Post Tagged with: "Horry County Council"

A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

February 7, 2019 4:43 AM
A New Emphasis on Public Safety in Horry County?

Throughout his campaign for election last year, Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner pledged “Public Safety Priority One, Day One.”

By the time Gardner decided to run for chairman last March, county employees in general and public safety personnel in particular were suffering under low pay and demanding working conditions due to understaffing.

These conditions had been allowed to go on under the administration of former chairman Mark Lazarus and county administrator Chris Eldridge. The cry was always that there wasn’t enough money to hire more people or give current employees much in the way of raises.

Recognizing the particular frustrations of public safety employees, the first responders that are most needed when problems arise, Gardner coined his campaign phrase, not as something to say to get elected, but rather as something to do after he was elected.

Now, less than two months into his term of office, it appears that a majority of council members have bought into that philosophy.

Council members Harold Worley and Al Allen,  two of the more senior members of council, have long advocated for better pay and increased staffing for public safety, but they operated as voices in the wilderness as Lazarus, Eldridge and other senior county staff consistently cried ‘no money, no money.’

Current Public Safety Committee Chairman Danny Hardee joined the ‘wilderness chorus’ when he was elected to council two years ago, but it was still only three council members with the remaining nine basically buying into staff propaganda.

However, the situation appeared to change at the regular meeting of council earlier this week when council members Cam Crawford, Dennis DiSabato, Tyler Servant and newly elected Orton Bellamy voiced support for a new study on pay and staffing for public safety personnel.

These are heartening additions as there now is a possibility of at least eight votes supporting proper pay and staffing for public safety.

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The Dirty Tricks Campaign Against Johnny Gardner

February 4, 2019 4:52 AM
The Dirty Tricks Campaign Against Johnny Gardner

We live in a political climate where dirty tricks are used to create rumors to smear those seen as enemies by the rumormongers.

These rumors, lies are what they really are, come in all shapes and sizes, but they have the same thing in common – to discredit the person they are aimed against.

How well they work depends on the gullibility of the audience they are targeted to influence.

Some of the more ridiculous rumors about public figures we have heard include:

Justice Brett Kavanaugh as a young man attended parties where women were routinely gang raped. That one pushed the envelope too far to be believed.

In late 2015 when Donald Trump had established himself as a serious contender for the Republican nomination, a fake story said he told a magazine in 1998 if he ever ran for president it would be as a Republican because “they’re the dumbest group of voters in the country” and that “he could lie and they’d still eat it up.” Rather than hurt him with Republican voters, Trump went on to win the nomination and election.

In the 2000 primary season, John McCain was accused of fathering an illegitimate black child, which was actually a child from Bangladesh that McCain and his wife adopted. This one stuck a bit with South Carolina voters as George Bush came from behind to win the South Carolina primary and go on to be elected president.

Rumors were circulated about Nikki Haley having multiple affairs during the 2010 primary season, which the voters disregarded. In fact, the rumors were so poorly presented that Haley vaulted from fourth place to win the Republican nomination and go on to twice being elected South Carolina Governor.

More recently, Horry County citizens have been presented with a rumor about county council chairman Johnny Gardner. Interestingly, the Columbia website that played a prominent part in publishing a leaked memo about the fictitious plot from county attorney Arrigo Carotti, written in conjunction with administrator Chris Eldridge, was the same website that played a prominent part in the Haley rumors.

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Horry County’s Flawed I-73 Agreement

January 28, 2019 4:50 AM
Horry County’s Flawed I-73 Agreement

The Financial Participation Agreement between Horry County and the South Carolina Department of Transportation, approved by Horry County Council November 28, 2018, appears to have many flaws not discussed before a resolution was passed allowing Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge to sign the agreement.

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.”

I find the use of the word “shall” interesting here in that it means a strong assertion or intention of something happening. Are we to take it to mean the county intends to approve the work plan prior to each June 30th? Does this mean county council really has much of a choice in the decision?

At least a half dozen times during the over one hour discussion about the project and the agreement county council members were told by then council chairman Mark Lazarus and/or county staff members, predominantly administrator Chris Eldridge and attorney Arrigo Carotti, that no money could be spent on the project without prior approval from county council.

To support those statements, Carotti quoted to council the first sentence of Section III (D) of the agreement which reads, “SCDOT shall not enter into a construction contract without the County’s prior approval based on considerations that the contract provide a meaningful connection to the proposed I-73 corridor in part or in its entirety.”

What Carotti did not quote were the next two sentences of Section III (D) which read, “The County’s prior approval shall not be required to enter into contract agreements for improvements to SC-22, provided the cost thereof does not exceed the estimates provided in the Annual Work Plan. 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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Our Council Members as Sheep

January 22, 2019 4:56 AM
Our Council Members as Sheep

Year in and year out voters go to the polling booths in June for primary elections and November for general elections to vote for the candidates they want to lead their respective governments.

Unfortunately, local voters, especially those voting in Myrtle Beach City Council and Horry County Council elections, appear to be getting short changed in the leadership department because far too many of these elected officials defer to staff to determine policy.

And these policies leave a lot to be desired as council members act like sheep being led by senior staff members.

In Myrtle Beach, the city has decided to wage war on certain Ocean Boulevard business owners with a zoning overlay district that makes selling items such as CBD oil illegal in the district while allowing it to be sold everywhere else in the city.

It was announced recently that CBD coffee ads will air during the upcoming Super Bowl. CBD products are good enough to be advertised during the number one television event of the year, but can’t be sold in a certain area of Ocean Boulevard because the city doesn’t want the store owners to get business.

There is something very wrong with that calculus but city council doesn’t question what.

The targeted Ocean Boulevard stretch appears to be coveted because of its location and proximity to other city owned properties in and around the super block, a nice area that could be resold to a developer looking to locate, say, a casino complex.

But first the businesses in that location must be driven out and the buildings become available at the right price.

With three new members of city council and a completely redrafted ordinance presented for second reading last summer, this can’t be a council driven decision for members looking to get reelected. The only logical conclusion is that council members went along like sheep following the lead of the city administrator and his staff in passing this ordinance.

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Blowing the Wrong Whistle

January 15, 2019 8:34 AM
Blowing the Wrong Whistle

As the county awaits the report of the SLED investigation into alleged wrongdoing by county Chairman Johnny Gardner, initiated by County Administrator Chris Eldridge and County Attorney Arrigo Carotti, it appears those two are attempting to couch a defense for their actions in the pose of whistleblowers.

This has been obvious since the January 4, 2019 special meeting of council when both appeared at the meeting with personal attorneys.

The Eldridge letter presented to council members after the special meeting specifically speaks of him being a “target of retaliation” if he is either fired or suspended by council – a classic whistleblower defense.

There is one major fault with this defense. Whistleblowing protections are not extended to those who report potential wrongdoing based on unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors.

According to documents written by Carotti and Eldridge, unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors are all they had to justify the imaginary plot they had developed in their minds.

In its simplest form, that plot goes this way – Gardner campaign manager Luke Barefoot and Gardner, by extension because he accompanied Barefoot to one meeting held on November 30, 2018, with two Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) officials, attempted to have the EDC pay Gardner campaign consultant Donald Smith so that a rumored negative story about the EDC would not appear in Grand Strand Daily. (Total Rumor)

On or about December 5, 2018, Carotti and Eldridge learned that a tape recording of that meeting existed and, apparently, believed it contained a “smoking gun.”

On December 12, 2018, Eldridge wrote an email to Neyle Wilson, Chairman of the Board of the EDC, sharing “conversation points” (hearsay) EDC CEO Sandy Davis allegedly told to Carotti about that meeting. In the email, Eldridge complained that the EDC had “an unwillingness to share the taped recording” even though the email is part of an email string in which Wilson twice (December 7 and December 12) offered to allow Eldridge to listen to the recording.

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Insurrection Fizzles, Council Meeting Quiet

January 11, 2019 4:39 PM
Insurrection Fizzles, Council Meeting Quiet

The threatened insurrection over county council seating, assigned by Chairman Johnny Gardner, fizzled out yesterday when the Gang of Five began falling apart.

According to council sources, one of the first to fall was council member Tyler Servant. Those sources said it was his opposition to a change in dais seating that spurred council member Harold Worley to take up the cause. It seems Servant liked his former seat which put his face on television more than just when he was speaking.

However, by last night Servant was saying in social media he would sit on the floor if asked. More savvy than most of his colleagues about social media, it didn’t take Servant long to discover how childish the public was interpreting complaining about where you sat during meetings.

Worley also backpedaled in traditional media saying he would sit wherever the chairman told him to. That was not the case the day before when Worley was emailing the council clerk and county attorney about having a motion to try and stop the seating change.

One other small bit of friction was the statement by Dennis DiSabato complaining about the chairman’s committee assignments when he didn’t get chairmanship of a committee that he expected. But, council rules place the responsibility of making committee assignments solely to the chairman and any previous discussions are just that, discussions. The chairman has the absolute right to finalize committee and chairmanship assignments as he sees fit for what he determines best suits the county.

A hats off to Gardner for handling both controversies with calm and dignity, not feeling the need to respond publicly to these challenges to his authority. One must remember, he sits on a dais with 10 members of council who supported his opponent and some, obviously, still have to get over the fact that Gardner won.

Public input on several second readings of ordinances demonstrated the public’s view of council responsibilities.

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Worley Attempting to Lead Insurrection Against Chairman Gardner -UPDATED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is it really about where members sit?

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

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

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The Eldridge and Carotti Version of Extortion – ‘He Said, He Said, She Said, He Said’

January 7, 2019 3:53 AM
The Eldridge and Carotti Version of Extortion – ‘He Said, He Said, She Said, He Said’

Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge and Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti were left off the hook last Friday when Horry County Council quickly voted to adjourn a meeting rather than drill down on why the two embarrassed the county by calling for a SLED investigation of a rather ridiculous version of events allegedly involving council Chairman Johnny Gardner.

Using alleged here is really a stretch as fantasy much closer describes a five-page email Carotti authored and Eldridge said, in a letter delivered to council members after the meeting, “accurately summarized” what transpired.

If Eldridge and Carotti are to be believed, we have to accept that Gardner attempted to have the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC) funnel “thousands of dollars” (Eldridge words) to Donald Smith (Gardner’s campaign consultant), somehow using the Beach Ball Classic “for political cover” (Carotti words). The EDC board is filled with many of the most prominent and politically connected business people, educators and government officials in the county.

By Carotti’s admission in his email, he began writing the email on the 14th relating events that began on (or before) December 5th. Carotti completed his email on December 19th sending it to Eldridge and the 12 members of county council at that time. The entire email was leaked and published in a Columbia media outlet within 12 hours of its completion.

There are supposedly only 14 people who had initial access to this email. At least one of those was the source of its initial leak. Find the leaker among Eldridge, Carotti and the 12 members of council in December and you will discover not only the reason for the leak, but also the reason the email was written in the first place. The motivation will be political not legal, moral or ethical.

The email contains information Carotti allegedly heard from Davis about conversations she allegedly had with Barefoot. In other words, ‘he said, she said, he said.’ In Eldridge’s case, most of his knowledge was gained from Carotti’s retelling of those conversations, or another way, ’he said, he said, she said, he said.’

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Gardner Victory Top Story in 2018

December 31, 2018 7:07 AM
Gardner Victory Top Story in 2018

Johnny Gardner’s primary victory over incumbent Mark Lazarus to become the Chairman of Horry County Council beginning tomorrow is the top story for 2018.

As the incumbent, Lazarus was endorsed by a number of elected officials in the county including U. S. Rep. Tom Rice, most of the county legislative delegation members, his 11 co-members of county council and most of the county’s mayors. He was also supported by most of the Myrtle Beach Chamber crowd and those others in the county who consider themselves power brokers.

Gardner was supported by a vast majority of the employees of Horry County Government including endorsements by the public safety fraternal organizations Horry County Professional Firefighter Local 4345 of the International Association of Firefighters and Coastal Carolina Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12. He was also supported by a majority of those voters often overlooked by Horry County politicos and power brokers – the average citizens.

The 2018 election cycle was a change cycle in Horry County. Three out of four incumbents who received serious challenges in either the primaries or general election lost and the fourth squeaked by with just over a 30 vote victory margin.

Supporting the concept that Gardner’s victory was the most watched of those four are events that have happened since the June 12th primary.

Horry County voters supported an advisory referendum on changing the state impact fee law to require new development to pay for more of its costs by a nearly three out of four margin (73% to 27%).

Developers rushed to get a number of rezonings approved in the last six months of the year, but not without some significant defeats along the way.

County staff “discovered” that more of the approximately $41 million of hospitality tax revenue could be used for areas such as public safety, infrastructure and recreation than they had previously acknowledged.

Lazarus led a major push to have council pass a resolution approving a contract with the S. C. Department of Transportation for rights of way acquisition, engineering and construction of I-73 in Horry County. Part of that resolution designates $25 million per year of hospitality tax revenue to go into a special road fund for the I-73 project but the resolution is not a hard appropriation of tax dollars.

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What is the Purpose of the Leaked Carotti Email?

December 23, 2018 6:50 AM
What is the Purpose of the Leaked Carotti Email?

A leaked five page email headed “Attorney Client Privileged” provided the big story in Horry County and state media in the last few days, but questions about the accuracy of the email contents raise questions about why it was produced.

The email from county attorney Arrigo Carotti to incumbent council members and county administrator Chris Eldridge supposedly was a confidential missive to inform council members about possible improper “threats” that allegedly occurred during a meeting between recently sworn in council chairman Johnny Gardner and Luke Barefoot with EDC President/CEO Sandy Davis and her number two Sherri Steele.

But the email goes further by speaking of various conversations, either by phone or in person, which occurred over a two week period. The only record of these conversations is Carotti’s memory. He states in his five page tale the conversations began on December 5th. But Carotti only began writing his email from memory of those conversations (to the best of his recollection) on December 14th.

It is this email that attempts to make a recording of the Gardner/Davis meeting sound potentially sinister.

This is the same email of which Davis told media after it was leaked, “A lot of it is fabricated.”

With the email playing such a large part in the story, I asked a prominent (and in my opinion brilliant) local attorney to provide me with his analysis of the five page missive.

The following quotes are from that analysis:

 “A question that jumps out at me is – he (Carotti) starts keeping a Watergate-styled narrative on his computer on Dec 14, as a result of events that started December 5, because “memory fades over time.” We’re talking about nine days!  What kind of nonsense is that?”

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