Post Tagged with: "Gary Loftus"

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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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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Questions Surround CCU’s Planned Institute for Principled Development

November 13, 2019 3:21 AM
Questions Surround CCU’s Planned Institute for Principled Development

Documents obtained by Grand Strand Daily raise some questions about recent media reports regarding the planned Institute for Principled Development at Coastal Carolina University.

According to media reports, the institute will be housed at the E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration at CCU. Barbara Ritter PhD, Dean of the College of Business Administration, said the institute will be an impartial and credible source for those seeking answers to some of the complex planning and development issues facing the region and it will provide unbiased, data-driven analysis to Horry County’s growth.

Robert Salvino Jr. PhD, professor of economics and director of the Grant Center for Real Estate and Economics at CCU, will reportedly oversee the institute.

The institute is funded almost exclusively by developers, builders, realtors, engineers and associated development industry firms. According to a document obtained by Grand Strand Daily, as of September 2019, the institute had funding commitments of $152,666 for 2019 and $409,500 in three year pledges. The largest contributors are Burroughs and Chapin, DDC Engineers, Clay and Matthew Brittain, Ocean Sands Resort, Palmetto Corporation, Ralph and Tradd Teal and Waccamaw Land and Timber each pledging $30,000 over three years.

According to the media reports, the first step is to hire an executive director for the institute and next to craft an advisory board to address questions surrounding development. The reports state the institute is set to launch in spring 2020.

However, Grand Strand Daily obtained a document that names a five member Board of Advisors elected July 31, 2019 for the “Institute for Responsible Development in the Wall College of Business Administration at Coastal Carolina University.” The name of the institute was reported as Institute for Responsible Development in news articles last week. “Responsible” was changed to “Principled” in a press release from CCU over the weekend.

Members of the Board of Advisors listed in the above named document are Mark Lazarus, Chairman, Drew Flynn and Tradd Teal, Co-Vice Chairmen, Clay Brittain, Secretary and Horry County Council member Gary Loftus, Ad Hoc Member.

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Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

July 2, 2019 1:21 PM
Another Hospitality Fee Filing, Another Email, More County Lunacy

The City of Myrtle Beach filed a supplemental memorandum Monday in support of its lawsuit against Horry County’s continued collection of hospitality fees.

Leading the memorandum is an affidavit by North Myrtle Beach City Manager Michael Mahaney providing evidence of the county’s continued collection of the hospitality fee in the City of North Myrtle Beach after June 21, 2019, and supporting a June 26, 2019 motion by Myrtle Beach for the county to show cause why it was not in contempt of a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Seals on June 21, 2019 prohibiting same.

Included in the filing was an email originated by attorney Henrietta Golding who is representing the county in the lawsuit.

The email appears to have evolved out of the string of emails that were the subject of several media stories yesterday. The email that appears to have started the string was sent by former county council chairman Mark Lazarus to Golding.

In her email, Goldings criticizes the judge and the temporary restraining order the judge issued against the county for having “many errors”; states, “This is solely the fault of Myrtle Beach” and appears to discuss the county’s strategy in moving forward by saying the county will try to get a “supersedeas” and saying “if the county took steps to suspend the ordinance (creating the hospitality fee), then probably create legal issues detrimental to the county.”

Golding’s email was sent to Lazarus, county council members Johnny Vaught, Harold Worley, Tyler Servant and Dennis DiSabato, interim administrator Steve Gosnell, county attorney Arrigo Carotti, North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley, Mahaney and Surfside Beach City Manager Dennis Pieper.

The choice of recipients is confusing as Golding only represents six – the four council members, county administrator and county attorney. Lazarus has no official position with the county since his term ended December 31, 2018. Hatley, Mahaney and Pieper support the position of Myrtle Beach that the county has been illegally collecting the hospitality fees since January 1, 2017 when the original sunset provision of the county hospitality fee ordinance expired.

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How Far Will the Deep Six Go to Block Change With a New Administrator?

May 31, 2019 8:37 AM
How Far Will the Deep Six Go to Block Change With a New Administrator?

The first phase in finding a replacement for former county administrator Chris Eldridge will be completed next week as applications from candidates must be in by June 5, 2019.

The Deep Six, council members Harold Worley, Tyler Servant, Dennis DiSabato, Gary Loftus, Cam Crawford and Bill Howard, assisted by council member Johnny Vaught, already tried to hijack this process once.

In behind the scenes maneuvering, this group attempted to promote the hiring of interim administrator Steve Gosnell to the administrator job without consideration of any other candidates. When the plot was exposed, several of the plotters backed away quickly.

Voters in the county opted for change in the way the county does business when they elected council chairman Johnny Gardner to replace Mark Lazarus last year.

Since Gardner took office, the Deep Six have attempted to obstruct change to the point of initially blocking the firing of Eldridge after he and county attorney Arrigo Carotti were discredited in their attempt to smear Gardner. That little episode cost county taxpayers approximately $300,000, the cost of paying off Eldridge to get rid of him.

But, that cost will be minimal compared to the cost to taxpayers of blocking a new vision to county administration.

Steve Gosnell has been a good engineer for the county. He has approximately two years to go before hitting the 28 year mark for full retirement. He is not the person to look to for changes in the way county government is run.

Gosnell has been head of the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Division and an assistant administrator for a number of years, once before serving as interim administrator. He has built a working relationship with other members of senior staff and, as such, is not expected to look at what changes are necessary to make county government more effective, more responsive to the needs of citizens and more transparent.

County government does not need, in the administrator position, a two year placeholder looking forward to retirement while keeping many of the failed Eldridge policies and senior staff in place.

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Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

May 15, 2019 3:22 AM
Deep Six Secret Attempt to Hijack Administrator Search

Only minutes after the end of the last regular meeting of county council during which plans for a search for a new county administrator were discussed, several council members moved to hijack the search.

According to information received from various council members:

Immediately after the close of the regular meeting: council member Harold Worley approached interim administrator Steve Gosnell about taking the permanent administrator job without going through the search process.

Being a single member of council, Worley had no right to circumvent the search process in this manner, but he did it anyway.

Worley contacted council member Johnny Vaught the following day, explained he had talked to Gosnell, brought Vaught on board with the plot and tasked Vaught to secure sufficient votes from other council members over the next few days.

While Vaught was contacting other council members, council member Gary Loftus contacted the county’s Human Resources Department telling them not to post the job opening for administrator as had been discussed before full council at the meeting. As a single council member, Loftus had no authority to issue such an instruction.

At the regular council meeting, Loftus made a motion to reconsider the vote to accept the separation of former administrator Chris Eldridge to add to it acceptance of Gosnell as interim county administrator. Loftus said this motion was made, “So we make sure that we follow proper legal procedure.”

After the motion to reconsider was approved, Loftus offered an amendment to appoint Gosnell as interim administrator “under short term contract to be entered into by the chairman on behalf of county council,” The amendment passed and the main motion accepting Eldridge’s separation and appointing Gosnell to interim administrator under short term contract passed.

On the dais in front of the public, proper procedure was the rule of the hour. However, proper procedure was ignored immediately after the meeting and in the next several days as this behind the scenes plot unfolded. And nobody bothered to contact the chairman until the plot was in motion and Vaught called Gardner to ask for his support.

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Negotiations on Eldridge Departure Ongoing, Lawsuits Considered

April 4, 2019 5:00 PM
Negotiations on Eldridge Departure Ongoing, Lawsuits Considered

During the regular meeting of Horry County Council April 2, 2019, Chairman Johnny Gardner informed council members that negotiations regarding the exit of administrator Chris Eldridge are ongoing.

There have been some indications that Eldridge believes he has claims against the county that could result in an exit package of significant dollars.

What Eldridge apparently fails to understand is there are others who have potential claims against him and the apparent conspiracy to defame Gardner and others that began with emails as early as December 12, 2018.

There is no question it is past time for Eldridge to go. Four months have passed since he and attorney Arrigo Carotti began developing a narrative to defame the character and reputation of Gardner.

It has been a month since council deadlocked in a 6-6 vote on a motion to fire Eldridge, allowing him to remain in his position as administrator.

Since that vote, new information has been uncovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that point to a joint effort by Eldridge, Carotti and former chairman Mark Lazarus to develop a narrative that could be brought to SLED for an investigation of Gardner.

Eldridge requested the SLED investigation on December 20, 2018 after Carotti completed a five-page memo containing a narrative for which there were no facts to substantiate the authenticity of the memo’s narrative.

The memo was completed after Lazarus, Eldridge, Carotti and council member Gary Loftus listened on December 19, 2018 to a portion of a recording of a November 30, 2018 lunch meeting between Gardner, Luke Barefoot and Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development (EDC) officials Sandy Davis and Sherri Steele.

On that recording, Carotti and Eldridge alleged there was evidence of attempted extortion of EDC by Gardner and/or Barefoot.

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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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