Post Tagged with: "horry county government"

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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County Response to City Lawsuit Follows Recent Pattern

April 23, 2019 7:56 AM
County Response to City Lawsuit Follows Recent Pattern

Horry County’s response to the lawsuit over hospitality fees filed last month by the City of Myrtle Beach follows a pattern the county has used in recent years when it is challenged in court.

That pattern is to launch a subjective attack on the opponent rather than argue objective facts of the case.

The county claimed SkyDive Myrtle Beach committed 112 safety violations and was running an unsafe operation at Grand Strand Airport. To date, neither the county Department of Airports nor the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to produce documentation of even one safety violation but SkyDive Myrtle Beach has been closed down since 2015.

The county claimed Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones mismanaged her department and fired employees in order to provide openings for political allies. The county’s counterclaim called for Jones to personally bear responsibility for any shortfall in her department funding, of which there was none.

In its answer to the city’s lawsuit, Horry County claims Myrtle Beach has mismanaged its budget for years and “now attempts to circumvent state law to shore up its own finances.”

Obviously the county’s claim that the city has mismanaged its budget is a subjective political one as well as being erroneous. One guide to effective budget management is bond rating. The city’s bond rating is AA, the same as the county’s.

On the basis of the city’s original complaint and the county’s response, the city appears to have the better legal argument to this non-lawyer observer.

The county’s claim of budget mismanagement on the part of the city appears to have no more validity than the false allegations of wrongdoing made by county attorney Arrigo Carotti and former administrator Chris Eldridge against Chairman Johnny Gardner. The county’s tendency to create a narrative then try to claim it as fact is too repetitious to be accidental, but it is not a legal argument.

The city’s initial act to claim all hospitality fee revenue collected within the city limits and the county’s attempt to extend a countywide 1.5% hospitality fee collection ad infinitum are the starting point of this dispute. The cities of North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach followed Myrtle Beach’s lead with new hospitality fee ordinances.

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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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SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

March 17, 2019 3:47 AM
SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

By a 4-1 decision, the S. C. Supreme Court overturned decisions at the District Court and Appeals Court levels giving SkyDive Myrtle Beach the opportunity to prove its case in court.

The details of the case have never been heard as Horry County was successful at using some legal hocus pocus at the lower court levels to keep from allowing the case to go forward.

That is not the result now as the case, SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al, has now been remanded back to the District Court and will go on the trial roster with discovery pending immediately.

This means the case, once described by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti as “rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs,” was not treated in that fashion by the Supreme Court.

Referring to SkyDive Myrtle Beach owner Aaron Holly, myself and others, Carotti wrote the following to a council member inquiring about the case:

“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo wrote:

The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same.  Defamatory commentary on the part of Holly and his surrogates also has been ongoing and is expected to continue, but has been rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs, borne out in voluminous court documents and public records.

Arrigo P. Carotti / County Attorney”

The original case was filed on February 28, 2014 against Horry County under the general court classification “Unfair Trade Practices.” It alleged a pattern of harassment by the County and its Department of Airports (HCDA) with the ultimate goal of removing SDMB from Grand Strand Airport (GSA) as the original complaint states:

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County Council to Address Magistrates Pay Dispute

February 18, 2019 7:27 AM
County Council to Address Magistrates Pay Dispute

Horry County Council will decide tomorrow night whether to resolve a pay dispute between the county magistrates and the county government.

The dispute dates back to the Fiscal Year 2017 budget which began on July 1, 2016. During budget deliberations nearly three years ago, Horry County Council decided to approve a pay raise of 3% for all county employees.

Magistrates are state constitutionally mandated positions appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of the local legislative delegation. However, they are county employees paid for from the county general fund.

The county receives a portion of magistrate pay each year from the local government fund in the state budget. The local government fund is designed to help counties fund state mandated positions.

Historically, the S. C. General Assembly underfunds the local government fund, which is supposed to be funded according to a specific formula.

According to information received by Grand Strand Daily, the General Assembly mandated an approximately three percent pay raise for county magistrates in its FY 2017 budget and raised appropriations in the local government fund to pay for that raise.  

According to state law, counties cannot reduce the amount they pay employees in state mandated positions when the state gives those employees a raise. By not specifically excluding the magistrates from the county raise of three percent for “all county employees,” the magistrates claim they were entitled to both the county and state raises.

However, the magistrates received only the raise mandated by the state. Despite county council budget discussions and votes, the magistrates were excluded from the county pay raise. According to several sources in county government, administrator Chris Eldridge made the final decision to exclude the magistrates from the county pay raise.

The magistrates are asking the county for a retroactive three percent raise and a lump sum check for nearly three years of missed wages.

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Searching for A False Narrative

January 3, 2019 8:47 AM
Searching for A False Narrative

False narratives appear to have become the standard emanating from some county government officials pursuing personal agendas over the past few years.

The latest is the five-page narrative crafted by county attorney Arrigo Carotti, with some input from county administrator Chris Eldridge, which attempted to place new council chairman Johnny Gardner involved in a nefarious plot that never happened.

Local editorial cartoonist Ed Wilson captured the essence of what went on between Eldridge and Carotti perfectly in the editorial cartoon accompanying this article. Once again, Wilson has demonstrated that a picture is worth 1,000 words.

The two examined snippets of conversations either or both had been party to with Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation CEO Sandy Davis to attempt to find incriminating evidence against Gardner. As Wilson depicts, the search was quite literally to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Eldridge used this bit of creative writing on the part of Carotti as an excuse to call in SLED to investigate. The narrative was also conveniently leaked to a Columbia media outlet to sensationalize the narrative.

This is not the first time a false narrative has been used as a county tactic to attempt to create a certain image in media.

One only has to read the county’s response and counterclaims, as amended, in the Angie Jones lawsuit against Eldridge and the county to view another example.

As I quoted from the amended response and counterclaims in the Jones lawsuit, the county said, “If Jones has any alleged “issues” with regard to staffing and competently and efficiently performing her duties as the Horry County Treasurer, such issues are solely as a result of her mismanagement of her offices and her own decisions, including her decisions to drive out and remove and replace competent long-term employees with friends and political supporters lacking in relevant experience.”

The bit about doing favors for friends and political supporters is strikingly similar to allegations against Gardner.

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Horry County’s ‘Alternative Facts’ Explanation on Tax Notice Billing

August 28, 2018 7:39 PM
Horry County’s ‘Alternative Facts’ Explanation on Tax Notice Billing

It appears Horry County Government is using the Sean Spicer/Kellyanne Conway ‘alternative facts’ method for reporting how Horry County missed billing property taxes on some new car purchases over the last four years.

According to a story reported in MyHorryNews.com earlier today, Horry County failed to process digital records on 4,444 vehicles purchased between 2014-2017, resulting in failure by the county to bill first year property taxes on the vehicles.

According to the story, County spokesperson Kelly Moore blamed the failure on a “technical glitch” and was quoted as saying in part, “New software programs come with a learning curve, and sometimes, unfortunately, with technical difficulties.”

Horry County Auditor Lois Eargle was quoted in the same story, “That was nothing that was fault of the auditor’s office. …  It was the new software that came in.”

The Auditor’s Office is responsible for preparing property tax bills on new car purchases that do not transfer license plates from another vehicle and for entering that information into the computer system.

A letter was prepared by the Auditor’s Office to be sent to the citizens affected by this issue.

The letter, the full text of which is attached to the bottom of this story, reads in part, “We recently discovered an error in the processing system that manages vehicle property taxes. After changing software in 2014, a technical glitch did not send an initial vehicle tax bill to some taxpayers who purchased a new vehicle when they did not transfer license tags.”

The new software was purchased from QS/1 Governmental Solutions whose headquarters is located in Spartanburg, SC.

Reflecting on the story and the county’s explanation of a “technical glitch” that apparently took four years to discover, I called QS/1 Governmental Solutions for an explanation. I spoke with Perry Burnett, Government Senior Account Executive, the QS/1 employee who deals directly with Horry County Government.

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Is Further Expansion of SWA Landfill Needed?

August 4, 2018 8:00 AM
Is Further Expansion of SWA Landfill Needed?

The Horry County Solid Waste Authority’s latest plan to extend operations at the Hwy 90 landfill until approximately 2050 appears to have sprung out of nowhere in recent months for no apparent reason.

At a recent board meeting, SWA Executive Director Danny Knight told board members the latest expansion plan was moving forward because it was the authority’s responsibility to maximize the use of available land at the Hwy 90 site for waste disposal.

Actually, that statement runs counter to the ordinance that established the SWA in December 1990. Ordinance 60-90 states there is a need to develop an acceptable alternative for solid waste disposal and to reduce the amount of tonnage disposed in sanitary landfills in Horry County. It further states the high water table and other geologic characteristics in Horry County “make utilization and expansion of the existing landfill and development of new landfills especially expensive and difficult.”

Through the years since the authority’s opening in 1992, that section of the ordinance has been forgotten or ignored by a succession of SWA staff and board members.

The timeline set by the SWA for what is being called “Piggyback Expansion Phase III” hopes for a permit for the expansion to be issued by SCDHEC in June 2019 even though Piggyback Phase II is only now under construction and Phase III will not be needed until 2040 at projected disposal rates.

Why the rush? Shouldn’t the SWA staff and board members be seeking alternative means of disposal of the county’s solid waste?

The answer to the first question is not available to the public and not known by county council members, only a few of whom have recently become aware of these expansion plans.

The answer to the second question is “Yes” only if the SWA board and staff believe it is their responsibility to obey the law that established the authority in the first place. To date that has not been the case.

And what of the cost? It was only 18 months ago that the SWA projected a $33 million shortfall in needed funds by 2024 unless it received a nearly 50% increase in tipping fees. County council approved an immediate $7 per ton increase with additional $1 per year increases as the SWA needs them.

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Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

June 11, 2018 8:56 AM
Who are the Real Thugs in Horry County?

The above cartoon by Ed Wilson depicts the now famous incident that resulted in Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus calling police and fire fighters in the county “thugs.”

Lazarus called them thugs because several first responders asked him tough questions at the Burgess Community Forum last week, then, heckled Lazarus as he walked out of the meeting.

The use of the word “thug” by Lazarus was ridiculous because its normal definition refers to violent, criminal type behavior none of which was in evidence at the forum.

The term “thugs” was also given to anti-war protesters during the 1960’s and anti-nuclear protesters throughout the western democracies in the 1970’s.

I would submit the term “thug” can also be applied to those in government who use their position and power to bully people or ignore the law to achieve desired results.

For example, after Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones request for an additional person in her office was denied by a combination of council members and the county administrator, Jones filed suit to gain the position.

The county’s response to the lawsuit was to attack Jones’ credibility and performance personally, a typical bully (thug) type of response.

Early this year, several council members said Lazarus was not going to intervene to attempt to help settle the case amicably, but was willing to let it go to court for resolution.

When Jones walked out of a council meeting after the discussion ventured into the area of her lawsuit, Lazarus was quite critical with several derogatory comments aimed at Jones. However, when discussion at a political forum entered into an area that made Lazarus uncomfortable, he had no problem walking out.

Does anyone else find that hypocritical?

However, that attitude appeared to change after Johnny Gardner filed to challenge Lazarus for the Republican nomination for county council chairman and it was apparent Jones had significant support from the public for her lawsuit.

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