary of the Plot to Smear Council Chairman Johnny Gardner

Exactly one year ago today former county administrator Chris Eldridge, former council chairman Mark Lazarus and county attorney Arrigo Carotti went public with a plot to attempt to overturn the will of the voters by smearing incoming county chairman Johnny Gardner on the day of his swearing in.

In the week prior, Carotti had authored a five-page memo, with input from Eldridge and Lazarus, attempting to portray Gardner as being involved in a plot to extort money from the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation.

The memo was sent to council members as ‘Attorney Client Privileged’ in an attempt to try and give some official weight to the narrative and, within 12 hours, leaked to a Columbia media outlet to make the story public. The supposed facts in the memo were entirely fictitious.

As soon as the leaked story was published on the internet, complete with a copy of Carotti’s memo, Eldridge sent the memo to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division requesting an investigation.

Within a one day period, the plotters had linked the name ‘Gardner’ to the word ‘extortion’, spread the story statewide and used the publishing of the story as an excuse to contact SLED.

It was an email from Lazarus to Eldridge that first brought SLED into the conversation.

The problem was the story was complete fiction, But that didn’t stop the plotters. The apparent objective was to get Gardner to step aside from the office he had been elected to so that Lazarus could reclaim it. (At the time, apparently unaware of the provisions for filling a vacancy in a county office, they thought the Governor could make an appointment to fill the void and that appointment would be Lazarus who had been defeated by Gardner at the polls.

Within another 24 hours, the entire plot began to fall apart.

Carotti used alleged statements made by Sandy Davis, President and CEO of the MBREDC to both himself and Eldridge as a major source for his narrative, as well as a recording of a lunch meeting between Gardner, Davis and two others.

When contacted by media for comment about the Carotti memo, Davis was quoted responding about the memo, “A lot of it was fabricated.”

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County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

December 17, 2019 5:55 PM
County Council Adds More Controversy to Hospitality Fee Settlement

Horry County Council approved an amended settlement agreement at its special meeting Monday night that added to the controversy regarding settling the hospitality fee lawsuit.

Council split 7-5 on votes to amend the settlement agreement and to approve the settlement agreement as amended. Those voting for the agreement were Johnny Vaught, Dennis DiSabato, Cam Crawford, Gary Loftis, Bill Howard, Tyler Servant and Orton Bellamy.

The Deep Six (Vaught, DiSabato, Crawford, Loftis, Servant and Howard) can always be counted on to support anything the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber and other special interests in the county want. Vaught is counting on that group to fund his run for chairman in two years while DiSabato, Crawford and Loftis expect significant donations from special interests to fund their upcoming reelection campaigns.

The special interests want I-73, they fall in line to keep it in play.

Voting against the settlement were Chairman Johnny Gardner, Harold Worley, Al Allen, Danny Hardee and Paul Prince.

As Worley said at the beginning of open debate on the question, the elephant in the room was I-73.

The settlement agreement as presented Monday night would provide approximately $14.5 million per year toward I-73. As Worley pointed out this amount is a drop in the bucket for a project that will require approximately $670 million to complete the road in Horry County, $1.3 billion to reach I-95 and over $2 billion for the total project to the North Carolina border in Marlboro County.

But the drop in the bucket is important to those landowners in Horry County who will benefit from right of way purchases for the road and the engineering and other businesses who will profit from the early design and site work for the project.

The federal and state governments will have to come in with significant money for the road to ever be completed but the local special interests can realize a significant income from the early work that can be paid for if the county contributes. Like always, it’s all about the money.

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Questions Surround Proposed Hospitality Fee Settlement Agreement

December 15, 2019 7:32 AM
Questions Surround Proposed Hospitality Fee Settlement Agreement

As Horry County and the municipal councils prepare to vote on a proposed settlement agreement for the Hospitality Fee lawsuit Monday night, many questions remain about what really has taken place behind closed doors since the lawsuit was filed last March.

According to sources familiar with the settlement agreement, the basic proposal approved in a resolution by Horry County Council at its April 2, 2019 regular meeting and publicly rejected by Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune within a few days thereafter is the agreement that will be voted on Monday night?

The basic terms of that proposal as it was offered in April and will be considered Monday night are as follows: a) Horry County will continue to collect a 1.5% Hospitality Fee countywide; b) one-third of that fee (0.5%) will go toward funding I-73; c) the remaining two-thirds (1%) will be remitted to the respective taxing jurisdictions (unincorporated county or city) in which it was collected; d) Revenues from the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee collected between the date bonds for Ride I projects were paid off (sometime in February 2019) and June 30, 2019 will be remitted in a lump sum to the respective taxing jurisdiction in which those revenues were collected.

Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner sent a letter to each of the city mayors proposing that settlement on April 3, 2019.

The county was prohibited from collecting the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee within the city jurisdictions after June 30, 2019 by judge’s order. The sum collected within city jurisdictions between February 2019 and June 30, 2019 (currently held in escrow) and subject to lump sum payments back to the cities is approximately $19 million.

Why is a proposed settlement that was publicly and totally rejected by Bethune in April 2019 suddenly the terms for settlement? (See Gardner’s letter to the mayors and Bethune’s rejection letter at the links below)

The mayor’s main points of contention have not changed in the agreement to be voted on for approval Monday night: a) continued collection of the countywide hospitality fee is illegal; b) the city cannot delegate to the county the authority to control the disposition of revenues which are properly within the city’s authority to collect and manage and c) no benefit to city residents from that arrangement.

What has changed?

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Horry County Council Votes Unanimously to Cancel I-73 Contract

November 19, 2019 8:18 PM
Horry County Council Votes Unanimously to Cancel I-73 Contract

Horry County Council voted unanimously at its regular meeting Tuesday night to cancel the Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation that would have provided funding for the Interstate 73 project.

The agreement was approved by council during a special meeting held on November 28, 2018 and signed by former county administrator Chris Eldridge on December 13, 2018. Former council chairman Mark Lazarus led the charge to get the agreement signed before he left office December 31, 2018. Lazarus and Eldridge were the two foremost proponents of having the county enter into the agreement with SCDOT.

In addition, Lazarus and Eldridge were instrumental in orchestrating the elimination of a sunset provision from the county’s hospitality fee legislation earlier in 2018 in order to direct revenue to I-73.

But it all began to fall apart in March 2019 when the City of Myrtle Beach sued Horry County over continued collection of hospitality fees after the bonds for the first RIDE projects were paid off, an action the city called illegal.

Last spring, Horry County Council approved a resolution to refund hospitality fee revenue collected within the municipal boundaries to the respective cities where it was collected. The resolution included a proposal for the municipalities and the county to provide some funding for I-73 with percentage contributions from each agency in line with the percentage of the total amount of hospitality fee revenue each city received.

The cities dismissed that resolution out of hand.

Now, the cities and the county are considering a settlement agreement to the lawsuit with virtually the same terms with the exception that the cities will be on the hook to pay their attorneys 33% of the refunded revenue, approximately $7 million.

The blame for the cancellation of the I-73 agreement can be laid directly at the feet of Myrtle Beach and the other cities that joined in the lawsuit and refused to accept virtually the same settlement they are now considering.

Several county council members, including Chairman Johnny Gardner and council members Harold Worley and Johnny Vaught made exactly the point that the cities could have had the same settlement without paying such large attorney fees by accepting the resolution in the spring. It must also be noted the I-73 contract would not have been cancelled if the cities had taken this action.

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