Post Tagged with: "Horry County Council"

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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Change Threatens as Administrator Interviews Near

June 24, 2019 3:48 AM
Change Threatens as Administrator Interviews Near

As public interviews loom for candidates for the permanent administrator position for Horry County, I sense a hint of panic in those council members who are pushing Steve Gosnell for administrator because they want to maintain the status quo.

They are the same council members who attempted to circumvent the administrator selection process before it began.

They are the same council members who stumped unsuccessfully to keep former council chairman Mark Lazarus in office.

They are many of the same council members who tried to excuse away the actions of former administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti when that pair concocted their fictitious story alleging wrongdoing on the part of new chairman Johnny Gardner.

These are members who try to get you to believe that ‘up’ is actually ‘down’, ‘stop’ is actually ‘go’ and ‘orange’ is actually ‘purple’.

Or, put another way, insist building I-73 is necessary while roads that have flooded in three of the last four years are ignored; new developments are okay even though infrastructure and public safety needs are lacking for development the county already has in place and planning future spending of tens of millions of dollars to continue to bury trash in the county is better than looking for reasonable alternatives.

These are the same council members who are afraid of change because it may upset their own personal, selfish agendas.

In the last few days they have found several shills to do their bidding on social media with one media outlet publishing an article claiming transparency in the selection process is a bad thing and a person in love with social media videos flip flopping positions on Gosnell based on false information.

All of the above is to be expected. Politics in Horry County is generally a full contact sport. If you’re not willing to figuratively shed a little blood, don’t get in the arena.

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I-73, Indian Wells Controversies Highlight Council Agenda

June 17, 2019 7:11 AM
I-73, Indian Wells Controversies Highlight Council Agenda

The agenda for Tuesday night’s regular meeting of Horry County Council has only two items of consequence on it.

Under Old and New Business, council will discuss the Financial Participation Agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation for the I-73 project.

The agreement has been in effect since December 2018 when it was signed by former administrator Chris Eldridge for the county after receiving council approval to do so. However, the real date for its beginning is the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2019.

Generally the agreement provides that Horry County will provide up to $25 million per year from Hospitality Fee revenues to fund the construction of I-73 within Horry County (the Project) and SCDOT will oversee the project from design through construction.

The written agreement states, “SCDOT shall provide an Annual Work Plan to the county on the activities proposed by March 31 that the county shall approve prior to June 30 before commencing work in the succeeding fiscal year.”

SCDOT provided a work plan for next fiscal year which allots $6 million for engineering services and $6.5 million for right of way acquisition. Council has yet to act on that work plan, but there is NO money in the upcoming budget to pay for it.

The plan was for Horry County to provide up to $25 million per year from 1.5% Hospitality Fee revenues collected countywide as funding. Since March 2019, the county has been sued by the cities over hospitality fee collections and there is no guarantee at this time how much, if any, of the countywide 1.5% fee revenue will be available to the county in the next or ensuing fiscal years.

However, Section V of the agreement, “Payments by the County”, states,  “The County shall maintain an account balance which shall be sufficient to cover the Project expenses for the relevant fiscal year including annual payments to the consultants, contractors or SCDOT…”

In addition, Section III D of the agreement states, “Nor shall the County’s prior approval be required for any right-of-way acquisition agreement or consultant agreement for work of the Project provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan.”

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Mayors Add Confusion to Hospitality Tax/I-73 Funding Debate

May 21, 2019 7:09 AM
Mayors Add Confusion to Hospitality Tax/I-73 Funding Debate

After watching a video last evening of a news conference held in Conway yesterday by the mayors of the various incorporated municipalities in Horry County, under the auspices of the Horry County League of Cities, I was dumbfounded by the misinformation and political spin by those elected leaders to the public.

I do enjoy it when the mayors get together and issue statements under the League of Cities banner. The League of Cities is nothing more than a lunch club of the mayors and the chairman of Horry County Council if that official wishes to attend. It has neither official nor legal basis for doing anything, but it sounds good in the media.

The issue was hospitality tax collections in Horry County and who gets to keep the revenue beginning next fiscal year. The latest catalyst for this public discussion is a proposed bill dropped by the Horry County legislative delegation on the next to last day of this year’s legislative session.

Simply put, the bill, if it eventually passes, extends collections of a 1.5% hospitality tax countywide with the revenue going to Horry County Government. The cities and the county also collect an additional 1% hospitality tax within their respective jurisdictions for a total hospitality tax of 2.5% throughout the county. The tax has been on the books by county ordinance since late December 1996 with the proceeds of the countywide 1.5% portion being used to fund major road projects in the county under the collective banner of Ride I projects (SC 22, SC 31, US 501 improvements for example).

The initial duration of the tax was supposed to be 20 years with several additions through the years which extended payment on Ride I bonds through January 2019. Each of the municipalities in the county passed resolutions supporting the 1996 county ordinance.

In April/May 2017, Horry County Council, under the leadership of then chairman Mark Lazarus and administrator Chris Eldridge, unilaterally acted, with the rest of council going along, to remove the sunset provision of the hospitality tax ordinance that was to end the collection of the countywide 1.5% tax when Ride I bonds were paid off.

The idea of Lazarus and Eldridge was to use the approximately over $40 million annual revenue from the 1.5% portion to fund building of I-73 in Horry County.

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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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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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Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

April 14, 2019 10:59 AM
Myrtle Beach Rejects Open Talks on Hospitality Fees

Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune sent a letter to Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner last week rejecting public negotiations on a county plan for splitting hospitality fees.

Myrtle Beach wanted to hold any negotiations in secret using a lawsuit the city filed against the county last month over hospitality fee collection as the excuse for needing to keep discussions behind closed doors.

However, anyone who has followed local politics for even a short while understands the proclivity of local governments to conduct as much real discussion of issues as possible out of public view.

There is a very good reason for this. Often, the genesis of the issues kept most secret comes not from local elected officials, but rather from the special interests who have the ear of the politicians and who have been very effective through the decades pushing agendas that most benefit those interests.

The current hospitality fee issue dates back at least three years to the beginning of 2016. At that time, the projects funded by the Ride II tax were coming to completion. The hospitality and real estate interests began pushing the need for a Ride III referendum.

Informal talks between special interest leaders and local politicians developed a plan to promote passage of a Ride III referendum as well as continuation of hospitality fee collections countywide to fund I-73 construction within Horry County.

The special one-cent sales tax approved with Ride II and Ride III referendums pay for many projects that improve roads within the county that have become congested with traffic from new developments. These costs should be paid for directly by developers or impact fees rather than all the citizens of the county, but the hospitality and real estate lobbies have been able to avoid this to date.

The Ride III referendum was passed by voters in November 2016. County council removed the sunset provision from hospitality fee ordinance in the spring of 2017 at the behest of Lazarus, county administrator Chris Eldridge and county attorney Arrigo Carotti.

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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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Horry County to Consider Alternate Hospitality Fee Proposal

April 2, 2019 7:01 AM
Horry County to Consider Alternate Hospitality Fee Proposal

Horry County Council will consider a resolution at its regular meeting Tuesday night that provides an alternative strategy for hospitality fee collections and expenditures within the county.

This initiative is in response to the recent actions of Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach councils in passing ordinances to capture all hospitality fee revenue generated within their municipal borders in accordance with current state law.

The county’s proposal is to save the 1.5% countywide hospitality fee with $18 million of the proceeds dedicated to funding for I-73.

While the countywide proposal appears to raise in excess of $13 million more in revenue, the expenditure of $18 million toward I-73 would leave each city and the county with less actual revenue available to offset the ever increasing demands of offsetting costs of tourism to each entity.

By dedicating money specifically for I-73, the county’s proposal also falls short of addressing current needs for repair and improvements to U.S. 501, SC-22, SC-9, Hwy 90 and Hwy 905.

Both the county and the cities would see immediate benefits from addressing the needs of those five roadways as opposed to waiting years for completion of the portion of I-73 from I-95 at Dillon to Horry County.

Why should the citizens be told to ignore the needs of those roads before the next round of flooding hits the county, yet be excited about some future roadway that may or may not be built?

It is important to remember that neither the state government nor the federal government have appropriated any funds to construction of I-73.

There should be no rush by local governments to dedicate tax dollars to I-73 while the state and federal governments continue to provide none. The loudest proponents for I-73 funding are state Reps. Alan Clemmons, Russell Fry and Heather Ammons Crawford. At least they are the loudest in Horry County. It seems their voices become quite muted when they are in Columbia.

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